Veteran Shoppach brings energy to youthful Mariners
Backup catcher excited to play, but also to aid starter Jesus Montero
PEORIA, Ariz. -- On a team without a lot of veteran voices, it's pretty easy to hear Kelly Shoppach early in Mariners camp.
The 32-year-old catcher has wasted no time making his presence felt, offering suggestions and tips to young pitchers, keeping things loose around the batting cage and communicating well with a coaching staff he's familiar with from his four seasons with the Indians and Eric Wedge from 2006-09.
Shoppach signed a one-year, $1.5 million free-agent deal earlier this month to compete for the backup catching job behind young Jesus Montero, and sees Seattle as the right fit in a career that has taken him to four different teams -- the Indians, Rays, Red Sox and Mets -- in his first eight seasons.
"Every year you kind of evolve as a player," said the Texas native. "I think I've got to a point where I understand my strengths and limitations. So a situation like this one, with a little bit of a younger team and a lot of exciting prospects for the season, I think I can add some value to that.
"I think it fits with me having a chance to play a little bit and Jesus being really young and inexperienced behind the plate, I can help him. Ultimately we're playing to win games, and whether I'm impacting that by being in the game or by helping someone else impact the game, I think I can do that."
Shoppach brings a bit of hard-nosed veteran style to a catching group that is extremely young, particularly with veteran Ronny Paulino still absent due to a visa issue in the Dominican Republic.
Clearly he's a Wedge-type player, which is one of the reasons he's with the Mariners.
"I loved playing for him," Shoppach said of Wedge. "When we all left Cleveland and he got the job here, I just told him I'd love to play for him again, if it ever lines up. He's just an incredible motivator with his intensity and passion.
"He really does care about us, and that matters. He has that impression on a lot of people and I'm a good example of that. I really wanted to come back, not only to play for him but because Seattle is a great city and this is a young, athletic team. There's a lot of fun to be had here."
Wedge appreciates the veteran presence and catching abilities of Shoppach, who had his best seasons in Cleveland, when he hit .245 with a .788 OPS in 301 games. Familiarity, in this case, is a definite bonus.
"There are a couple different dynamics with that," Wedge said. "One, I know what he stands for and what he's all about. I know what kind of player he is. But there's also something to be said for the fact that the first time we were doing it in Cleveland, he was a part of that. He knows the program.
"He was there when we turned the corner and saw the transition from a team on the cusp to a team that got over the hump. He understands where we are, but he also understands where we're going."
Shoppach caught bullpen sessions of Erasmo Ramirez, Stephen Pryor and Carter Capps on Wednesday, and pulled each youngster aside afterward to talk about their approach, or arm angle or whether they were tipping pitches.
But Shoppach said the most important part of getting to know a new pitching staff is learning how to read different people.
"Stuff is stuff," he said. "What you've got to try to understand, for me, is their personality. When they're out there battling, everybody kind of has an idea what they want to do and how they want to attack hitters. But personality-wise, I have to figure out how you can approach them and give them the confidence to make the critical pitch.
"So for me, it's not necessarily learning their pitches, it's learning when and what makes them tick as a person, so I can get the most out of them when they're out there in battle. Because, make no mistake, they're literally out there on an island in the middle of the field. Often times, I know they feel like they're all alone out there. So me trying to get to know their personalities will be the most important thing."
Capps, one of the youngsters who worked with Shoppach on Wednesday, said it was an excellent introduction.
"He seems like a really nice guy and he had a lot of good things to say," said the hard-throwing right-hander. "He told me to stay on top of the ball and relax. And he told me I had good stuff and obviously that made me feel good about myself. That's kind of a catcher's job, to be your eyes and ears back there. As far as I could tell, just from the first day, he was awesome back there."