"I was taught at a young age that defense comes first as a catcher," Powell said this week from Surprise Stadium where he was taking place in the Arizona Fall League showcase, "Like a lot of kids in little league, I was a shortstop/pitcher, but my dad was an umpire for a long time, and knew a lot about the game, and he told me if I wanted to play in the big leagues the best way was as a catcher."
Behind the plate he moves like a catcher, and when tested in infield practice he doesn't flinch. Powell plays on the Desert Dogs, and that was the same squad he represented in the Showcase. Tony DeFrancesco, manager of the A's Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, also coaches the Desert Dogs, and as is customary, as each player is finishing infield, DeFrancesco gives them 'one more play.'
For Powell, that meant a popup straight up. It's the toughest play for a catcher, one that big leaguers regularly misjudge, but it's also the toughest play for a coach to imitate. DeFrancesco's pop up drives Powell all the way to the screen. Reporters, front office execs, media relations people and groundskeepers float around behind the plate where Powell, who is recovering from a knee injury tracks the pop up and makes the play look easy.
It's the type of play that only comes with experience.
"I started catching when I was 10, and it was always defense, defense, defense."
Of course as good a defensive catcher as Powell is, and one scout at The Showcase said flat out that he is the best of the bunch in the AFL, there has to be a bat to go along with it.
"I knew I could hit, I always thought so," Powell said, and he started to show that this season, but it was obvious that there was some uncertainty about his surgically repaired knee at the beginning of the '06 campaign. The ACL tear caused him to miss the entire 2005 season, making this year the 2004 first round pick's first full season in pro ball.
"The knee is fine now, I struggled with it some early, but once I got over the initial humps I really felt good, and even now I still do."
What made the A's happy was that Powell started to put up power numbers to reflect his massive body. While 15 homers in the California League isn't exactly Bondsian, its more than enough pop for a guy in his first full year in pro ball, especially a guy who spends more time in the crouch than in the batters box.
Frankly, there aren't many positions left in baseball where being an 'outstanding defensive player' stacks up to a big league career. In this day an age its all about offense, it's all about power, and its all about production. Perhaps the only spot on the roster left for the 'defensive specialist' is catcher. Still, for Powell, this season has been all about showing that the previous labels might need to be reprinted. Even though he's playing in the AFL along side a lot of players more 'advanced' than he, Powell knows where he stands.
"This [the AFL] is a step up. You look around and its a lot of guys that have already been in the big leagues, or are just a step away from it, but I know myself, and I know where I'm at in my career. The knee injury hampered me a lot, it set me back, but I know I can compete with these guys, I have been this whole Fall League. I feel like I'm right there as far as competition goes."