Berg: MLB needs catchers in spring training, but doesn’t want to pay them

From Ted Berg at USA Today on March 6, 2019:

Pitch after pitch sizzled in, popping like gunfire as they blasted into catcher Jorge Saez’s glove.

On a muggy Sunday last month, the day before position players were due to report to the Yankees’ spring-training facility, veteran left-hander Rex Brothers worked from one of six mounds under a corrugated steel roof adjacent to the right-field bullpen at Steinbrenner Field. Like many professional pitchers these days, Brothers can hurl baseballs at speeds rare in the game as recently as a decade ago. He made only 12 pitches in his lone big-league outing of 2018 and did not retire a single batter, but 11 of those pitches registered between 96 and 98 mph.

In the early phase of his spring-training bid for a bullpen spot, Brothers threw to Saez, a 28-year-old former 32nd-round draft pick who has not yet played above Class AA ball. And though it was still more than a month before teams would be ready for regular-season action, the velocity on Brothers’ fastballs appeared impossible.

Saez simply caught them and tossed them back. All down the row, the other catchers in Yankees camp did the same for other pitchers. Their abilities behind the plate are obvious, practiced, rarified, and, for the length of spring training, uncompensated.

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Originally published: March 7, 2019. Last Updated: March 7, 2019.