Nicholas learning behind the plate

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Catcher Brett Nicholas is best known for his intriguing offensive skills, but he is also in the process of learning to become an everyday catcher. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the 22-year-old after Thursday's spring training workout.

When Brett Nicholas was selected by the Texas Rangers in the sixth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, he was best known for his bat. Nicholas likely still is, although he is beginning to develop an identity defensively.

Nicholas began his collegiate career at Gonzaga University in '08 before transferring to Scottsdale Community College the following season. He spent last year––his junior campaign––at the University of Missouri, and that's where Nicholas broke out.

Playing against Big 12 competition, Nicholas split his time between third base and catcher. He batted .351/.434/.592 with 15 doubles, 12 homers, and 64 RBI in 55 contests. He drew 20 walks and struck out 33 times.

Just a couple weeks after the draft, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound prospect agreed to sign for a slot-level $125,000 bonus. And the Rangers immediately converted Nicholas into a full-time backstop.

As Nicholas mentions below, he faced a handful of challenges in becoming an everyday catcher for the first time. He had never called his own game, he was learning how to handle the grind of catching on a consistent basis, and he was beginning to work with pitching staffs, among other things. In 37 games behind the plate at Spokane last summer, Nicholas played error-free ball with seven passed balls. He threw out 18-of-64 (28%) attempted base stealers.

A left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower, Nicholas was drafted in large part because of his intriguing bat. He had some struggles with the Indians last summer, hitting just .245/.319/.344 in 51 contests, although those numbers aren't quite indicative of his talent. He did improve as the summer progressed and hit .273/.337/.429 with 20 RBI in 20 August contests.

In batting practice, the 22-year-old shows off a line-drive swing (shown in the video below) with some bat speed and the ability to stay inside the ball and turn on inside pitches. Although he obviously hasn't appeared in any spring training games just yet, Nicholas is flashing a mature swing with the ability to line the ball to all fields in BP.

Lone Star Dugout caught up with the Arizona native after Thursday's spring training workout.

Prospect Video:

Brett Nicholas batting practice from Jason Cole on Vimeo.

Jason Cole: Tell me about your first experience in pro ball, playing in Spokane last summer. What were your overall thoughts?

Brett Nicholas: I really enjoyed Spokane. The city was perfect for a minor league city. The fans really supported the team, and the staff that the Rangers put up there as far as the coaching staff was unbelievable. You think you know a lot coming out of college––you think you've got a good grasp on the game. But just the little things that you learn throughout the season is what I think will make me better. I kind of picked it up as the season went, and I think I finished a lot stronger than I started up there.

Cole: You started your collegiate career in Spokane, at Gonzaga, didn't you?

Nicholas: Correct. I was there during my freshman year, back in '08. So it was nice to be familiar with the city. And I got to see some old friends up there, which was great.

Cole: And you were at three different schools in three years of college ball, right?

Nicholas: Yeah, I was at Gonzaga for a year. And then, with the transfer policy, you can't transfer from D1 to D1 without sitting out a year, so I didn't want to miss a year. I came back here to Scottsdale Community College, where I had a great time. And then I was off to Missouri. Honestly, I learned something different about baseball and just about life at each school. It made me a better person, I think.

Cole: You were drafted as a catcher and I know you did some work behind the plate at Mizzou, but if I recall correctly, you also played a lot of third base.

Nicholas: I played about half-and-half between third and catcher. I've never been a full-time catcher, so it's a new experience for me. But I think with the coaching here––with Mike Micucci and Scott Servais and Hector Ortiz––it's a great organization to come and learn catching. Really, you get better every day here.

Cole: What have been some of the bigger challenges you've faced in moving behind the plate on a full-time basis?

Nicholas: I think the biggest thing is probably being able to handle a staff as well as being able to go out there every day. It's a grueling position. Sometimes your legs aren't there, but you've got to find a way to make them better. I think the biggest thing is handling a staff and being able to play day-to-day even though you're squatting the whole time.

The stuff I felt like I've learned the most was actually from our pitching coach up in Spokane––Justin Thompson. It was just sequences about each batter and learning about a pitcher's strengths and pitching off their strength and not so much the batter's weaknesses.

Cole: Were you able to call your own games at Missouri?

Nicholas: No, I've never gotten to call my own game. My coach called every pitch we had there, so that was also a big step in going to Spokane––being able to call my own game and learning from my mistakes.

Cole: How difficult was it initially, being on your own for the first time?

Nicholas: We had a good grasp of it. You learn what the coaches are thinking and stuff as you're catching. But it was difficult for the first few games. There were some pitches that I called that didn't really help the pitcher out. But as the season went on, like I said earlier, I got stronger and I think my pitch-calling got a lot stronger, too. I learned the strengths of our pitchers and stayed with those.

Cole: Since you've been in the Rangers' system, have you worked out at any other positions or has it just been behind the plate?

Nicholas: It has pretty much been just full-time behind the plate. I've taken a few things at first base but not too much. I think the focus will be catcher. The bat––if you swing well, they'll find a position for you.

Cole: Tell me about your offensive game. How do you feel it has developed since you signed last summer?

Nicholas: There are a lot of things you can get away with in college, with the metal bat. Moving to pro ball, you have to really stay short and through the ball. If you do that with the wood bat, you'll be great. But with the metal, you could pull off stuff and still hit it well. The swing feels good, but it's going to take years to perfect. There are guys that have been playing for 20 years that are still practicing their swing every single day.

Cole: What are you looking for out of yourself in your first full season this year?

Nicholas: I think, myself, the biggest thing is to stay healthy. I believe the work that I've put in during the offseason and working out with the guys that I have out at Fischer Sports is really going to help me. It'll keep me strong throughout the season. That way, I'll be able to finish just as strong as I start.

Cole: You mentioned working out at Fischer Sports in Phoenix. What were you doing to prepare for the grind of a long season?

Nicholas: We had a few days of heavy lifting, but it was more working on the core and stability. For a catcher, our hip flexors are kind of the thing that will hold us back––that's the thing that gets the most stiff. So really, I'm trying to stay flexible so it's not going to be an issue at the end of the season. I did some major stretching out at Fischer, like I said, and just certain kinds of lifts that strengthen those areas of the body.

Cole: Do you have any idea where you'll begin the season, or is that still up for grabs?

Nicholas: It's still up for grabs. We have great catching here, especially at the lower levels. Every day, it's a fight for a position. At no point in spring training are we going to feel comfortable. We're going to all be fighting for a starting spot or just a spot on a roster. It's something that we can't take for granted. You've got to play as hard as you can and the staff will make their decisions once spring training is over.

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