The life of a catcher in the minor leagues can be a tiring one. The lengthy roadtrips and extreme temperatures, taking a toll on the players that strap on the tools of ignorance. The turnover on pitching staffs and pressure to keep up with new players on a nearly daily basis.
But for Brandon Bantz, as the season has gone on, his performance has spiked instead of dipped.
Bantz, who has played semi-regularly for the Zephyrs since joining the club in late-April, is batting .298 (17-for-57) in 19 games since the All-Star break and displaying above-average ability to throw out base runners. In his seventh year of professional baseball, Bantz has learned how to improve as a player over the course of a long season, just focusing on himself day in and day out.
“It’s always a grind, especially in this league with the travel as it is. If you’re not used to it, first year up, it’s kind of like ‘holy smokes, what is going on here?’ But you get used to it after that first year and you start to get into a routine and know what to expect, so that’s a plus coming in after being in this league for a couple of stints,” he said. “I have specifically learned for myself is just more growing and who I am as a player. Getting better at understanding who I am and what I do and what it’s going to take for me to contribute and be a player at the next level.”
Bantz had a very brief cup of coffee in the majors in 2013 with Seattle, batting twice against Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees. Since then, he has been in both the Washington Nationals and Miami Marlins organizations, settling in this season as a backup for the Zephyrs.
He hit .286 in 15 games in May before struggling in June (.224 average, 14 strikeouts), but Bantz’s defense has never waned. His ability to throw out baserunners has been lethal this season, as he’s nabbed 12 of 34 potential runners (.353 percentage) and it’s something he takes serious pride in.
“A lot of times it gets boring back there when nobody runs, so for me I love when you get a team that runs a lot. I take it personally. I love that challenge when I know a team is going to run and I try to own that and win that battle,” Bantz said. “It’s a strength of mine and I have to continue to maintain and get better at.”
If he had enough games played to qualify for the league leaderboard, Bantz would rank third among Pacific Coast League catchers in throwing out baserunners. It would also be the best mark by a Zephyrs backstop since Gustavo Molina in 2008.
When he’s at the plate and not behind it, Bantz has taken off offensively, hitting .324 (11-for-34) in August and significantly cutting down on his strikeout totals. Over the season’s first three months, he struck out 27 times in 99 at-bats, and since July 1, Bantz has struck out only seven times in 76 plate appearances.
“With this being my seventh year, I’ve been through it a little bit and I am more accustomed to the rigors of a season and everybody is different, everybody’s bodies are different, but I have learned what works for me during the season to keep me healthy and fresh towards the end of the season. If I were in the big leagues, we’d have a whole month to go now. You have to be ready for that,” he said.
If Bantz is to make it back to the big leagues, whether it be with Miami or another organization, his dual-threat ability to not only hit when given the opportunity but to also neutralize an opponent’s running game plays in any situation.
“I think it’s something I take pride in, being able to be an everyday player in the big leagues. That’s our goal: to be that kind of a guy. Obviously we all can’t be that, but that’s the mentality and you want to be out there every day helping your team,” he said.