Scottsdale, Ariz. -- It's not everyday that two catchers who have combined for just 106 big league plate appearances could be thought of as anything other than rookies feeling around in the dark, trying to come to their senses and get up to speed in the big leagues.
Of course, it's not everyday, either, that those same catchers possess nearly 1,300 games of minor league experience, encompassing over 4,700 plate appearances and well over 10,000 innings of work behind the plate. So although big league service time places them firmly in the rookie category, Jackson Williams and Dustin Garneau are in some ways veterans—and the experience those two have will go a long way to help the Colorado Rockies' young pitching staff along side (actual) veteran Nick Hundley.
"I'm definitely in a leadership role, because there’s a lot of responsibility back there behind the plate, especially with the young guys that we have. It’s about getting the most out of them," Williams admitted to Purple Row from the Rockies' Scottsdale clubhouse. "Knowing when to get on them, when to calm them down, and then trying to get them to relax out there on the mound. Being young and being in this atmosphere, the nerves run high, so whenever that happens, that’s when little things start to break down."
"It’s that little thing of us conveying that energy back to them," Williams added, "like 'hey, let’s calm it down, let’s stay under control, and let’s get going.'"
That Williams takes a leadership role shouldn't be much of a surprise; he's seen about as much as one can see in what will now be his tenth year of professional baseball. And though he has but 14 games in the big leagues to show for it, throughout his career he's been observant enough to pick up on cues and tips from Major Leaguers that have come before him.
"I was in camp every year with the Giants, and I saw how Bengie Molina was as the catcher, and then when Buster Posey came in," Williams said. "Buster is a player that comes around once every so often. He’s a special player. So seeing how he’d operate and talking to him, he’s as smart as it gets when it comes to calling pitches, feeling guys out in the box, and knowing hitters".
Williams was in good company in the Giants' organization, since there's arguably no one better to learn from regarding the art of catching in the current day's game than Posey. And whether it's Posey and Molina affecting him, or any of the other thousands of unique experiences Williams has had, the Oklahoma native has clearly thought about and executed what it means to be a leader before.
"It’s not where you take that leadership role and say, 'hey, whatever I say goes,'" Williams sad. "It’s a give and take relationship. I give [young pitchers] ideas, and I want feedback from them. It definitely helps me having been around, but at the same time, I'm still learning. It’s always a journey to learn more."
Garneau, too, has been on a long journey—himself entering now his eighth year of professional baseball. At this point, nothing much throws him for a loop any more, even if he may just have a handful of at-bats in the big leagues to his name.
"I know how this game works, I know the business end of it, I know how players work and all that stuff, so nothing they can throw at me is going to be a curve ball," Garneau told Purple Row earlier this month. "So if I get sent wherever I get sent, I still have to play baseball. That’s how I look at it."
As much as is possible for two men with such little big league experience, too, Williams and Garneau bring perspective and a sense of context to their game. Especially for Williams, who has spent the majority of his career in another organization, that understanding of how baseball works outside of Colorado comes in handy when the time comes to develop the next wave of young, talented arms in purple pinstripes.
"Being with the Giants for as many years as I was, they never had as good a crop of young talented arms as we do over here," Williams mused. "Over here now, with the emphasis that’s been put on pitching, that was on the forefront for preparation this offseason, and you can tell. Especially the young arms, man."
"They are really, really loaded up," Williams added, shaking his head. "That’s the kind of thing that it takes to win."
To a certain extent, it doesn't matter the level; when you've played as many games as Jackson Williams has, you know a little bit about what it takes to win. And as young catchers like Tom Murphy and Dom Nunez develop in the minors, Williams and Garneau make up an interesting pair of rookies-in-name-only, wise beyond their years and stat lines. If—or when—that young Rockies pitching staff begins to show growth, these well-traveled catchers ought to take more than a little credit for setting the mold.