Updated: Feb 5, 2021
The Nationals philosophy in teaching their catchers during instructional league centered around each individual working on parts of their game they needed to improve on.
"When I talked to them at instructional league I laid out why they were there from a tools standpoint,” said Nationals catching coordinator Michael Barrett, who caught for 12 seasons in the major leagues. “Very honest to them about what we need to do, the areas that we need to get better. We do individual work together and we are very transparent on what each guy is working on, even to the group.”
Barrett emphasized this teaching tool. It was not about embarrassing a kid in front of the whole group if a part of their game needed improvement. Rather, the coaches emphasized the fundamental they wanted each backstop to improve on, and repeated those fundamentals for others in the group. Barrett found that each catcher was more than willing to share their strengths with others in the group, and vice versa.
“Even though a guy may be strong throwing the ball to second base, he may learn something from someone who is not as strong (at that tool),” Barrett said. “I tell the boys all the time that sometimes your greatest catching coach is your peer standing next to you. You can learn as much from him just watching him make some adjustments as you could learning from a coach.”
Barrett watched as the kids fed off each other in each drill, sharing nuances of footwork or arm position, ways to block a pitch in the catching crouch and where to aim on throws to second base.
"Another thing I love about our organization from the catching ranks is that we always encourage sharing information,” Barrett continued. “By sharing information we feel that everyone gets stronger. It's the iron sharpens iron mentality where is if we work together you will develop faster. One of the things that the boys do really well is they share information. They share with each other what they are working on. They are open about their weaknesses. That raises some awareness and accountability. You never know what your teammate might have that will help you."
The young catchers in the Nats instructional league also got a crash course on calling games, something collegiate catchers do not usually have to take on during their Division I innings.
One catcher in particular that had to get on that fast track was 2020 fourth round selection Brady Lindsly, the 22-year-old out of the University of Oklahoma.
"I was really impressed watching some of our more experienced players sharing information. You talk about a guy like Brady. He is a natural born leader for me. A lot of our catchers coming from college where they aren't really given the opportunity to really call the games themselves or manage the game themselves. A lot of times the coach is calling pitches from the side, which is fine, I'm not knocking that. But to come to the Washington Nationals I always say: 'go back to factory settings' and then we reprogram you to do it the Washington Nationals way."
Barrett said he explained to his charges how they wanted them to prepare for games: they have to go back to their factory default setting, then “we download our programs and apps” into their database. Lindsly also had an advantage from his time in Norman, Okla. He already knew what teammates Cade Cavalli and Jake Irvin could do on the mound from their time together in college.
"That's the approach we took with Brady,” Barrett said. “He did an excellent job understanding where we were coming from with that and I think he also was able to get comfortable catching some of the guys that he had in college. Game calling at the professional level is so different because you are catching guys with better stuff on a more consistent basis."
One disadvantage that every team had to endure this summer was there were no actual games played due to the coronavirus shutdown. But Barrett said this turned into a positive for his catchers at instructs in October when they played their first real games against the Marlins. The Nats catchers could call for any pitch in a pitcher’s arsenal.
“Typically (in a normal season), most of the pitchers we would have in instructional league may have had 100, 150 innings," Barrett said. "So, if they were to pitch in instructional league maybe you would have eliminated their second pitch to work on their third pitch or maybe you wanted to limit them the amount of breaking balls that they threw. Here it was outlined that it was not limited. We had a more extensive report on what our pitching coordinator wanted.
“So, Brady had to go into instructional league with a little different learning curve. I think it was a great opportunity for him to prepare for next season. But the biggest thing for him was getting acclimated to calling the game and understanding that how important that is. He did a great job of embracing that and then given the situation that he was in and having to call a normal game. I thought he did an excellent job."
Lindsly had to accelerate this learning curve after having to work out without games for an entire summer. Barrett said Lindsly seized this opportunity and excelled.
"He handled it really well,” Barrett said. “He is a guy with tremendous makeup."