Normally when a team is taking a player in the later rounds of the draft, the player is taken as organizational depth. The team needs guys at certain positions to fill out the rosters at the lower levels. Those players usually just come in and play the position they play for a few seasons. Sometimes you see projects in the later rounds, although those are usually high school and JuCo picks. You don’t often see a college hitter taken late in the draft as a project.
That’s what the Pirates did last year with 41st round pick Jonathan Schwind. The junior from Marist College had played almost every position on the field in college. He played all four infield spots, right field, and even played center field. But the one position he didn’t play was the position the Pirates drafted him for: catcher.
Schwind hadn’t played behind the plate since middle school. Most players transition from catcher to an easier defensive position. It’s not often that a player moves from another position to catcher.
“I think being athletic has allowed him to do this stuff,” former Pirates catcher and current GCL Pirates manager Tom Prince said. “And he’s willing to put on the gear. That’s half the battle too.”
The Pirates felt that Schwind’s athleticism, above-average arm, and quick hands would play well behind the plate. And so the experiment began. The Pirates sent Schwind to the Gulf Coast League after signing. The placement is low for a guy coming out of college, as the league is usually filled with talent out of the high school and international ranks. But the placement in the GCL gave Schwind a chance to work with Prince behind the plate.
“I think if you had to put me anywhere, that was the place to put me, especially learning from him,” Schwind said.
“He picked up last year after playing some infield in college. He’s really never caught. So we revamped everything, gave him the tools that he needed, he took them in to games,” Prince said. “[He] handled it pretty well and he’s picked up from what he did last year, carried it in to the off-season, and came in [to Spring Training] looking pretty good.”
When you think about a player moving behind the plate, you’d think the big challenges would be learning how to call games, learning how to block pitches, or other defensive aspects. For Schwind, the big adjustment was learning how important the position is.
“You really don’t realize how much the game depends on the catcher, and all the little situations that come about in a game that you never thought of when you were playing outfield and infield. Because the ball’s not hit to you every play,” Schwind said. “As a catcher you’re involved in every single play.”
“It’s pretty incredible when you actually get behind the plate, a lot of it becomes instincts,” Schwind said. “Like blocking. I thought blocking when I started would be the most difficult thing, and it really wasn’t. I didn’t really think about it. Now I am, because my receiving is getting better, so I’m trying to fine-tune a lot of things.”
The move to the new position may have been easier for Schwind than most due to his athleticism. But one of the most difficult adjustments for the new catcher might have been the realization that he now had just one position.
“I think it took me awhile to figure out that I was a catcher now,” Schwind said. “The first couple of months I was going to Princey and asking him ‘Do you want me to take any ground balls or fly balls?’ And he was like ‘No, you’re a catcher.'”
He still can play any other position on the diamond, so the Pirates have the ability to fall back on another position if catching doesn’t work out. He also has a good bat. You can’t put a lot of stock in his .347 average from the GCL last year, due to the lower level of competition, although he did hit for a .287 average and an .841 OPS in his junior year at Marist.
Schwind will have a lot of competition for a roster spot behind the plate in full season ball this year. The Pirates also drafted Ryan Hornback and Derek Trent in the 2011 draft. Samuel Gonzalez and Matt Skirving could both move up from State College. Carlos Paulino, Elias Diaz, Kawika Emsley-Pai, and Jairo Marquez could remain in full-season A-ball this year. So what can Schwind work on to improve his game and improve his chances?
“Just continue being consistent in the areas we hit last year,” Prince said. “Cleaning up a little bit of his throws and stuff like that, which he’s done a great job of in the off-season. And just move forward with game calling, and being accurate to second base. Consistency is the biggest thing.”
Wherever he ends up, Schwind is enjoying his time in professional baseball.
“I had a year left of school, but I would take this in a heart beat over that,” Schwind said. “It’s baseball. You can’t even say it’s a job, because you’re doing something you love. I come to the park with a smile everyday because it’s fun. My family would die to be in my shoes. I’m having a blast.”