Fox Getting His Work In

Ask Cubs catching prospect Jake Fox how his progression in the annual Arizona Fall League has gone, and he'll sum it up in one sentence.

"I'm doing exactly what I need to be doing out here," says Fox, who is batting .246 in 16 games with the Mesa Solar Sox of the Fall League.

Of course, hitting isn't why Fox is back in Arizona for a second stint in the Fall League. He's there for defense, and the 24-year-old knows it.

Just how has he fared behind the plate? You be the judge. Through 14 games there, Fox has committed two errors and been charged with three passed balls. He's thrown out five of 18 opposing runners.

Solar Sox manager Pat Listach, who also managed Fox at Double-A West Tennessee this past season, calls the backstop a work in progress.

"He's still young and he still drops too many balls," Listach acknowledged, "but he's working hard. He's one of the hardest working guys and he's catching every other day. He's getting his work in and taking his fly balls out in the outfield, and continuing to get better. He wants to get to the next level and has done a good job."

All Fox knows is that he's tired of hearing all the fuss about his defense. He wants to quiet his critics once and for all, and one way to gradually do that is by putting together a respectful showing in the Fall League.

"The last thing I want to be known as is an offensive catcher," said Fox, a career .284 hitter in four minor league seasons with the Cubs. "I want to be known as a well-rounded guy. I think I'm taking care of business."

‘T.C.B.' has always been Fox's specialty. He's hit well everywhere he's played, even at Double-A this past season, where he overcame a slow start after being promoted from Class-A Daytona in June. He was named the 2006 Inside The Ivy Minor League Hitter of the Year in September.

"I'd like to pick up a few more hits here and there, but who wouldn't?" Fox said of his numbers at the plate in the Fall League. "I'm hitting the ball hard and I'm squaring away on the ball. I'm just not finding holes."

But back to the focal point of Fox's game these days: defense.

Between Daytona and West Tenn in 2006, Fox committed eight errors and was charged with 22 passed balls. He threw out 30 percent of runners.

Since arriving in Arizona last month, Fox has worked with fellow catcher A.J. Ellis of the Dodgers' farm system and the two have shared their knowledge of the game with one another equally.

Fox's work with Ellis has been quite the treat, mainly because the knowledge he gets is simply a perspective on how fellow top catching prospects work.

"You've got to learn a lot more about the position and the perspectives on it," Fox said. "Not necessarily coaching perspectives, because I feel sometimes coaches tell you what they're supposed to tell you and not necessarily what they need to be telling you. Sometimes, the things that get the job done aren't the most fundamentally correct things to do."

For Fox and the entire contingent of Cub prospects in the Fall League, their season in Arizona ends Thursday. The Solar Sox are 15-15 entering the final day of the regular season schedule, some four games back of Eastern Division Champion Phoenix.

As has been previously noted by this outlet, when the Fall League began last month, Fox came to Arizona with the expectation of getting an audition at several other positions – namely the outfield, where he made several starts toward the end of the year at Double-A, and first base.

But fellow catcher Lou Santangelo of the Houston Astros' farm system left Arizona in late October to attend the birth of his newborn child. That left the Sox with only two catchers by default and it's been Fox splitting the duties with Ellis, one of the team's top hitters with a .340 average in 16 games.

"We're catching every other day now and the days when you're not catching, they need you out in the bullpen," Fox explained. "So I'm not getting to play those other positions, but it helps from the standpoint that we're going to get more at-bats and play every other day."

All in all, Fox is pretty happy with the progress he's made in the Fall League, as well as the knowledge he's picked up from Ellis along the way.

And it's not just things like blocking balls in the dirt and throwing out runners that the third-round pick from the 2003 draft wants to improve on. Far from it, in fact. First and foremost, Fox wants to make sure his game-calling and handling of the pitching staff he's assigned to is in tip-top shape.

"My goal coming in was to make sure I was where I wanted to be with game-calling and handling the staff," Fox said. "We have five different organizations and when you have different instructors in town, I talk to them and ask them to watch my game-calling and ask for feedback."

Pretty receptive, that Fox.

He also knows the more he learns now about handling a pitching staff, the less he'll have to pick up along the way at the major league level one day.

"If I'm going to make that transition, I want to make sure my game-calling and pitch selection is where it needs to be, so we don't have that awkwardness where the pitcher is always shaking me off to get to the pitch that he wants," Fox said.

"Obviously, you're going to go through that, but the more you understand how different guys think and understand their approach, the easier it is to pick up on their rhythm and to mesh with them right away."

About the only thing that might rival Fox's passion for defense is the passion he shares for his beloved alma mater: the Michigan Wolverines.

The Michigan football team, ranked No. 2, will play rival Ohio State, ranked No. 1, this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CST in Columbus. The winner of the hated rivalry will play for the National Championship in less than two months.

"I can't wait to see it play out," Fox said. It's going to be great!"


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