Not known as an offensive threat in the Pirates minor league system, catcher Jacob Stallings is currently on quite a roll from the plate. Going into games Tuesday evening, Stallings was on an 18 game on-base streak where he has hit for an average of .353 with an OPS of .967. The Curve have had the pleasure of seeing quite a few streaks this season, including Max Moroff’s 30 game on-base streak between April 10th and May 15th and recent promoted Willy Garcia’s 19 game hitting streak, which reached that mark on Sunday night in Altoona before his promotion.
Back to Stallings. He hasn’t posted numbers like he has this year since his college days at North Carolina, where he played four years and topped out at a .307/.407/.457 slash during his sophomore year. He consistently hit around .300 during his sophomore, junior, and senior years, but those numbers dropped dramatically after being drafted. During his pro career, his high water mark would’ve been last season with a .241 average and .681 OPS.
Overall, Stallings has a .303 batting average with a .799 OPS on the season. It has been quite a progressive year for him, as he started by hitting only .208 with only one extra base hit in April. The 18 game on-base streak began on May 7th, and he has continually gotten stronger as the streak progressed. In his six games in June, his OPS is up to .990. For a defensive minded catcher, these types of numbers don’t come by easily and are not taken for granted.
I caught up with Stallings during his streak, and he says that he hasn’t made any physical changes to his swing. He does say, however, that he has stuck with an approach of sitting fastball and dialing in on strikes on the outer half of the plate.
“There hasn’t been any physical changes to my swing,” Stallings said. “Before, though, I was just going up there with no plan and trying to hit whatever pitch I saw. Now, I’m trying to stay more on the fastball. I pick a side of the plate and really sell out to look for the ball in that spot.”
“It’s hard for pitchers to consistently hit the inside corner three times in a row, so I stay out over the outer half of the plate and look for their mistakes.”
It’s hard to say if Stallings will be able to maintain close to this level of hitting moving forward, especially since he hasn’t had this type of prolonged success over a full season. He did have an extremely successful August last year for Bradenton, hitting a slash of .447/.480/.766 over the last 13 games. The work ethic that Stallings has presented is real, though.
With the ability to talk to players in the clubhouse before and after games, I get to interact and see a little more about each player’s tendencies. There have been two position players for the Curve that have jumped out to me for their work ethic – Max Moroff and Jacob Stallings.
Before and after each home game, there is a better chance than not that I will see one of those two players, and most likely both, in the batting cage hitting off of the tee. I am usually not there early enough to watch players throughout the day so I can’t say other players aren’t in their earlier, but Moroff and Stallings have consistently been in and around the batting cage more than any other player I’ve seen. They are also in the cage after most games, no matter what their game was like.
You would expect a player to take a few hacks after a tough game, but I’ve seen them in the cage after having two or three hits in a game. I asked them both about this practice, and they have been persistent in saying that the more work they put in, the better they will be. It makes me believe in their ability to improve.
As for Stallings, he not only has improved from the plate, but he continues to be a rock to the pitching staff from behind the plate. Chad Kuhl and Jason Creasy, as well as Pitching Coach Justin Meccage, have all praised Stallings for his hard work with the pitching staff. Stallings insists that having a personal relationship with each pitcher is extremely important to a pitcher-catcher duo.
“One thing I keep learning that is if you show a pitcher that you care about them, it goes a long way”, Stallings said. “If they know that you want them to do well, then they trust you more.”
Not only is Stallings known as an impressive game caller, he is not making it easy for runners to steal bases. He currently has a caught stealing percentage of 41.5%, throwing out 17 runners in 41 attempts. For comparison’s sake, that would rank fourth in the majors.
Last week was quite the week for Stallings. He caught all 18 innings of the Curve’s long affair against Erie while gathering three hits last Thursday. He then found himself warming up in the bullpen and recording the last out against his only faced batter in the Curve’s loss on Friday. Finally, he hit a bases clearing double in the 7th inning to give the Curve the lead (and the win) on Saturday against New Hampshire.
When asked about his weekend, he proclaimed, “it is definitely something I’ll always remember”.