Buffalo's Tom Murphy Maps Out Path To Majors
It's possible that the first major league game Buffalo catcher Tom Murphy sees will be a few years from now, when he's in the lineup.
Growing up in the small town of West Monroe in upstate New York, Murphy was about five hours away from both New York City and Toronto, and his favorite player was Yankees catcher Jorge Posada.
West Monroe is just north of Syracuse, so he has seen plenty of Triple-A Syracuse Chiefs games, and his whole family went to see Stephen Strasburg pitch there two years ago. He has been to Cooperstown a few times.
But Murphy's parents were always busy running the family business, Murphy's Automotive, and Tom was always busy playing baseball himself, so he never got the chance to take in a big league game.
Plus, if Tom was going to pester his father about any kind of trip growing up, it was going to be a trip into the woods to go hunting or fishing, not an excursion into a big city like New York or Toronto.
His first time at a major league stadium came last summer, when he played at Fenway Park as a member of the New England Collegiate League all-star team, taking on USA Baseball's college national team. Murphy, who ranked as the league's top prospect, went 1-for-2 in the game with a home run, helping the NECBL team win 3-2. A few days later, he joined Team USA when the team needed a catcher.
"It's an experience you'll never have again in your life," Murphy said. "To be considered one of the best in the country and to play for that team against other international teams, it's almost surreal. You take everything you did there and you put it in a memory bank and never forget those moments."
Student Of The Game
Murphy has never been drafted, but it's not as if he's an unknown. He was the Mid-American Conference player of the year last season as a sophomore, on a team that went just 3-21 in conference play, after hitting .384/.446/.626 with 16 doubles and 10 home runs.
His time with Team USA helped get him more attention on a national level and he's now expected to be a premium pick in June, possibly as high as the supplemental first round in a draft thin on catchers.
"He's an above-average catcher defensively," an American League area scout said. "He's got power, he's going to hit, I mean there's nothing he doesn't do. He's an average runner and he's a high energy guy. Everybody nibbles and pitches around him. Nobody ever throws him a pitch to hit and he's still gets two or three hits a game."
Murphy has been catching for as long as he has been playing baseball. In high school, his coach was Kyle Brown, who played at Le Moyne and then spent two years in the Mets organization. Brown helped elevate Murphy's game and got him involved with the South Troy Dodgers summer travel team. With South Troy, Murphy got to play in the Connie Mack World Series in Farmington, N.M.
"That was my first experience on a higher stage. We have 15,000 fans or something like that during the opening game when we played the home team," Murphy said. "That was my first taste of what it's like to play in front of a group of people and do well. It was the greatest experience ever. The whole town shuts down to focus on baseball for the week. It's great."
At Buffalo, Murphy has been calling his own games since day one.
"He does a great job with it," Buffalo head coach Ron Torgalski said. "He has a good feel for his pitchers and what they throw and what's working that day, and he's got a good feel for how to pitch guys. He does his homework, he watches, he learns. So he does a tremendous job on the defensive side."
Murphy stands out even more offensively. At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, he has a rock-solid build behind the plate. He was hitting .333/.425/.597 with 13 doubles and seven home runs in 144 at-bats. A leader for the team's younger players, Murphy is a fixture in the team's weight room and is always taking extra swings in the batting cage.
"The kid's just a great worker," Torgalski said. "He's got a great work ethic, always the first guy out to practice and the last guy to leave. He's always looking to do something to improve his game. He's a guy that thinks he should be 10-for-10 or 12-for-12 every weekend. If he goes 8-for-10, he's in the cage the next morning trying to improve on what he didn't do in those two at-bats. That says a lot about him right there. He's never satisfied."
Murphy knows the hard work will pay off.
"I've pretty much based my career at this point on outworking everyone," he said. "I have natural talent, but at the same time, it's not as much as other people I've seen. So I need to get to the field earlier and stay longer than most people to have success. That's what I've based my career on, and that's what I need to continue to do to be better at the next level."
Murphy has added 25 pounds of muscle since his freshman year, but the biggest change has been between the ears. He said he has stopped being such a perfectionist, learning there's a line between striving to be the best and letting past failures affect future performance.
"Changing my mentality is the biggest thing I've done over the years, and it has taken my game to the next level," Murphy said. "I used to be really hard on myself and it'd affect everything. It'd affect my catching, it'd affect my hitting.
"So I've learned to deal with adversity and deal with failure and that's the part that's really changed. I'm very thankful for the coaches I've had to help teach me that."