Name: Mitch Canham
DOB: September 25, 1984
Celebrity status, however, was still in the cards for the popular catcher.
After each game in Eugene, Canham would stand at the edge of the dugout and sign whatever paraphernalia was handed his way – signing for upwards of half an hour on some nights. He would turn no fan away. It was a sign of his character, as well as his love and respect for the game of baseball.
"Mitch is a great guy," pitching prospect and fellow teammate in Eugene Jeremy Hefner said. "Coming from Oregon State where they won back-to-back Championships and leading those two pitching staff's – he obviously has a lot of experience and has done really well. From what I could see, he is a very humble kid and with all the fans here has handled the pressure very well."
After getting off to a torrid start that saw him hit .353 over his first eight games, the injury bug hit.
A supplemental first-round pick by San Diego, Canham got hurt on the very day he was to be sent up to Low-A Fort Wayne. A groin injury that required surgery sidelined the catcher for close to three weeks and limited him to 28 games in short-season Eugene.
"As soon as we get him he is injured," Eugene manager Greg Riddoch said. "He only played 25 games for us and then we sent him to the next level. And he didn't play up there because he was helping out and the team was in a pennant race."
He wound up hitting .292 with seven extra base hits, including two homers, and 18 RBIs in 28 games for the Emeralds. He drew 11 walks but fanned 35 times over 116 at bats.
Canham got a cup of coffee with High-A Lake Elsinore, going 0-for-7 in two games and 0-for-1 in the playoffs.
Leaking forward has been an area of concern with the bat in his hands. He has a stutter-step toe tap where he taps five or six times before swinging. It is a timing mechanism for the backstop but also saps him of power. By leaking forward, his balance transfers from his back foot to his front foot before the swing takes place.
The unconventional movement belies his immense strength. He still has the power to launch a few balls out of the park but once he is able to align his body and its forward momentum up with his hands he could be a true force.
One of the problems that his lack of balance has caused is reaching for the outside pitch. He is not able to catch up to the ball away and has to slap at it because his base has already become stretched wide. Plus, it cuts down on his ability to stay back and recognize the off-speed pitch.
"Mitch is going to be a hitter," former Eugene hitting coach and current AZL Padres manager Jose Flores. "Once he fully understands how to use his lower half, he is going to be one of these 20 to 25 homer guys in the big leagues. Right now he is nothing but upper body and hands.
"One of the biggest things we were working with him on is being more patient because his hands were already quick and he is losing a lot of power with that shift – what we call leaking forward, flipping his hands. He is getting hits but as he gets older and stronger we are going to need him to drive balls and not try and pepper stuff. We have to incorporate staying back and trusting himself. He is already quick with his hands. We need for his body to stay behind that. Once he understands that he will be fine."
Smoothing out the mechanics of his swing should naturally cut down on his strikeout totals as well. He fanned in 30.1 percent of his at bats on the season.
Canham also doesn't use batting gloves, expect in extreme circumstances (when he has a blister he is trying to heal). It is an oddity in today's world – almost everyone wears batting gloves. A few of his opponents have commented on him going sans gloves, including the same team he hit a grand slam off during the season. He has exceptional strength in his wrists in forearms.
"He also has an aluminum bat swing," Flores said. "If you look at it in depth, he is trying to get out there so he won't get beat inside. With a wood bat, he is trying to cheat – he coasts out in front and then his bat lags.
"It is a matter of him staying back on balls, trusting his hands because his power is going to come from his lower half."
Surprisingly, Canham is exceptionally agile for a catcher. In his next at bat after hitting a grand slam for Eugene, he laid down a picture perfect bunt and beat it out for a hit. He dropped a few bunts in perfect situations and notched a couple of hits that way. He also stole five bases in seven attempts.
Behind the dish, the Washington native had trouble blocking balls and keeping the rock in front of him. He was slow out of his stance and often tried to backhand the ball rather than getting his feet moving so he could pad the hop with his chest protector. It resulted in eight passed balls in 21 games at catcher.
"Average catching abilities at the moment," Riddoch said. "But he has only caught for a year and a half. Who might have a better ceiling – a guy who has caught since he was a little leaguer or a guy who has caught for only a year and a half? There you go."
He sets himself well in throwing but his footwork lags behind slightly – nothing that can't be corrected with time. His arm is relatively accurate but will get a bit loopy on his throws to second, resulting in times that touch the 2.00-plus when ideal times are 1.8 to 1.9 seconds.
He tossed out 10 of the 34 runners attempting to steal, good for 29.4 percent, across two leagues.
Catching duties have been a heavy emphasis for Canham. He has worked hard at improving his footwork, getting a jump on balls in the dirt, and his throwing. An off-season of strengthening the arm and working on his agility should improve his lot.
He is very adept at calling a sound game. He is vocal and is not afraid to go to the mound and let his thoughts be heard, even if it is something the pitcher doesn't want to hear. He will, at times, go out to the mound too much and disrupt the flow of the game and a pitcher's rhythm.
"He has a natural swing – is a good athlete," former Padres minor league field coordinator Bill Bryk said. "I think he will improve enough to be a adequate to average catcher, but he will be an offensive catcher. If his catching ability does not improve enough, he could play third base or left field."
He is an outstanding kid who listens to the coaching staff and takes instruction well. He is not afraid of being wrong but will work his tail off to correct the flaws.
ETA: The dearth of catching talent in the system likely means Canham will start the year in Lake Elsinore. Provided he makes strides with the bat and irons out his mechanics, Canham could be a special player with serious power from the catching position.
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