Torrealba takes pride in mentoring
Catcher guiding young hurlers toward long-term success
TUCSON, Ariz. -- The buzz has hit camp, making them the new can't-miss pitching sensations and the future Latin stars of the National League, but ask Rockies starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez, Franklin Morales and closer Manny Corpas about the key to success in 2008 and they'll point to the guy yapping from the locker around the corner, catcher Yorvit Torrealba.
To get to the next level in the Major Leagues, the next Big Three know they need the little big one -- all 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds of him.
"To have a veteran like that is what a lot of young pitchers like," Morales said. "It's what you need. We are lucky to have him here."
For all of his abilities in some areas and lack thereof in others, Torrealba's most important contribution to Colorado this season could be his role as the trio's counselor and pseudo-coach. He is also equal parts court jester and disciplinarian, so put down the PSP when he's talking to you and don't even think about showing up late for a bullpen session because big brother always is watching.
Reporters, also beware when you walk into the Latin corner of the clubhouse because Torrealba will pick on you, too. Then the jovial Venezuelan will smile from ear to ear to make it clear he is joking.
"That guy is a clown but I love him," Corpas, 25, said. "He's always working with us, asks you what is going on and why you are acting a certain way. It's great to have a Latin catcher that speaks the same language, has the same culture. He can joke with us about things but we know he is not really joking. He's trying to send us a message."
Torrealba's message is simple: work hard and keep your focus. Along the way, the veteran seems to be making a statement of his own. He will never be confused with future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez or up-and-coming backstop Yadier Molina, but that doesn't mean he's not just as important to his team.
"I'm not a home run hitter, and I'm just basically a guy who has a lot of pride and plays hard," Torrealba, 29, said. "I help the pitchers understand, especially the young guys. This game is not easy, especially when you are young. I keep them focused and keep it light. They have to enjoy the experience."
Last season, Torrealba hit .255 with eight home runs and 47 RBIs. He threw out 18 percent of potential basestealers last season (13 of 74) overall and threw out just two of the last 32 would-be basestealers to end the season. Those numbers should improve this season because his shoulder problems are gone and he says he is currently pain-free. He almost signed with the Mets during the offseason but stayed with the Rockies instead.
"He has a real good relationship with all of the guys," Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said. "He's taken a big-time ownership of his catching responsibilities, calling the games, blocking balls, getting to know hitters, working the pitchers. He's been very appropriate with his pats on the back and the smacks on the backside."
"The young pitchers, he has embraced them," Hurdle continued. "With the command of the language, he has been able to help them I think better than anybody else we have available."
The help is necessary because the pitching standard has been set. Last season, Jimenez, 24, went 4-4 with a 4.28 ERA in 15 starts and Morales, 22, went 3-2 with a 3.43 ERA in eight starts. Corpas, the closer, posted 19 saves in 22 chances and a 2.08 ERA for the season. Officially, the expectations from the club are simply for each hurler pitch to his potential. Unofficially, the sky is the limit.
"I just want to do the same thing I did last year because I learned a lot from being in those situations," said Jimenez, who is from the Dominican Republic. "My goal is to throw 200 innings, go deep every time out, six or seven innings. I want to win this year. We are starting all over but we are smarter."
The ever-present Torrealba watched the Corpas-Morales exchange from his locker smiling in silence, appearing more like a parent than teammate. Torrealba knows when to step in and when to let the boys be boys.
"I want to keep on the same road, humility and tranquility," Corpas said. "What happened last year, happened. I never thought I would be in the World Series, but that is the past. We can't change that. It's a new year."
"There are a lot of young Latins on this team and we know it's difficult to stay here [in the Major Leagues] because you are not accustomed to the weather, the situations, all of the things here," he continued. "You play here and you learn it's about getting prepared and staying focused. Baseball is not a reaction sport like soccer. You have to think."
Morales knows his teammate is right. If the left-hander expects to fulfill his potential, he'll have to avoid some of the traps that plague young pitchers, such as a lack of concentration at times and trying to do too much with every pitch. Morales still tries to overthrow at times when he is ahead in the count.
"I just want to keep working hard and doing what I am doing," said Morales, also from Venezuela. "You try not to get overconfident and think you are bigger than the game. You learn to keep calm and keep your concentration. This is a very mental sport, and you need to keep a positive outlook."
That's where Torrealba steps in -- sometimes like a brother and sometimes like a father, but always as a teammate.
"To me, the challenge is to help as much as I can," he said. "It's good talking to them. They need to learn to be their best and I'm trying to help them with that. I take pride in my defense and what I can do."
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.