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February 26, 2012 at 8:35 AM

Mariners youngster Jesus Montero watching and learning as he tries to get the catching part of his gig down pat

Guillermo Quiroz can relate to what his fellow Venezuelan countryman, Jesus Montero, is going through this spring. It was eight years ago, while with Toronto, that Quiroz — a journeyman pro who played a handful of games for the Mariners in 2006, 2009 and 2010 and is back in camp on a minor league deal — arrived at spring training as a much-heralded catcher of the future.
Quiroz had put up some big minor league numbers at the plate in 2003, hitting 20 homers and 27 doubles in Class AA, posting an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of .889 and playing in 2003 Futures Game.
He was rated baseball’s third-best catching prospect and 35th best prospect overall by Baseball America at the time. Upon arriving in camp in Dunedin, Fla. in 2004, he came under plenty of scrutiny on a team desperately thin for quality catching. And like Montero, he also had plenty to learn about the art of catching at the big league level.
“The most important thing you have to do is build a relationship with the pitchers you’re working with,” Quiroz said. “You have to let them know that you’ll be there for them and be willing to work with them on whatever they need to do. You have to start building that trust right away and then you wait for it to develop over time.”
Not always as easy as it seems.
Quiroz remembers having to approach Roy Halladay, who was a great human being in the clubhouse but would completely change once he got on a mound and the competitive side of him took over. Halladay became ultra-focused the day of a game and never appreciated any interruptions, be it from his wife calling him on his cellphone, or some fresh-faced catcher.
“I remember it was spring training and we were playing the Rays in St. Pete and Gregg Zaun was catching Halladay,” Quiroz said. “The first inning, Zaun takes a foul ball off his foot and has to leave the game, so I have to go in and catch. I went out to the mound to talk to Doc (Halladay) and he was like ‘What are you doing here?’
“And I’m like, ‘Nothing. I’m just here to tell you that I’m going to call pitches and if you like it, say yes and if not, shake it off.’ And I just went back behind home plate after that. It worked out quite well. He threw five innings that day and threw the ball well.”
Was it intimidating?
“Oh, yeah, it was,” Quiroz said. “It really was.”

Quiroz said all pitchers are pretty much the same when it comes to honing their craft.
“It’s just because those guys get on a competing level and they want things to go perfect,” he said. “They always do. All you can do is be there for them and catch the ball.”
For now, he added, Montero seems willing to put in the work needed to get better. He’s attentive in sessions with his fellow catchers and observes what he needs to. The rest, he said, will simply take time.
Montero has been listening a lot to Miguel Olivo as they go about their daily routines.
“He told me to go out there and try to have fun,” Montero said. “So, I’ve been having fun with Miguel. Trying to do everything right. He told me the most important thing is to go out there every single day and go through my routines. Just like he does, like all the catchers do. They go through the same routines every day. I go to the cage, we stretch, we throw, we practice all the different catching stuff.
“Once you do those routines every day, you get to know them well and do those things better.”
Montero said he’s enjoyed the added focus on himself as the main piece in the Michael Pineda trade. He doesn’t mind the added scrutiny from the media as he takes batting practice or crouches behind the plate.
And Quiroz said he’d better get used to it.
“You can’t deny it, the kid can hit,” he said. “Now, we’ll see how it goes for him as a catcher. He just has to keep working at it. It doesn’t all happen right away.”

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