“I love to throw, its part of my game,” the 21-year-old catching prospect said. “As a catcher you need to be able to throw and keep guys honest at the bases so they aren’t getting too big a jump. So if that ball is hit in the gap, rather than them getting a great secondary and scoring, maybe they stay at third.”
Anybody stat watching at the beginning of the season would have been questioning Remillard’s arm and his ability to throw out base runners as nine-of-the-first-10 were successful.
“Its really hard to throw people out when its that cold. Its not easy to get a a grip on the ball and its hard to stay warm and stay loose. Now that the weather is warming up, makes it a little easier for us to stay loose and give our best effort to throw guys out. Our pitching staff has made a lot of adjustments too. Holding guys better, and picking them off, and being able to give us a chance to throw people out.”
Since the thermometer started rising, so has the New York state native’s success, nabbing 15 of the last 31, but he’s not taking all the credit.
“If that guy is a base stealer and he gets his ‘A’ jump and our pitcher is not quick to the plate, its almost impossible to throw that guy out. We need to be able to hold runners and get guys to start thinking that we might go for pick so they don’t get their best jumps, and that gives us a chance to throw guys out.”
Remillard also talked about earning a reputation and the role a catcher plays in controlling the opponent’s running game.
“It helps our pitching staff out a lot when other teams don’t or can’t steal as much. If they just run-run-run, that’s giving them extra bases, which will lead to more runs. So if we can throw guys out consistently and maybe even pick a few guys off, here and there, they have to shorten their leads, they don’t get as good a secondary lead, aren’t able to run as much, and helps our pitching staff keep a low ERA.”
Low indeed, as all six starters sport an ERA under 3.00 and the Cougars are one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Remillard’s pro career began in a training room in Mesa as he recovered from “kinda like a stress fracture in my lower back”. Its one of the main reasons he signed with the Cubs instead of returning to Costal Carolina University for his senior season, a decision he doesn’t regret.
“I’m glad I turned pro,” he said. “The rehab was great and that was a big part of why I went pro, so I could get healthy, and I knew that being with a professional team I would get the best care and the best treatment, to get me healthy so I could play every day. After I got drafted, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” he said. “I went to Cape Cod and played for awhile and ended up going home and that‘s when I signed.”
He finally got on the diamond at the end of fall instructs, catching eight games, and then headed back to Mesa for his first spring training—in big league camp.
“It was awesome. I didn’t know what to expect since I had never been to an actual spring training. It was cool just to be around those guys and see how they go about their business. To be able to ask them questions on their routines and what they do, and kinda start molding my routines and what I’m going to do.”
After a month in big league camp, Remillard headed back to the minor league side to prepare for his pro debut.
“I played well. I didn’t get too many at-bats because that’s what happens with catchers, I caught well and I proved I was able to break obviously, they thought I played well enough.”
He made his pro debut on April 3 at Quad Cites, collecting his first pro hit, a single, and on April 27 launched his first pro homer at Fifth Third Ballpark against Wisconsin. His play didn’t go unnoticed by the Cubs as he was named the organization’s minor league player of the month for April, hitting .373/.458/.549.
He also made a good impression on manager Mark Johnson, a former big league catcher.
“In his first pro season coming off back problems, he’s exceeded all expectations,” Johnson said of the backstop “Defensively, he runs a fantastic game, quick to pick up on a hitter’s tendencies, he’s know when pitcher’s are vulnerable, and he knows when to take visits. As far as his feel and the way he’s calling a game now, he’s advanced, not only for for this level but especially for his first full season, I think he’s exceeded everyone’s expectations but the key is to continue to get better and never be satisfied with where you are at.”
Not only is Remillard honing his defensive skills but he’s also working hard to become a better hitter. He’s batting .286/.371/.388 with 12 doubles and 26 RBI.
“In spring training he struggled, we gave him a leg kick and he just caught right on. Swings the bat really well, and is consistently having good at-bats, even when he doesn’t see good pitches to hit,” Johnson said of Remillard’s progress.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder has been receptive to the change at the plate and accepts the challenge of improving his game with the bat.
“I didn’t really know what to expect at first. When they brought it up to me and told me that this what we were going to do, I was all for it, because I knew I had to get better and give it 100 percent effort. It happened a lot quicker that I thought it would but it was a pleasant surprise.”
“My whole life I hit good enough, I hit well enough obviously got me to where I am, but at this level, it had to get better,” Remillard said. “Taking this step with hitting coach Tommy Byers, it takes one guy, one hitting coach to give you something that clicks. And that’s worked for me so far and I’m sure there will be more adjustments down the road.”
And what does Johnson think of Remillard’s chances going forward—“Anybody that can catch and throw, and call a good game, is alway considered a prospect in my mind.”