Skelton's Patience a Virtue

Patience has been a virtue for James Skelton in the Detroit Tigers' organization. Currently in his fourth season with the club, his first in West Michigan, Skelton has begun to show off his offensive capabilities to complement his solid catching game.

Entering Wednesday, he is batting .339, second on the team behind the red-hot Deik Scram. Skelton credits much of this success to working with Whitecaps hitting coach Benny Distefano during extended spring training.

"I had a lot of help with going to the opposite field, trying to hit the ball the other way," Skelton said. "After that, everything just came easy."

Things weren't always so easy for the 2004, 14th round draftee. As a skinny kid straight out of high school, he played his first two seasons in the Gulf Coast League and didn't hit above .200 either year. Skelton attributes lower back issues to the reason he struggled those first two years, and was determined to prove himself in 2006 at Oneonta. Fully healthy, his bat improved. Skelton hit an even .300 in 42 games in the New York-Penn League, belting 22 RBI and scoring 20 runs. He has only continued to improve since then.

West Michigan manager Tom Brookens has watched Skelton progress, having also coached him last year at Oneonta.

"He's probably got one of the purest swings of anybody on the team," Brookens said of Skelton's left-handed stroke. "He's got a real nice swing and makes good contact."

It is not only his swing and his average that has impressed Brookens. Skelton's discipline at the plate and grasp of fundamentals has caught the skipper's attention.

"He's a tough out. He doesn't give at-bats away. He puts the ball in play," Brookens said. "I know as a manager when we have men on base and I see him coming up, I don't care if it's a right-hander (pitcher) or a left-hander, I feel good about it because he has a solid approach at the plate and puts the ball in play."

In addition to his bat, Skelton is constantly working on improving his game behind the plate. He lists taking control of a pitching staff as one of his main goals for this season. Whitecaps pitching coach Ray Burris says that Skelton has done well at making adjustments with the pitcher on what the hitter is giving them at the plate.

"And that's the sign of an individual who wants to win," Burris said.

Brookens has noticed an improvement as well in Skelton's handling of the staff.

"From a year or two ago he has done better (at calling a game). He does really pay attention to that part of the game," Brookens said. He understands that if he is going to move up as a catcher he's going to have to learn how to do that better and he does do a good job."

A sweet swing and a solid defensive game happen to be the repertoire of the player currently holding the catching position with the organization's big club, a guy by the name of Ivan Rodriguez. As Rodriguez continues to climb in age, the club will be in the market for a new catcher within the next few years. While that may be on Skelton's radar, it does not affect how he handles himself or his game.

"I try not to think about what's going to happen in the future," Skelton said. "I try to go day by day, just out there working hard."

He has met Rodriguez, though, which Skelton called an honor, and has always admired his style.

"I always liked him growing up," Skelton said. "I wanted to be him and have his game. He was always a defensive guy who could hit .300, so if you can hit and catch that's a big plus.

"He's one of my childhood idols."

Skelton's physical makeup may give some pause in his ability to compete as a big-league catcher. Listed in the Whitecaps media guide as 6'1" and 185 lbs., Skelton has a thin, skinny frame not often seen with catchers. He is on a weightlifting regiment through the team to bulk up a bit, and is also on a special diet.

"They want me to eat everything," Skelton said.

He credits the weightlifting in helping him improve not only his defense, but his offense as well.

"In high school I wasn't really an opposite field hitter," Skelton said. "Now I'm actually driving the ball opposite field instead of just lazy bloopers. Lifting weights is a big plus."

Bulking up may also help Skelton add some power to his offensive game. He currently has only four home runs with the Tigers' organization, his first with the Whitecaps coming on June 1 at Lansing.

Looking back to his defense, Brookens does acknowledge that Skelton's frame can have an effect on his catching game, specifically blocking balls.

"They'll hit him and ricochet off him, I say it's like hitting a metal pole," Brookens said.

However, Brookens does not see Skelton's size as a main concern, pointing out that there is no rule that says catchers have to be a prototype big guy.

He also calls his arm strength average but progressing, and compliments him as an excellent base runner with above-average speed for a catcher who can steal a couple bases. Ultimately, Brookens says that Skelton's future lies in his own hands.

"He has the talent, it's really up to him how far he goes because we really like him and he's got something that a lot of catchers don't have, and that's a pure swing and a good approach," Brookens said. "He's a good kid and we like him a lot, the organization likes him a lot and we think he's got the potential to make it to the big leagues one day, we really feel that good about him."

Tigs Town Top Stories