Rookie catcher Kevan Smith learns to handle young pitching staff

SHARE Rookie catcher Kevan Smith learns to handle young pitching staff

White Sox pitcher Derek Holland talks with catcher Kevan Smith against the Astros on Aug. 8, 2017.
| Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

No young player wants to be berated after making a mistake he knows might have been costly to his team.

‘‘As a young player myself, the last thing you want is somebody criticizing you about what you did wrong,’’ White Sox rookie catcher Kevan Smith said. ‘‘You just feel worse.’’

It’s something Smith keeps in mind as he handles the many new young pitchers in the Sox’ stable.

And it’s one more unusual dynamic in this season of rebuilding for the Sox: rookie catchers learning how to handle the nuances of handling so many fellow rookies.

‘‘[Fellow catcher] Omar [Narvaez] and I have been up here most of the season, so that has helped,’’ Smith said.

Between them, they have caught 117 games this season. But much of what their position is about takes place off the field. It’s about learning personalities, what can motivate a pitcher — and sometimes what can be detrimental to say in tense situations.

‘‘With some of the older veterans, you can probably be tougher,’’ Smith said. ‘‘But with the young guys, you try to support them, show them confidence, tell them they have the stuff to be up here.’’

Veteran Geovany Soto hasn’t played most of this season because of elbow surgery, but he understands what Smith and Narvaez are dealing with as young catchers handling what now is a predominantly young staff.

‘‘I didn’t go through what they are; I had veteran [pitchers] when I was coming up in their situation,’’ said Soto, the 2008 National League Rookie of the Year with the Cubs. ‘‘The toughest part as a catcher sometimes is knowing who’s out there, understanding and learning different personalities, knowing a pitcher on a personal level and what works for him, and that takes time.

‘‘It’s not all about a pitcher’s ‘stuff.’ It’s about relationships.’’

Sox manager Rick Renteria understands that part of the catcher’s role.

‘‘All of us have a different sense of each other’s personality,’’ he said. ‘‘All of us have a different feel for how we want to attack the conversation. We know that time gives us experience, knowledge and wisdom through trial and error.

‘‘They’re living it now. The hope is that they’re able to do it as quickly as possible, so that it doesn’t impact the potential outcome [in a game].’’

The pitchers and catchers have ongoing conversations with each other and with Renteria and the coaching staff about game plans and how to attack hitters.

The getting-to-know-each-other part is ongoing, too.

‘‘Even a veteran catcher, he hasn’t caught these guys,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘He has to learn these guys, too. The difference is the veteran catcher probably has a little less panic, where the younger catcher might be accelerated a little: ‘How do I get out of this?’

‘‘‘At times, it’s just trial and error. If it didn’t work out, they’re going to come in and have conversations of, ‘I should have done this or that.’ Those are the things that are just a part of what is to be.

‘‘Each [pitcher or catcher] has his quirks and challenges. The biggest thing is to continue the conversations among them. Some of it just comes with experience.’’

Follow me on Twitter @toniginnetti.


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