Many baseball prospect experts predicted that a position switch would be in the cards at some point for Marcus Littlewood leading up to the 2010 draft. Few would have guessed that the switch would lead to him donning a catcher's mask and shin guards. But don them he will, as the club--and as you'll read below, Marcus--consider him a full-time catcher at this point.
After spending extensive time working with M's coaches and catching many of the club's top prospects in instructionals in Arizona, the 19-year-old switch-hitter talked with SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall about learning a new position while also dealing with improving his offensive game.
SeattleClubhouse: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, Marcus.
Marcus Littlewood: You bet Rick, I'm happy to talk with you.
SC: Alright, let's get into this whole catching thing: have you ever caught before this past year?
ML: No, not really. I mean, I caught a little when I was like 11 or 12, but that was because I was one of the only kids on the team that could actually catch the ball, so other than that, it's all new. I've pretty much always been a shortstop.
SC: So how did the whole idea come around--who brought the idea to switch up first?
ML: Pedro Grifol said he had been thinking about it and he brought it up with Jack Zduriencik and Tom McNamara and they both loved the idea. They then called my dad in June and talked to him about how it was a great opportunity for me. To them, it wasn't about not being satisfied with my play at shortstop, they just presented it as they thought it was a great opportunity. After talking with them, my dad called me and said, "You won't believe the conversation I just had with Jack," At first I was like, "Oh great," but then he said, "they are talking about you catching."
SC: What was your immediate reaction?
ML: At first, I thought, "What in the world?" But then I thought about it more, talked it over with my parents at dinner that night--who were in Everett to see me at that time--and we decided that it was truly a great opportunity to try it out.
SC: Tell me what goes through your mind when you are considering this switch. What types of scenarios are going through your head? Are you thinking about Nick Franklin, the catching depth, etc., or were you just focusing on the opportunity of the move itself?
ML: No, I've never really been someone to think about the other players like that. I want all of my teammates to do great, and that's the honest truth. I know that if I do my job and do my best to keep getting myself better as a baseball player then everything else will fall into place for me. If I just work hard and do what I'm supposed to do, then I'm confident that everything will work out in the end. Nick is definitely plugging it up up there at shortstop, but regardless, I know that this move was a really great move for me.
SC: Your profile coming into the draft was as a "baseball rat" sort of guy, someone with advanced "baseball smarts" for your age--which seems like a real direction that the Mariners have been focusing of late. Talk a little bit about that profile.
ML: I think that I was really fortunate to have my dad coaching me growing up. He coached for 15 years down at Dixie State. He also coached an Independent League pro team. Ever since I can remember I would always be out there with his teams after school, taking batting practice, shagging fly balls, hanging around the dugout and bugging guys to hit me ground balls--just doing anything I can to play all the time and learn all the time. I always paid real close attention to my dad and the way that he goes about the game and treats the game and I've always tried to copy what I see in him and his approach.
SC: Was your dad a baseball player himself in his youth?
ML: Yeah, he played four years in college at Brigham Young University and then played one season in the Brewers organization. He was already married with a kid, so he just gave it one year before he called it quits. I think he would have kept playing if he had a really great year, but he thought it was just time for him to move on after that.
SC: So your dad, the coach, helped you pick up switch-hitting I assume?
ML: Yeah, I was taking BP one day when I was like 12 or 13 and he told me to switch up and hit left-handed for a bit. I guess he saw some potential there and he encouraged me to keep working on it. I did it a little bit then, but I didn't start doing it full-time until my freshman year in high school.
SC: As a natural right-handed hitter, what would you say are your strengths and weaknesses from each side? It seems to me like you have a little bit better pitch recognition from the right side, is that accurate?
ML: Yeah, I would say with the change-up that is definitely the case. I think I have weaknesses on both sides, honestly. Right now in the offseason I'm just going over a lot of video and looking for things that are going to give me a better chance to hit the ball. There are flaws in everyone's swing, and the key is to try and identify the weaknesses and work on them--I think that is what the time at the lower levels of the minor leagues is for, to fix your flaws.
SC: How difficult is this offseason going to be for you as you are trying hard to not only improve your weaknesses but also handle a rather dramatic position switch?
