‘Cats led by catchers
TROY, N.Y >> The success in the first few weeks of the ValleyCats’ season can be traced to one position on the field, and it is behind home plate.
“We have good catchers and the good thing is that they are here together and they are here to compete,” said ValleyCats’ Manager Ozney Guillen. “They all three get along and I told them they are here to compete for a job so they have to put good at-bats together and they are doing it.”
Despite being quite scarce prior to the 2019 MLB draft, the Houston Astros made an effort to bolster the depth at that position, and the ValleyCats are currently reaping the benefits.
The ValleyCats currently have four players listed as catchers on their official roster. Returning ValleyCat Nate Perry was a familiar name entering the season and he was joined by the promoted Juan Paulino on opening day.
With the college season all but over, first round draft pick from the University of California Korey Lee and the tenth rounder from the University of Southern California CJ Stubbs also join the ValleyCats and have made their presence known instantly.
“We had a pretty funny relationship coming into it because I didn’t know him at all,” said Stubbs on his relationship with Lee. “I played against him when he was at Cal and we had a funny series where those guys didn’t re
ally like me that much. He probably had a predetermined notion on me, but I’ve been getting to know him and it’s been fun getting to know him, especially with Nate.”
Another wrinkle to Lee and Stubbs’ relationship is that they did not grow up too far from each other in California. Stubbs, a native of Del Mar, and Lee, a Vista, California native, grew up just thirty minutes apart in California. Despite their location, they never crossed paths.
“I knew of his brother when his brother was at USC. I watched college baseball,” said Lee of Stubbs’ older brother Garrett Stubbs, who is also in the Astros organization and made his major league debut back in May.
“Learning from him and understanding it is a grind, but you have to enjoy it,” said Stubbs on the lessons he has taken away from his brother Garrett’s journey. “Otherwise it will swallow you up and spit you out.
Lee is currently batting .360 through 25 at bats with four RBI on his state line, earning himself the top spot in average of ValleyCats players with over ten at-bats.
Stubbs is hitting .333 with two home runs and three RBI and Paulino is also hitting .33 with two RBI. Perry is currently hitting .147, but leads the ValleyCats in at-bats currently while also having a home run and three RBI to his credit.
“Seeing CJ and Korey hit night in and night out lights a fire under me, and that’s cool, and I needed that,” said Perry on the motivation the healthy competition offers him.
“He had a great college career. Right now he was one of my more versatile guys and his composure at the plate is great,” said Guillen of Stubbs’ success so early on. “I expected it from him. With him, I have a lot of confidence.”
What the stat lines won’t tell you, is that a catcher has been at the dish for two of the three walk offs at Joe Bruno Stadium this season, with another being the winning run to cross home plate.
Lee was the first to hit a walk off when he crushed a ball to the left center gap that scored Perry from first on Friday, June 21. Stubbs followed Lee up the following night with a walk off of his own down the left field line.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Lee after his walk off.
“No competition here. We are on the same team,” said Stubbs after his walk off the following night.
The catchers are forming a strong relationship. Lee, Stubbs, and Perry each offer something that others can learn from and use in their own game.
“Perry is the savvy vet around here so we are definitely picking apart his brain on what to do and what not to do, what you can kind of get away with, and when you succeed, what you can do with that,” said Lee. “CJ is the guy that goes out there and plays. He is a loose guy, he likes to go out there and have fun. He’s a player that is fighting for a job. I love to play the game. I love to talk the game.”
“We are really enjoying it right now,” said Perry. “Both guys are great players and even better people. I’m learning from them and I am ready to get to work with them.”
“Just getting into that clubhouse that first day, Nate had a good relationship with all the guys and seeing how he conversates with all of them, even the ones where there is a language barrier, and knowing how to deal was that was important,” said Stubbs. “Korey is a phenomenal player, obviously as a first rounder. He has a hell of an arm. That guy can hit it everywhere. Pulling its and bits of his hitting game and his catching game is huge — I feel like the older guy at 22 and Nate is about to turn 20, and Korey 21, but it’s been working well and we get along.”
Korey Lee throws out a runner at first on June 22 at Joe Bruno Stadium.
Nate Perry runs out of the dugout on June 12 at Joe Bruno Stadium in an exhibition matchup with the Albany Dutchmen.