The former highly touted catcher Jason Motte, is making unprecedented progress as he continues on his journey and transformation from a catcher to a pitcher this spring. After five weeks in spring training, if there is one player you haven't heard much about, that I think you are going to soon be hearing a lot about, it's Jason Motte.
A 19th round draft pick in the 2003 draft, Motte has always been known for his defense. Entering the 2006 season, he had hit just .188, but had an eye-popping 151 assists in 171 games played as a professional catcher. He has been named the best defensive catcher in the Florida State League by Baseball America in the previous two seasons prior.
Mike Lindskog the voice of the Double-A Springfield Cardinals and manager of public relations has been around the game for over 15 years and has seen a lot of young catchers and pitchers in his career to include Jason Motte. Mike Lindskog had this to say about Motte;
"When he came up in 2005 and 2006 we had about two or three seven day stints where he was the Double-A club, although he didn't play in all those seven days, it didn't take us long to see why Baseball America and everybody was raving about his arm and defensive ability.
He was actually in a game last season and in three innings, he threw a guy out at second and picked a guy off of first and you were jumping up and down, this was why he was rated so highly, unfortunately his bat never came around.
I saw him pitch the other day he had a couple of 1-2-3 innings and his fastball was topping off at 94 MPH. He doesn't look like a pitcher he is kind of short and a little stocky but he's getting results."
It was Motte's struggles with the bat, leading to the decision to move him to the mound, basically being made for him by the Cardinals brain trust if he wanted to stay in baseball.
"They kind of made the decision for me," Motte said. "It was like, 'Hey we're gonna have you pitch. How do you feel about that?' I was like, 'Well it's basically that or go home so, I mean, so I'd rather be in a uniform and get to play"
Motte is still getting to play, not only is he playing but he is exceeding all expectations about his progress as he makes the transformation from being one of the top defensive catchers in minor league baseball to a new pitcher, starting from scratch.
"He's picking it up real quick," pitching coordinator Mark Riggins told me this week.
Mark Riggins: "He's always had the strong arm and sometimes when we see a kid that has a strong arm we always keep it in the pack of our minds if that position does pan out for him, there is the opportunity for him to pitch, so we got together as a group last year and may that decision to make him a pitcher. I talked to him and he was all for it."
Ray Mileur: Coach, I've briefly talked with Jason behind the cages, he seems like a very intelligent player, what is your take on him?
Mark Riggins: "He's a very intelligent player, we worked with his delivery about four or five times, just basic mechanics, he picked that stuff up real fast, before we actually put him on the field."
Ray Mileur: "Coach how do you decide what pitch selection he's going to have, since he's never pitched before?"
Mark Riggins: "He doesn't really have a breaking ball but he always play catch with one in the outfield, you know catchers are always goofing around with different pitches, he actually did have a little one, it's so much better this spring."
Ray Mileur: "Are you as surprised as I am by his progress?"
Mark Riggins: "Yes, you can watch him on the mound, he loves it, he's going after the hitters, he's challenging the guys and he's got the mental makeup for it. Sometimes the guys got the arms but they don't have the mental makeup."
As of Saturday, with a record of 0-0, 0.00 ERA in four games, Motte's pitched a total of seven innings in relief, walking just two batters and striking out eight, amazing, considering last year at this time, he was a catcher.
Last season after just a few sessions working with pitching coaches, going over the very basics of pitching mechanics, Motte joined short-season Class A State College in June, and went 1-2 with a 3.08 ERA, striking out 25 in 26.1 innings of work. Promoted to low Class A Quad Cities in August, Motte posted a 4.97 ERA in eight games for the Swing.
This year, Jason will likely start the season with the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals and he's expected to continue to progress and move up within the organization and prospect rankings in a timely fashion.