Q&A with Tony Richie

The most difficult thing Cubs catching prospect Tony Richie says he had to go through this past season was getting into a rhythm behind the plate at Double-A West Tennessee. Richie, the Cubs' fourth-round draft choice from Florida State in 2003, appeared in 72 games and spent much of the season backing up catchers Jose Reyes and Jake Fox.

Things probably didn't go as well as you'd have liked at the plate in your first year above A-ball. What did you make of the year you had at Double-A?

It was definitely a big jump between Double-A and Single-A. It kind of showed at the beginning of the year with me, and I wasn't getting all that much playing time. When I did, it was tough to get in sync with the rest of the guys. It was tough to jump in there once every four or five days and try to hit, but I got the hang of it toward the end of the year, and it worked out well. I hit pretty good the last couple of months and I was pleased to end up the season on a strong note.

Your best month was about midway through the year in July. Was there anything you tried differently at the plate that resulted in some better results?

I straightened up my stance a little and sat up a little taller to try and see the ball better. I did get a little more playing time at the end when Reyes went up to Triple-A, so it was a great opportunity to get some at-bats. What I'm striving to do is win the no. 1 position next year and play every day.

What else can you tell us about the adjustments to your stance?

I worked with our hitting coach, Tom Beyers, just to stand up a little more to let my hands go more freely. Previously, I was spread out and kind of locking myself off at the contact point. I wouldn't have that extra little jolt with my hands, so we tried to stand it up and let it be more smooth and free.

You've had a couple of fairly minor injuries in the past. What were they again?

I had shoulder surgery when I was in college, and then it flared up again during my first Spring Training in '04. Aside from that, there have been a few bumps and bruises, but that just comes with catching.

You said your goal is to be an everyday starter next year. Do you think the Cubs still see you as one? What have you heard from them lately?

There really was no indication as to what will happen, because they can always change their mind once you show up to Spring Training. They always have their idea as to what they want to do. But if you're hands-down better than the guy they have in front of you, it's just like the Major Leagues. If you're selling books and you sell more books than the other guy, you're going to be the top seller. (laughs) I'm working on getting into shape and being ready to go coming into Spring Training.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but do you feel if you'd been starting from day one that you would have had an average somewhat similar to your .280 mark at Daytona last year?

It's tough. Baseball is all about rhythm and seeing the ball good and hitting the ball well. It's tough to just jump right in there, especially when you're not seeing the ball well and haven't played for a couple of days, trying to get the rhythm and timing of all the pitches. Once you get in that rhythm, it's great. That's why people go through hot streaks that can make their season great. It depends on how long you get on that hot streak.

What about the year you had defensively? You had a great fielding percentage (.998) and threw out 30 percent of runners.

Toward the beginning of the year, just like my hitting, it was tough to throw out people on defense. Both me and Reyes had a tough time at the start throwing people out, but it just seemed like everything clicked toward the end. Our pitching staff did a good job of holding runners on and we really had a great pitching staff this year. They made it really easy to catch them and it was just a pleasure to catch those guys this year, especially toward the beginning and the middle when all the guys like Juan Mateo, Randy Wells and Carlos Marmol started rolling.

Who was your favorite to catch this year?

I have a couple of different ones. If you went out and wanted a quick game, you wanted Wells pitching because he would throw the most strikes out of all of them. But Marmol and Mateo had such good stuff that it was fun to catch them and try to lead them to win games. They sometimes get into a little bit of a mindset that they're just going to throw it hard. I think they realized that once they got to the big leagues, they can't do that every time. Now it's just cool to watch them progress as they've done this year, and how they've thrown the ball this year.

What does the off-season hold in store for you?

I'm not going to play Winter Ball this year, so I'll probably get a little job here or there. I don't know what I'm going to do yet. I'll try to stay in good shape and get in the best shape I've ever been in going into Spring Training. I think that was something they really wanted me to do: come in tip-top shape, so hopefully that'll work out and I'll have a great year next year.

Did you feel you came into camp in great shape this past March? We know a couple of guys didn't.

Yeah, I did, but I just feel like I'm going to go overboard to be in even better shape next year. I haven't really caught 100 games in any season so far, so I'm going to go in thinking I'm going to catch that many. If I don't, I'll still be in great shape anyway.

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