ML: It's definitely a big change, but I've been working a lot with Roger (Hansen), who is great at what he does and I'm just trying to do everything perfect right now so I don't develop any bad habits and I think it is going really well so far. I'm never going to be satisfied with where I am, catching or offensively, but I am getting better. When I started five months ago I didn't even know how to put my gear on and now we are talking about me maybe getting into some big league Spring Training games next year, so really it is pretty amazing at how far I've already come. Working with Roger and (Everett AquaSox Manager and former minor league catcher) Scott Steinmann has been great.
SC: Being drafted out of high school, the idea that you would have to eventually move off of shortstop as you naturally grew was out there from the get go. Have you been told from the organization that you are now free to work on getting yourself a little bigger since speed and range isn't such a necessary part of your game anymore?
ML: I've already got a lot bigger since I signed and I can't even grow sideburns yet, so I think I have a lot of growing left to do. But I think the switch to catcher will take some of the pressure off of always working to get faster all the time. I still want to work hard to retain my quickness, I don't want to turn into a slob back there, I still want to be an athletic, quick catcher. I think I'll be getting naturally bigger a little faster now though.
SC: Getting back to your strengths as a shortstop and how those translate to catching, what are the biggest challenges you've faced in your transition?
ML: Catching is definitely a lot more technical, but Roger is good at helping me through it all. If I get a little to mechanical or to mental, he'll tell me to stop being a spaz and just be an athlete and that helps. It's funny, but it really helps you focus.
SC: Nice tough love from Roger.
ML: Yeah, he's good at that. Pedro was telling me before the switch why he thought it would work and he said, "you've got good feet and you've got good hands," and I can see now that those are really going to help as I catch more.
SC: Late June to early July is when you started doing the extra catching work on the side. Do you think that wore you down as the Northwest League season progressed and you were putting in double duty?
ML: No, not at all. Roger always made sure that I would be ready to play. We spent the first two months stretching out my hips to make sure that I would be ready for instructional league. Mentally either, I knew that come seven o'clock, I had a job to do: play shortstop. I wasn't thinking about catching.
SC: How much in-game catching did you get to do during instructs in Arizona?
ML: A lot, actually. I got to catch like 50 innings. I think they put me with some easy guys in the games, but I got to catch Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and Carter Capps in the pen and those guys are easily the three best guys I've caught, but I felt like I could handle them pretty well.
SC: How are you feeling with your throwing--did you need to learn a different throwing motion?
ML: It is a little bit shorter arm motion, but I've always taken pride in being fundamentally sound in my feet and that's really helped me with my throwing. I just go back to being an athlete and just doing it. I'm not saying it is not hard, because it is, but I'm not making it harder than it is. And really that is just another testament to Roger and what he's been doing with me and helping me keep it simple.
SC: What do you know about the club's plans for you in 2012, are you looking at repeating in Clinton perhaps?
ML: I was told that they'd like to see me start out even higher next year and skip Clinton and that would be awesome. The thing about catching is that, one guy goes down and things get shuffled all around to compensate, so you can move fast.
SC: Give me two or three people you consider the biggest influences on your baseball career to this point.
ML: Definitely my dad, number one. Buck Thomas is the owner of some batting cages down there in Las Vegas and he also does college placement stuff. He really opened a lot of doors for me in high school and created a lot of opportunities with the USA team and the Aflac games and all of that stuff, he was behind all of that. And, honestly right now, I'd say Roger is one. He's really helped me on the mental side of things. He wants men back there, guys that are there for their pitchers no matter what, first and foremost. He has a bit of a reputation, but he just holds his catchers to a higher standard, and rightfully so.
SC: So what are the goals for Marcus Littlewood the catcher in 2012?
ML: I've never really been a big long-term goal guy. I just control what I do as a player on the field and as a person off the field. I'm more of a realist, so I don't set crazy goals. I could say, "I want to hit .420 in the Midwest League," but really it's just whether you go out and do it or not.
SC: Now that instructs are done, what are you doing, are you going to school at all?
ML: Yeah. When I'm done playing I definitely want to get into coaching, so I know I'll need my degree for that. So I'm taking classes now, going to try and chip away at my degree during the offseasons so that when I'm done playing I'll get into coaching.
SC: Well I wish you the best in all of your endeavors, Marcus. Thanks again for your time.
ML: I appreciate that. Thanks a lot Rick.
Looking for more Mariners news and articles? Follow SeattleClubhouse's Rick Randall on Twitter at @randallball.