Clevenger Adding Experience to his Game

Steve Clevenger had already left Arizona and the Cubs' annual Instructional League camp en route home to Florida when his cell phone rang. It was the Cubs' Farm Director calling.

This is not always a good thing.

A call from any team's Farm Director can mean some not-so-good things, such as a trade to another team, or discipline, or worse, suspension.

But the news Clevenger received was all good.

After spending a month in Instructs re-polishing his skills behind the plate at catcher, the position that the Cubs have decided best suits this 21-year-old prospect, Clevenger was tabbed for additional playing time in the Arizona Fall League.

The AFL's Mesa Solar Sox had lost Astros catching prospect J.R. Towles, who was returned home by Houston, and Clevenger was selected as his replacement.

The move had to be approved by all five clubs that are affiliated with the Solar Sox this year: Chicago, Boston, Houston, Milwaukee and St. Louis.

"I think he (Towles) is going to be the big league catcher next year, or the back-up, so they didn't want him to get hurt or anything," said Clevenger.

Whatever the reason, Clevenger is thankful for the opportunity.

While there are some things that Clevenger would like to work on at the plate, it is awfully hard to argue with his current approach.

Clevenger batted .373 in 22 games with Class Low A Boise (short-season) before he was moved up to High A Daytona to close the regular season.

He didn't miss a beat in the Florida State League, batting .323 in 43 games.

Yes, there is always room for improvement all-around, but make no mistake about it: Clevenger's main focus right now is on defense, and experience.

"In Instructs, I pretty much just worked on my catching to get more experience," Clevenger said. "I played in almost every game in Instructs as a catcher. They just wanted to get me more experience to work on my blocking, my receiving, my throwing and stuff like that."

Clevenger may have begun to stray from those things once the season started heating up in Boise back in early July.

He began his stint with Boise as the team's starting catcher on an everyday basis, but once many players from the Cubs' 2007 draft class started to sign and began to report, the cards had to be reshuffled.

One such draftee turned signee was Josh Donaldson, a catcher taken with the Cubs' first-round supplemental draft pick (48th overall) out of Auburn.

With 20-year-old Dominican prospect Mario Mercedes already on the Boise roster, and Donaldson having just arrived, Clevenger saw his playing time – at catcher that is – divided up.

He would earn the promotion to Daytona, bypassing another Low-A stop at Peoria, only to find that Daytona already had two catchers on their roster as well.

"When the draft came around and they drafted Donaldson, they approached me and kind of told me that the catching time was going to be cut even shorter with so many catchers in Boise," Clevenger recalled.

"But once I got moved up to Daytona, they had Jake Muyco and Mark Reed, so they told me it would be kind of the same there."

Fortunately for Clevenger, he has shown some versatility early on in his pro career, and that came in handy this past season. (Clevenger was initially drafted as a shortstop from Chipola Junior College in Florida, moved to second base right after the draft and then began his reps at catcher late in Instructs last year.)

This past season, Clevenger also spent a fair amount of time at first base to accommodate the Class-A logjam behind the plate.

But there is no question that his future – for now anyway – is at catcher.

"It's definitely behind the plate right now," Clevenger insists. "It's just that they had so many catchers (during the season) that it was hard to only put one guy back there. So they tried to switch it around and give everybody time. They said that that's what Instructs was for – to get me more time back there."

To be sure, Clevenger has enjoyed his brief time behind the plate.

But when the Cubs and former Boise manager Steve McFarland first approached Clevenger about catching, they did so knowing that the seventh-round pick from the 2006 draft had never really even suited up there.

Did Clevenger even know he could catch? Surely the Cubs must have seen something.

"(McFarland) approached me last year with two days left in Instructs and asked me if I wanted to try catching, just to add more to my game since I played middle infield," Clevenger tells. "I tried it with a couple of days left. In the winter, they called and told me I would come to Spring Training as a catcher."

Clevenger still has a lot to learn about the position. But at least his bat hasn't suffered. If he can get both offense and defense down, he sees his opportunity – however long it may take – in the big leagues.

"One positive of me catching is there aren't that many left-handed hitting catchers back there," noted Clevenger. "If you can hit as a catcher, that's a plus. But if you can catch and hit, it's the quickest way to the big leagues and that's the way I'm taking it. If I can learn to catch – the hitting is already there – and keep an even-keel, that's the quickest way for me to the big leagues."

Right now in the Fall League, though, it's just about the experience – and learning.

Oh, and surprise ... he still has to share playing time.

"Of course you want to do well out here and prove to everybody that you can play with these guys ... a lot of older, experienced guys," Clevenger said. "Right now, I'm just learning from the guys that are here. We have Lou Palmisano and Dusty Brown. They're older guys. I just learn from them and get more experience."

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