CHARLESTON, W.VA. – Catchers are almost expected to act as a second manager on the field. Deon Stafford has filled that role nicely so far this season for the West Virginia Power and manager Wyatt Toregas.
Stafford has been one of the Power’s most consistent hitters this season, and his work behind the plate with the West Virginia pitching staff has been impressive. Toregas should know. He was a catcher in his playing days, spending part of the 2009 in the big leagues with Cleveland and spent three games with the Pirates in 2011.
Toregas’ experience as a professional catcher gives him a unique insight into coaching the position, and so far his evaluation of Stafford is a glowing one.
“Being a young player, (Stafford) has a lot of things that he’s really good at that still need some work but he’s eager to learn and eager to work on things,” Toregas said. “He knows that he’s a good player, but he knows that he doesn’t have it all figured out. His game calling is solid, but with him there are a lot of nuance things that we have to do — a lot of little things that are outside of the norm that you are going to need down the road. It’s upper level type stuff. He’s not your basic A-ball player. He’s very receptive and he learns very fast. He makes my job easier as the manager because he controls a lot of this team, so I don’t have to say as much. I can run messages through him.”
Stafford’s work with the Power pitching staff has been a big help for the club. If a pitcher is a little bit down, he’s there to pick them back up. If a pitcher needs some tough love, he’s there to provide that too.
“He says what he needs to say to them when they need to hear it,” Toregas said. “He adjusts very quickly and he doesn’t let guys stay down. If he feels a lull in their energy, he gets them back where they need to be. I think they like that. Pitchers like that because they need a kick in the butt every now and again. He does a really good job in the locker room of revisiting and really securing the friendship and the relationship and letting them know, ‘I was there for you and I was there to help you. I said some tough things out there but I love you.’ They know every time he’s hard on them it’s coming from a good place. For a catcher, that’s probably the biggest attribute that you’ve got to have. You have to be able to say what you say and have the guy understand that, ‘I’ve got you. I’ve got your back. I’m not breaking you down, I’m trying to build you back up.’ He’s got that.”
Stafford said he’s made a point of building relationships with the pitching staff because, in his opinion, that is the one of the most important aspects to being a good catcher.
“Me and the pitchers are pretty close,” he said. “I go out of my way to make sure I develop a relationship with them, because that’s probably the biggest thing. It’s been fun. This is a very talented group, so it’s been fun working with them.”
He hasn’t been too shabby in the batter’s box either. Stafford, a fifth round pick by the Pirates in 2017 out of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia — where he set the single-season home run (18) and hits (85) record in 2016 — entered Thursday’s game in Charleston against the visiting Rome Braves with a .313 batting average (second on the team), an on-base percentage of .382 and a slugging percentage of .521. He hit his first home run of the season Wednesday and is batting .351 over his last 10 games for West Virginia.
“I’m seeing it well, but it’s been a little frustrating that they haven’t gone over the fence,” Stafford said before Thursday’s game. “Getting that first one out of the way, it’s nice to relax now. I don’t have to think about, I can just play ball. I had my fair share of bombs (in college), but it’s a different game here in pro ball. You have to see ball well and hit the ball hard, whatever happens after that is out of my control.”
Stafford’s play speaks for itself, but it’s his personality and character that set him apart so far for Toregas.
“D is easy because his personality, who he is, is a very extroverted guy that’s easy to get to know, and I’m the same way,” Toregas said. “It makes it very easy to just connect with him. His character and what he cares about, the things that matter most to him are just exactly what you want in a catcher. He takes care of his own business, but he pours equal time into the pitching staff and his teammates.”
His physical tools don’t hurt his cause either, Toregas said.
“He’s super athletic, that’s the first thing,” he said. “You just look at his body and the way he’s built and that’s a testament to some genetics but also his work ethic. He keeps himself in tip-top physical condition, but he’s able to do a lot of things in a small space because of how athletic he is.”