In the seventh round of the 2012 draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected catcher Jacob Stallings out of UNC. The senior catcher hit for a .297 average with 21 doubles, four home runs and 36 RBI over 55 games.
Stallings was surrounded by family and friends when he found out that he would be a Pirate. The moment of hearing he was chosen, after putting in four seasons at UNC where he hit for a .293 average and caught 200 games, was an exciting time for the 23-year-old.
“I was in Chapel Hill with my family,” Stallings recalled of the draft process. “Our season had just gotten over so I was sitting around listening to it. It was fun though because the whole family was there. It was a good and exciting time for me and my family.”
After getting drafted, some players take their time to sign. Stallings signed quickly and joined short-season A-Ball with State College when the season kicked off on June 18. In the span of one week, Stallings signed, took his physical, reported to State College and learned the pitches and tendencies for each new face he would catch behind the plate.
That’s an impressive accomplishment if you think about how difficult it would be to learn a brand new pitching staff in any circumstances. Learning a staff in the same week you sign your first pro contract is very impressive. But perhaps the most impressive thing is the makeup of the group. The starting rotation is very young. Clay Holmes, Jake Burnette, and Jason Creasy were all in high school last year. Joely Rodriguez was pitching in the Dominican Republic a few years ago. And then there’s 17-year-old Luis Heredia, who is the youngest player in the New York-Penn League. Despite the differences, Stallings found a way to connect with each individual pitcher.
“Some of it is just knowing personalities and knowing what guys need to hear to settle them down or get them going a little bit. Get them focused,” Stallings said. “That’s probably just growing up with a coach as a Dad and just watching him deal with different situations and learn from that.”
“Stallings has a way of connecting and calming,” Spikes Manager Dave Turgeon said. “He’s caught a lot of first rounders and big leaguers his four years at UNC.”
With State College, Stallings will work with several of the organization’s top prospects such as Heredia, Burnette and Holmes.
“Heredia, Holmes and Burnette, those guys are all very talented guys. It’s been fun,” Stallings said. “Heredia, he’s just a goof ball. A 17-year-old kid pitching here? It’s been fun. In College you kind of see more guys that are more developed and that type of thing. These guys are so raw and mainly fastball-changeup guys, it’s been interesting to see how they go about their work.”
One thing that helps pitchers is the defense and maturity that Stallings brings behind the plate. The catcher has a feel for pitch calling and knows when to make timely mound visits, to the point where the coach doesn’t have to worry about going out to settle down the young pitchers. Calling games is something that Stallings takes a lot of pride in. The 23-year-old called games at UNC and continues to get better while learning his new staff.
“It’s something that I got to do more as my career went along at UNC. It’s just a learning process,” Stallings said. “I still feel like I’ve got a lot to learn. But it’s fun, I enjoy calling my own game. You kind of take the runs and hits more seriously because you feel like you kind of gave them up too because you called the pitch. I enjoy it. It makes you that much more into the game.”
Stallings also controls the running game. Stallings has is his strong arm, which might be his best tool. During his Junior year at the University of North Carolina, the 23-year-old threw out 32 would-be base stealers, which ranked third in the country among NCAA backstops. Runners refused to run on Stallings in the early part of the 2012 season, only 21 attempts compared to 44 the year prior.
“That’s my tool,” Stallings said. “I enjoy throwing them out. I don’t like when guys steal.”
His defense and the strength of being able to handle a pitching staff was one big reason that Pittsburgh wanted Stallings in their organization.
Offensively, Stallings has hit for a .242/.286/.352 line in 91 at-bats. He’s been hitting well lately, with a .364/.421/.545 line in 33 at-bats over his last ten games. Adjusting to Minor League ball from College can be a challenge. Gone are the aluminum bats, which are replaced with wooden ones. Days off are rare, and players quickly learn the grind of playing everyday. There are bus rides through the nights, and in Stallings’ case, learning a new pitching staff. But just a month into his first professional season, Stallings doesn’t look overwhelmed, he looks confident and excited to be with the Spikes.
“The biggest change is just coming to work everyday,” he said. “You got to get here at 1:00 for a 7 o’clock game. You’ve got to do defense and offense, all that kind of stuff before the game and then play a game that night. It’s just a constant grind. It really becomes a job, as opposed to College when you have to go to class in the mornings instead of baseball stuff.”