Brandon Ketron is a realist.
He doesn’t play with the chip on his shoulder of an overlooked indy leaguer who is out to show scouts that they’re wrong. He just wants a chance to prove he’s right, that he can be a solid pro player and deserves a chance. Ketron believes that if he keeps working at the game, good things will happen. And even if they don’t, he’ll have given it his best shot.
“All you can really do is go out and play,” he said. “I’ve figured out from years past, you can’t worry about (getting signed by an affiliated club). Sometimes it will work out and sometimes it won’t. All you can do is your job.”
Ketron has proven to be better than the Washington Wild Things could have ever expected. While finding good pitching is always a struggle for independent league teams, finding good catchers may be even more difficult. Affiliated clubs overdraft catchers every year because they always need so many of them.
“The hardest position to find (in the independent leagues) is a catcher,” Rockford manager J.P. Arndt said. “There are a lot of recycled catchers in indy ball.”
“It’s hard enough in this league to find impact rookies, but to find an impact rookie with no pro experience who is a catcher, you can count them on one hand,” Washington manager John Massarelli said.
But in Ketron, the Wild Things have managed to find a rookie catcher who not only is solid behind the plate, but also has forced himself into the cleanup spot in the lineup with his bat.
The rookie has led the Frontier League in batting for much of the first month of the season. At one point, he was hitting .452, more than seventy points higher than anyone else in the league. A recent cold streak dropped his average to .376, which was still good enough for second place, while he also ranked fourth in the league in on-base percentage (.448) and second in slugging percentage (.621).
It’s been an impressive debut for a player who arrived in camp hoping simply to win a job. Ketron wasn’t drafted last year coming out of Union (Ky.) College, an NAIA school, and although he had a couple of good showings at tryout camps, he headed into last offseason without a job.
During the winter, the Wild Things offered Ketron a contract based on the recommendation of an Astros scout, hoping he could fit in as a backup catcher. During spring training, he quickly showed the ability to hit for average and power.
“My eyes got turned in our last intersquad game,” Massarelli said. “Jimmy (Popp) is one of the better pitchers in the league, and he hit two bombs off of him.”
Still, Ketron opened the season as the team’s backup catcher. But every time Massarelli put him in the lineup, he responded with a two-hit game or a home run. He started working him into the lineup more often, and by the end of the first month he moved into the cleanup spot.
“I normally don’t do that. I normally wouldn’t put a first-year pro in the cleanup spot. He kept the same approach as when he was hitting seventh,” Massarelli said.
While Ketron has had no trouble adjusting to hitting in the Frontier League, he has made adjustments behind the plate. His arm is average, but his all-out approach was not made for the pro game.
“The only thing we’re working on with his throwing is his consistency. Like all young catchers, he wants to do everything real fast. They can do that in college because they have to gear up only for only one or two games a week. We’re teaching him how to save his arm, how to use his body,” Massarelli said. “Your arm will wear out over a pro season.”
Those mechanical changes are still a work in progress. Ketron agrees that he needs to use his core more, instead of throwing with just his arm, but he said that in the flow of the game he reverts to the max-effort mechanics he has used since he started catching as an 8-year-old.
But the work with Massarelli, a former catcher, is paying off as he is becoming more fluid and polished behind the plate. He’ll also have to prove he can hit breaking balls as pitchers are treating him with more respect. But if he can show that he can make adjustments, he’s likely to get the chance that he’s been hoping for.
“Brandon’s going to get an opportunity with an affiliate somewhere,” Massarelli said.
• The Schaumburg Flyers announced that during the second half of the season, they will team with the MSN network to allow fans to make all of the key decisions about the team. Fans will vote online to set the team’s lineup and rotation and make other decisions. The idea, understandably, is not exactly a hit with the team, which was leading the Northern League East with a 22-13 record. “It’s not ideal from a manager’s standpoint,” Schaumburg manager Andy McCauley told the Fargo Forum. “I don’t think any manager in the league would think that it is.”
• Edmonton manager Terry Bevington retired a day after he defied his own eight-game suspension and managed the Cracker Cats, while also starting pitcher Reggie Rivard, who was supposed to be serving a 20-game suspension. The Northern League suspended Bevington eight more games for his defiance. The suspensions came after a massive brawl between the Cracker Cats and the Calgary Vipers, which resulted in 76 games of suspension.
• San Angelo (United) second baseman Josh Anderson set an independent league record with a 31-game hitting streak, snapping the old record of 30, set by Billy Hall (Atlantic), Mike Galloway (Frontier) and Michael Robertson (Frontier). “I come with the same approach every day,” Anderson said. “Things have been going good. I just control the controllable–attitude and effort. Luckily, everything has been going the right way.”