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Georgia catcher Will Banfield is one of the more polished backstops in the 2018 draft class and and one of the top players overall for next year’s draft. Out of Brookwood High in Snellville, Ga., he is also one of many prep players representing what appears to be a loaded state, after a 2017 crop that wasn’t up to par. Baseball America caught up with Banfield to talk about how he got started with baseball, how he thinks about catching, his progress this summer and more.
Baseball America: How did you get started with baseball, and how old were you?
Will Banfield: I started when I was four, but my dad played baseball—he was a catcher as well—but I started when I was four and played shortstop when I was 12 or 13, so I’ve only been catching since like four or five years ago . . . I just picked up a baseball with my dad a lot. He was the coach on my little league team and that’s really how I got started.
BA: How did the move to catcher come about?
WB: It was really what the team needed. I was a shortstop and we really didn’t have a catcher and our coach was like, ‘Who wants to try catching?’ and I raised my hand. (My dad) really didn’t push me to the position because that’s what he did . . . I really never caught before that.
BA: What were the biggest challenges for you with that position change?
WB: When I first started doing it when I was 12 or 13, switching from that infielder mindset to being a catcher and trying not to let anything by me. So I think blocking balls was probably the most difficult part because I never really had to get on my knees and chest the ball up at short . . . That was really a difficult part.
BA: What sort of things could you do to improve in that area?
WB: It was really just about getting my feet quicker. When I get my feet quicker, it makes it easier to get down and block balls, especially nowadays catching like 98 mph from big pitchers . . . I played football and I was a safety and also a quarterback, so I had to be really quick on my feet and that really helped me actually. Really there were no drills until I got older. At that age I was just working on my footwork.
BA: Was there anything else that you took from the football field that helped you on the diamond?
WB: Just the determination . . . Helping my teammates show out, like trying to help a pitcher hit spots. Stealing a pitch for them is similar to when you’re a quarterback throwing a ball to the receiver so he can look good running down the field I guess. Just helping my teammates as much as I can.
BA: With pitch-framing becoming more and more important at the major league level, have you focused more on that area of your game?
WB: That’s definitely something that I’ve been working on a lot . . . The more strikes I can get for my team the better. Really any one pitch could make it or break it for that game.
BA: How do you balance framing every pitch with setting up to throw when baserunners are stealing or leading too far off of a bag? Is that something you think about behind the plate?
WB: It’s kind of both. When somebody steals you naturally react and get up to throw them out. But sometimes in situations like first and third, or a runner on first but we have two outs, or if he has a really good jump and he’s halfway to the bag by the time I catch the pitch, I’m going to go ahead and frame that pitch and try to get a strike for the pitcher.
I’ve been the leader of the field on the football field and I really try to transfer that to the baseball field. Being a catcher, I see everything on the field going on, so I really have to make sure everybody’s doing their job and I have to make sure I’m doing my job as well. Just that mindset that I’m going to try to help my pitcher our, or my teammates out . . . That’s all I’m trying to do.
BA: Do you think your experience as a catcher has helped you when you’re standing in the batter’s box?
WB: Oh definitely. Being able to catch these top arms—we don’t really face them because they’re on my travel team—but catching these top arms when I go to these national events like PG National or the Tournament of Stars, seeing 95-96 from other guys, it actually helps me a lot. Because I really know their pitch sequence because I call the pitches most of the time and I know what counts they are going to throw pitches in unless somebody really stumps me and I’m guessing. Really it helps me a lot because, just being a catcher, I know what’s going on with pitchers.
BA: Is there anything specific in your game that you’re working on improving this summer and during your senior year?
WB: I could get better in everything and anything at my craft. Catching and hitting—hitting is the hardest thing to do. Seeing higher velocities or higher caliber arms, it’s tough sometimes, but we can always get better. So I guess getting my swing right and keeping it right for the rest of the summer and then into the high school season, too. Just every aspect of the game I could get better in.
BA: Are there any events that you are looking forward to going to this summer?
WB: Really just everything. But the Under Armour All-America Game, I can’t wait for that and the Perfect Game Classic and all that. But USA is really something that I’m looking forward to. That 40-man in Minnesota, I’m hoping that I can do well enough and they see me do well enough that I can make the 20-man roster. Because that’s something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. Being able to play with USA across our chest and playing for our country is really something to look forward to if we ever got a chance to do that. It would be great, I’ve been looking forward to that for a long time so if that worked out that would be amazing.
BA:Are there any pitchers that have stood out to you, as either a catcher or a hitter, at all of these big tournaments and showcases?
WB: Kumar (Rocker) and Ethan (Hankins) are unbelievable pitchers. Their velocity, and Kumar’s curveball, and Ethan’s command—everything like that. It’s unbelievable. And being able to catch those guy while scouts are behind me watching them, it can help point me out too if I do a good job catching them.
I faced Jack Perkins, a Louisville commit. He’s pretty good. I think I got a hit off of him, but he puts a lot of effort into his pitches. He’s a max effort kind of guy and that actually makes him really hard to hit because he’s got everything coming at me. Being able to hit against these top arms at these events is really good and helps me a lot because moving on to (other) events I’ve seen these arms before and I think it will give me an advantage.
BA: What do you find yourself doing when you’re not on the baseball field?
WB: I hang out with friends, mess around with (my little brother), play lacrosse with him. I really love playing other sports to get my mind off baseball sometimes, but I always have baseball in the back of my mind. Really just hanging out.