Muyco Fine-Tuned Defensively

There are always few certainties regarding any farm system, but two of them are likely the primary reasons for catcher Jake Muyco's call-up to Class High-A Daytona late last month.                                                            

The Cubs' 2005 eighth-round draft pick and 21-year-old backstop was hitting just .205 in 38 games for Peoria, but had thrown out 54 percent (20/37) of base runners behind the plate. That was third in the Midwest League behind Lansing's Brian Bormaster and Clinton's Alberto Martinez.

Muyco, who signed a professional contract after two years at North Carolina State in the ACC, knows the main reasons for his unexpected promotion to the Florida State League: a.) his defense, and b.) the prospect of getting himself and fellow catcher Mark Reed more playing time.

Both spent much of the first half with Peoria in a platoon behind the plate. The 20-year-old Reed, a third-round pick from the 2004 draft, was batting .343 on the day Muyco and teammates Donald Veal, Jonathan Mota and Ed Campusano were all promoted following the Chiefs' first-half Western Division title in the Midwest League.

"Those were probably the reasons," Muyco said of why he felt he got the promotion. "You always want to get guys on a schedule where you can catch three or four days in a row instead of one day here and another day there.

"This organization has a lot of good catchers, so that makes it really tough for the guys who are making the decisions on where people are going and how much playing time they want each one of them to get."

At the time he was promoted, Daytona was already housing three catchers. But the Florida State League's top power hitter and the team's primary catcher, Jake Fox, was promoted to Double-A West Tennessee, while Olin Wick has seen more playing time at DH recently. That has left the primary catching duties to Muyco and Alan Rick.

Stellar defense for Muyco has always been the most talked about attribute of his game. He was widely considered one of the nation's top defensive catchers with the Wolfpack and was scouted heavily by many teams.

In his first seven games behind the plate with his new team, opposing runners have been picked off four times in 11 attempts. That's good for 36 percent of runners thrown out (10th in the Florida State League in spite of the limited playing time there).

Muyco's bat, meanwhile, has continued to struggle with three hits in 22 at-bats. He has struck out eight times without a walk or extra-base hit and Daytona manager Buddy Bailey (previously the organization's Roving Catching/Baserunning Instructor) knows improvement is needed.

"He's a student of the game," said Bailey, a coaching veteran since 1983.

"He's a very good blocker and understands the pitchers' strengths. He's got an above average arm and works the pitcher to get outs. But the biggest thing is to obviously improve his bat. His defense is as solid as anyone's in the system, and he's a quiet leader and a great personality for any ball club. I think he'll go places if we can just find a way to improve his bat."

One way to do that, Muyco says, is to find a comfortable approach. The other is to stay positive through the stormy weathers.

"Long story short, I'm working with the hitting coaches a lot and trying all different things," he said. "Piece by piece, one thing at a time, I'm trying to find something that will be make me more consistent and put me in a good position to hit. And yeah, I need to figure it out mentally and stay positive."

Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita believes that as Muyco advances through the system, the hitting will come around.

"His defense is superior to his bat at this point," Fleita acknowledged, "but his bat is something that as he goes up higher and faces pitchers more around the strike zone, I think he'll learn to do some things with the bat.

"Right now, he's doing exactly the things that we want him to do, and that's catch. Everything else will probably come second, but he has to call a good game and play great defense."

As evidenced by his numbers, Muyco has done just that. He leads the Cubs' farm system in runners caught stealing at an even 50 percent between Peoria and Daytona. Reed is second with 46 percent (25/54); Iowa's Casey Kopitzke third at 43 percent (9/21); and Jose Reyes fourth with 38 percent (20/54).

With Muyco struggling at the plate but excelling on defense, is he happy with his progress overall?

"I wouldn't say so," he said. "For me, you can never be satisfied with what you're doing because you can always improve. I'm not satisfied with my hitting, but defensively I am pretty happy. I can always get better in a lot of areas and clean up some stuff. At the same time, I feel I've learned a lot and can help out the organization."

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