Last summer Tim Federowicz, a 2008 seventh-round pick by the Red Sox, was included in a three-team trade involving the Dodgers and Mariners that sent Eric Bedard to Boston. The Dodgers gave up one of their top prospects, athletic outfielder Trayvon Robinson, and got Federowicz and righthanders Stephen Fife and Juan Rodriguez from the Red Sox in return.
One year later, Federowicz has done his best to prove the Dodgers made the right move, as the 25-year-old has been named the Baseball America/All-Star Captain's Award winner, honoring the minors' top catcher with a focus on defensive ability.
To catch-and-throw in the majors, catchers at least have to show some ability to produce with the bat. And after entering the season with a solid .278/.341/.424 career line, Federowicz had a steady, productive year at Triple-A Albuquerque, posting a .294/.371/.461 batting line and 34 doubles and 11 home runs prior to a Sept. 1 promotion to Los Angeles.
"Coming out of college I never really had an approach at the plate," said Federowicz, who played three seasons at North Carolina. "In pro ball you kind of learn your approach and what kind of hitter you are. It has just been a gradual process. Last year and this year I've kind of been able to make that adjustment and find out what works for me."
Federowicz now has to show he can hit away from Albuquerque, where he hit .343/.412/.554 as opposed to .245/.331/.370 on the road. Albuquerque manager Lorenzo Bundy believes in his catcher's offensive potential.
"He's been a productive bat for us and made some strides there," Bundy said. "He still has a ways to go offensively. Expectations rise in our park, but he has had some big hits for us and has some power."
While Federowicz has shown some offensive potential, he was drafted largely on the merits of his defensive play. In 2009, his first full professional season, league managers named Federowicz the best defensive catcher in the South Atlantic League's Best Tools survey. Similarly, Federowicz was as the Red Sox's best defensive catcher in 2009 and 2010 before garnering the same honors for the Dodgers in 2011. This season, he won the Best Tools honor again in the Pacific Coast League.
In 382 minor league games at catcher, Federowicz has been charged with just 17 passed balls (only three in 2012), an astoundingly low number given the relative lack of command of many minor league pitchers.
"The last two years is when I really started to focus on blocking balls," Federowicz said. "Once I started taking pride in that it really took off for me. I've been doing drills before the game, making sure I don't get rusty."
Although his pure arm strength only grades out as solid-average, Federowicz consistently turns in 1.9-second pop times and this season he threw out 39 percent (33-for-86) of opposing basestealers. Over his minor league career Federowicz has nabbed 35 percent (154-for-292) of basestealers.
"He's a good catch-and-throw guy that shuts down the running game," Bundy said after a game earlier this season. "I was working on our weekly game reports and there were no steal attempts against Fed tonight. That happens quite often."
While limiting the running game is an important aspect of any catcher's responsibilities, many more understated responsibilities are often overlooked. Lauded for his receiving, leadership, and game calling, Federowicz developed these subtleties during an impressive collegiate career with North Carolina. Federowicz showed an astute ability to quietly receive plus velocity and handle a talent-laden staff, as Andrew Miller, Daniel Bard, Alex White, and Matt Harvey all donned Tar Heel blue throughout Federowicz's 2006-2008 tenure.
"Throughout my college career I got to catch a lot of talented arms and it was definitely beneficial,"
Federowicz said. "It was a little overwhelming at first, but in the long run it definitely helped me to get comfortable. After you catch those guys, everyone else seems easy."
This summer he caught in a Triple-A best 108 games, a noteworthy total when one considers the rigors of minor-league travel and heat of a number of PCL locales.
"I told our manager at the beginning of the year that I wanted to catch as much as I could," Federowicz said. "Hopefully I'll eventually be a guy that is catching 140 games per year and I had never caught over 100 yet. Fortunately he let me do it. It was tough, but I think it really paid off and will help me out in the future."
Since being called up to the big leagues, Federowicz has embraced the opportunity to learn some of the nuances of pre-game preparation, but his experience, defensive pedigree and Bundy attest to Federowicz's ability to handle the rigors of catching at the highest level.
"He does the little things you don't see in the box score," Bundy said. "The pitchers have the confidence to keep their stuff down. A lot of things that he does that don't end up in the stat sheet are very important."