PEORIA, Ariz. – Thus far, the highlight of Vinnie Catricala’s professional career – which entails three minor league seasons and about 10 days in his first big-league camp – came in batting practice this week.
That’s when the Seattle Mariners’ minor league player of the year walked to the plate to face live pitching.
In the form of closer Brandon League.
“Oh, man, that was awesome. I mean, he’s an All-Star. I doubt he knew who I was, but I sure knew who he was,” Catricala said. “It was the second day of seeing live pitching for me since Sept. 5. He looked awfully good.”
Asked about the 10-minute batting practice session, League laughed – but returned the compliment.
“I knew who he was – he played for Hawaii,” said League, who lived in the Islands for years. “He’s a teammate. And he took me to the warning track on one pitch.”
Catricala played third base and some outfield last year, a 23-year-old who started in Class A and jumped to Double-A in late June. What he did in 2011 got him invited to spring training, 2012.
Overall, the right-handed hitting Catricala batted .349 with 77 extra-base hits. He scored 101 runs in 133 games, with 25 home runs and 106 RBI.
The recognition by the organization was a thrill for Catricala – for about a month.
“Then it was over. That was last season, and I had to start working toward this one,” he said. “In camp, I’m just another player.”
With so many options in camp, Catricala is a long shot to make the opening day roster, and far more likely to earn a promotion to Tacoma. That doesn’t mean the Mariners haven’t noticed him.
“The ball jumps off his bat and he’s handled himself well in the field,” manager Eric Wedge said. “We brought him to spring training to get a good, long look at him.”
A 10th-round pick in the 2009 draft, Catricala didn’t come into pro baseball with a star attitude. He said he had no reason to.
“I was never the best player on my high school team. I probably wasn’t the best on any team until my junior year in college,” he said.
“The biggest adjustment professionally was hitting with a wooden bat. I had to get more selective at the plate, because I could get jammed with a metal bat and still hit the ball well. Wood bats would break. My pitch selection improved.”
Everywhere the Mariners have sent him, Catricala has hit. In an organization where offense was hard to find, the northern California product just kept hitting.
In 59 games in Pulaski (Va., short-season rookie league) in ’09, he batted .301, then .302 a year later in 135 games at Class A Clinton (Iowa, Midwest League) – with 17 home runs and 79 RBI. Last year, at Class A High Desert (California League) for 71 games, Catricala batted .351 and jumped to Double A Jackson (Tenn., Southern League), where he hit .347 in 62 games.
Since signing, Catricala has played 327 games – and hit .322.
Yes, the Mariners noticed.
At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Catricala has hit for power and for average, forging a .397 on-base percentage. He’s a young player aware of his game.
“I played shortstop early in high school, but I enjoyed third base more. It’s a position for reaction, and you never get a routine ground ball.
“At shortstop, if I had time to think, I was in trouble,” he said.
“At third, you get screamers and choppers and rollers, nothing normal, and you just react.
“I’d gotten away from playing really good defense, so this offseason I put a lot more time into footwork at third. I’m as comfortable there now as I’ve ever been,” Catricala said.
“Playing good defense is like dancing with the ball. If you stop moving your feet, the ball will eat you up.”
For all that infield work, he’d also be happy to play the outfield in Seattle.
“I’ve played the outfield. I figure the more positions I can play, the more tools in my belt,” he said.
Catricala is something of a baseball rat, a professional who enjoys every aspect of the game.
“I know scouts sometimes tell you how tough the adjustment is to the baseball lifestyle, all the travel,” he said. “I never had a problem with that – every trip we made when I played for Hawaii was five hours, minimum.
“The long bus rides are just part of it. You play cards with teammates or watch a movie, some guys sleep.”
And now, he’s in major league camp.
“My parents and friends want to know how the other players are,” Catricala said. “I told them, we’re a young club. There are a lot of us here in the same situation, which makes it easier for everyone.
“I’ve been in camp for a week, and I’m just trying to do what I do. Do I think I can make the team? I think that every day.”