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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

February 19, 2013 at 9:16 AM

A look at backup catching candidates Kelly Shoppach and Ronny Paulino

There’s been a lot of talk this spring about veteran leadership, with most of the focus on the addition of Raul Ibanez and to a lesser extent Michael Morse and Kendrys Morales. But one guy who has  a real visible presence, both on the field  and in the clubhouse, is Kelly Shoppach, vying to be the backup catcher. He’s very involved during drills  and not afraid to counsel young players like Mike Zunino.

“I feel like it’s my responsibility as a guy who’s been around a little bit to help young guys,” Shoppach said.  “It’s not just him. Anybody. Position players, pitchers obviously. I had really good guys when I was young help me along the way, and I really valued that. It’s part of my responsibility to do that for others now and kind of share the knowledge of some of the things I have. I’m not selfish in the f act I want everyone to do well. It’s part of my makeup.”

Shoppach said that when he was a young player coming up with the Indians, his foremost mentor was Casey Blake, but others who helped were Victor Martinez, CC Sabathia, Paul Byrd and Trot Nixon.

“There was a long list of guys I hung around. I wanted to be around them. I wanted to learn how to be a pro. Sometimes, young guys are afraid to do that with an older guy, so I try to make it a point to get them comfortable so they’d ask me questions and I could help them along the way.”

You can find more about the interaction between Shoppach and Zunino in Geoff’s post here.

Shoppach would seem to have the decided edge for the backup job, though Ronny Paulino also has a big-league resume. Mike Zunino is obviously the future — and probably not that distant into the future — but I believe the Mariners don’t want to rush him, for a variety of reasons. I expect him to start in the minors, regardless of what kind of spring he has. Shoppach’s association with manager Eric Wedge is an advantage in his favor to wind up as Jesus Montero’s backup.

“I broke him in with Cleveland. It’s nice to see how far along he’s come,” Wedge said. “He’s had a leadership personality for us, particularly with the pitchers and catchers, which is what you like to see. He does have some presence. He’s a good ballplayer. He’s a winning ballplayer. Another thing I like about Kelly, he understand the program. He was with us in Cleveland when we got over that hump and saw how and why we did things. With the exception of the coaches, there’s really nobody over here that was a part of that with us. He’s someone who can see around the corner and understand why we’re doing things and why we  go about things the way we do.”

Paulino, meanwhile, finally hit the field yesterday after arriving late because of visa problems. Paulino originally noted that he had never trained before in Arizona during his well-traveled career, but he now remembers that he actually was with the Kansas City Royals in Surprise, Ariz., as a Rule 5 player in 2003.

“I was too young to remember much about that,” he laughed.

Paulino said he’s played with Jason Bay, Raul Ibanez, Oliver Perez, Hector Noesi and Carlos Peguero at various points of his major-league career or in winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.

“So I feel pretty comfortable,” he said.

The visa problems were also an issue last year when Paulino didn’t arrive until well into camp — but still made the Orioles’ Opening Day roster.

“Sometimes, it’s not in  your control,” he said. “It’s not up to me. When stuff like that happens, you can’t worry about it. It’s not in your hands. At least I  got here earlier than last year with Baltimore.”

Paulino added, “I think it will be easy to catch up. Last year,I missed three weeks. I think I can catch up pretty quick.”

As for his chances of winning a job, Paulino said, “Right now, I’m focused on myself because I’m healthy. I’ll do my best this spring to help the team in any way they need me. That’s where my mind is right now.”

I thinmk it will be easy to caftch up. Didn’t miss that much time. Last year missed 3 weeks. I think catch up pretty quick.

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