Joe Hietpas: The "Shutdown Catcher"

In football you hear the term 'Shutdown Corner.' It's pretty simply, that cornerback shuts down the receiver he's covering, the QB won't even throw in that direction.<br> <br> In baseball, the term would be a 'Shutdown Catcher.'<br> <br> And the definition would be Joe Hietpas.

He's big and strong, he handles pitchers well and has a closer's arm. As a member of the Peoria Saguaros of the Arizona Fall League Joe Hietpas was tested by Jason Bartlett and Kevin Thompson of the Grand Canyon Rafters in the first. Bartlett was thrown out by five feet, Thompson was the second half of the always entertaining strike 'em out/throw 'em out double play.

He would not be tested again.

"I'm always trying to improve. Defense has always been my strength, but I can always get better," Hietpas said. "I'm working on everything."

For a guy with this kind of arm to be working on the defense is commendable, but Hietpas also knows his defense is not the problem. "I changed my approach a little the second half of the season, and I've worked real hard to bring that approach down here."

It seems to be working, through the first week of Arizona Fall League action Hietpas was hitting .462 with his new approach. "I'm just trying to keep my hands inside the ball and be disciplined." He had yet to hit a home run, but in batting practice Hietpas puts on a show, crushing balls to both right and left center. "That's the toughest thing, is to try and take the same swings in the game that I'm taking in batting practice. It's getting easier, and I'm getting better."

Hietpas knows his chance of making the Mets roster next season is slim. With Mike Piazza, Vance Wilson and Jason Phillips all on the club there might not be room for a defensive minded catcher still perfecting his swing. "The way things are I just don't know if there will be room for me, but I do hope to get the chance at some point. I might not be ready just yet, but if I keep working hard I know I will be."

Saguaros coaches give Hietpas high marks for the way he handles pitchers too, and the rapid fire pitching changes common in AFL don't faze him. "I'm always catching new pitchers in the minor leagues. It's just the way things are, there is so much movement in the teams, and I've moved a lot too, so it really doesn't bother me. You figure out pretty quick what the pitcher has, and try to work with them to make sure everybody is on the same page. Communication is the big thing. Just talking to the pitchers and finding out what they are comfortable throwing in different situations."

For Hietpas if the bat comes around the Mets will have to find a spot for him, and it looks like it might just be happening sooner than later. He's now listed on the Mets 40 man roster, and with Piazza's move to first the spot that wasn't there last time he looked might have his name on it the next time he takes a peek. One thing is for sure, nobody's going to steal it from him.

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