FORT MYERS, Fla. — The average catcher in the major leagues hit .228 with a .663 OPS last season, by far the worst of all the defensive positions.
The Phillies (J.T. Realmuto), Royals (Salvador Perez), and Dodgers (Will Smith) are among the handful of teams who have good-hitting catchers. Most of the other teams bat their catchers ninth and hope for the best. It’s been that way for decades.
Catching and everything that goes into it is such a mental and physical grind that hitting often becomes an afterthought. But Red Sox prospect Stephen Scott offers a potential workaround.
He is a talented hitter who is being converted into a catcher.
Usually it’s the other way around. Craig Biggio, Carlos Delgado, and Joey Votto are among the notable players who started their professional careers as catchers but were moved to other, less demanding, positions because they were such gifted hitters.
Scott, 25, was drafted as an outfielder in 2019 after hitting .325 with 14 home runs and a 1.029 OPS in his senior season at Vanderbilt.
Scott caught 35 games for the Commodores in 2018, impressing Red Sox area scout Danny Watkins with his toughness and determination at the position.
“We saw enough to believe [catching] was a tangible possibility once he was able to commit full time as a professional,” said Mike Rikard, the amateur scouting director at the time and now vice president of scouting.
“We were also very intrigued by his bat and power potential and felt there may be some offensive development runway.”
Scott played first base and left field in his first taste of pro ball. After the 2020 minor league season was wiped out by the pandemic, the Sox introduced him to catching.
It was 18 games in 2021 then 67 games in ‘22 along with 13 more in the Arizona Fall League. It’s likely to be considerably more this season.
Scott’s hitting didn’t suffer too badly. He had a .915 OPS in 2021 along with 46 extra-base hits in Single A. Scott struggled a bit with High A Salem last season but had a respectable .774 OPS over 59 games with Double A Portland with only seven more strikeouts (50) than walks (43) over 256 plate appearances.
“Post 2021, we made it pretty clear we wanted the focus to be on catching,” player development director Brian Abraham said. “His willingness and effort allowed him to go all in and make gradual improvements.”
Scott hasn’t played first base or the outfield since 2021. At this point, he considers himself a catcher.
“I love it,” Scott said. “That’s where I want to be. I think I can stick there and I hope the team sees it that way.”
Scott is so convinced his future is behind the plate that he left his outfielder glove and first base mitt back home in North Carolina.
“I guess I’d have to borrow a glove if they stick me some place else,” he said.
Being in major league camp offers Scott a front-row seat to the daily catching tutorials conducted by Jason Varitek.
“That part has been awesome, having a guy like that working with you every day,” Scott said. “You see the intensity and focus that he brings and why he was in the big leagues for so long.
“The preparation he brings to the coaching side, I would imagine, must be very similar to how he played.”
Every morning, Scott and the other catchers in camp go through drills with Varitek standing close by. As baseballs are fired at them from a pitching machine, their reactions have to be quick.
“I’m still learning about him but he’s done a good job,” Varitek said. “He’s been prepared; he’s been ready and he’s gotten good work in. He’s been a joy.”
Varitek played one game at third base and another in right field as a Mariners prospect in 1995. But after being traded to the Red Sox in 1997, he never strayed from catching before retiring after the 2011 season.
Varitek believes catching is physically easier now with the trend of having one knee down when receiving the ball instead of squatting.
“If you’re going to convert somebody, it’s not like it used to be,” he said. “We have better techniques now.”
After playing most of his career in the field, Scott has seen a new side of the game from behind the plate.
“There’s obviously a huge physical side of it, trying to prepare your body to play all those games. The mental side is huge too, going from outfield and first base to being involved with every single play and having control of the game.
“But the more we do, the more comfortable I get.”
Scott has caught 26 innings so far in spring training, third-most among the catchers in camp. He’s 1 for 8 with two walks and a homer at the plate. He could reach Triple A this season.
The experiment seems to be working.
“I am excited to watch him continue to grow,” Rikard said. “As we know, sometimes things can click for guys a little later.”