Clevenger Embraces Catching Role

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. -- It's rare that a catcher carrying a .327 batting average has to split time. That's the case with Tennessee Smokies catcher Steve Clevenger.

Clevenger splits time behind the plate with Welington Castillo, who is highly regarded as the top catching prospect in the organization.

But rather than get dejected over a lack of playing time, Clevenger uses Castillo to better himself.

"I hope Willie the best when he plays and I'm sure he hopes me the best when I play," Clevenger says. "It's really not a competition. We learn from each other, improve on each other and help each other the best we can."

He may hope the best for Castillo when he's on the bench, but you won't catch Clevenger playing cheerleader while his teammate is behind home plate.

He's busy using that time to build relationships with his pitching staff and work on his game-calling skills.

"I'm down in the bullpen trying to talk to the pitchers about certain situations, (like) how I pitched a guy and see how they would pitch it, so I kind of get some stuff out of it," Clevenger said.

This hard work isn't surprising behavior for Clevenger. In his short career, he has been asked to make many adjustments and each time has made the best of them.

Shortly after being drafted by the Cubs in the seventh round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, the versatile infielder reported to Class Low-A Boise. The last two days of the fall instructional camp, the club asked him to try on the catchers' gear.

Three weeks before spring training, Clevenger got the call that he felt was coming.

"I kind of had a thing that I knew I was going to catch, so I just went with it and put everything I had into it," Clevenger said.

Adapting the catcher's mentality was not hard for the Baltimore native but adapting to the physical stress on a catchers body took some changes in his workout regimen.

Clevenger focused his workouts more toward his legs than his upper body and tried to add endurance through extra running.

Still, Clevenger is well aware of how unforgiving the position can be, even for a 23-year old.

"You're here first, and one of the last ones to leave, and you're catching bullpens on your days off. Just the wear and tear on your body, I think it really gets you over the course of the season," Clevenger says.

Applying his tough "everything is for the best" attitude, Clevenger has embraced the position and used it to improve his offensive game.

"It's definitely improved my hitting. With the mentality of being a catcher behind the plate, you have a plan of what you're going to do in the game against hitters, and as a hitter you know what they are going to try and do against you and your team," Clevenger said.

In the spring, Clevenger took the next step in his young career and was invited to his first major league camp.

Working with major league catchers Geovany Soto, Paul Bako and Koyie Hill gave Clevenger the opportunity to soak up a wealth of knowledge.

"I just kind of listened to what they had to say, what they try to do. I just tried to hang around those guys and get a feel for how they would pitch guys in certain situations. Sitting around talking to those guys was great," Clevenger said.

Clevenger's experience at the camp reinforced his yearning to reach the top level.

"You go in there; you kind of get an idea to everything and what those guys go through," Clevenger says. "You feel (like) part of the Cubs and you feel better about yourself. But you still got to get there and I'm here, so there is still a lot of work to be done."

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