The Mets drafted the catcher / utilityman in the 15th round in last June’s draft. Like many rookies on the Cyclones roster, Jeff Tatford had to make the most of his limited opportunities. Though he was primarily an outfielder in college, the Mets shifted him behind the plate to see if he could develop as a catcher—a position of great need within the organization.
Throughout his rookie season, Jeff Tatford was yet again learning a new position. With the Brooklyn outfielder already chalk full of suitors, he was given the chance to remake himself as a catcher, a position he had not played with much consistency since high school, though he spent some time behind the plate in college. Playing behind Jason Jacobs led to infrequent appearances in the lineup, and meant he would have to accomplish most of his work outside of game action. For the 23-year-old, that just pushed him to work harder.
”I wasn’t really an everyday player, and I was more of a platoon player, so when I was out there I had to really focus on each part of my game. Working in bullpens and side sessions helps, but nothing compares to getting in there in live action.”
Tatford is still green when it comes to the starting points of catching and therefore he working essentials and basics, namely blocking and flexibility.
”What I need to work on the most is to build my leg strength to get that flexibility so I can move well behind the plate. That will definitely help me get behind loose balls,” he said.
His development started before his time in Brooklyn. It was back at Louisiana-Lafayette under the tutelage of his coaches and who gave him a basic plan from which to learn the position.
”At Louisiana-Lafayette, my coach was a real advocate of teaching catchers to call their own game and teaching them real pitching system. I feel I benefited a lot from that especially because our college club was in the top ten pretty much every year in staff ERA. It’s a real testament to the coaches there that taught us about pitching,’ he detailed.
Tatford appeared in 28 games this season, but not all as a catcher. He did appear in the outfield as well as a few games at first base. Though his future project as a catcher, he knows his ability to move around the field gives him an advantage when it comes to decision time as it applies to rosters.
”I know the coaches have me working to be catcher for my career, but I plan on keeping the ‘UT’ next to my name as long as I can,” he said. “I like to think that because I can play in a few areas, it helps me out say in a spring training atmosphere, because coaches can see that I’m open and able to fill in a bunch of areas or needs.”
Despite the steps he took as a catcher, the restricted playing time had a negative effect on Tatford in the batter’s box. In 77 at-bats, he hit just .169 with one home run, seven RBI and four doubles. His strong hand-eye coordination sets him up to be a good contact hitter with gap power, but since he could not get to the plate but a few times per week, he never found his a comfortable stroke.
”I feel I just need to get some consistency in the box. Getting at-bats so infrequently really wore on me,” he said. “I have the confidence in my abilities and I feel I have very good pitch recognition, so when I get to see live pitching on a daily basis, I really can become a good hitter.”
Tatford most likely will not develop into a real home run threat, but he can build more power as he learns to incorporate his full body into his swing. That work was a major focus of his during the Instructional League.
”I worked with [hitting coordinator] Lamar Johnson a lot. He noticed that I have real good coordination in the box and that I make solid contact, but he wanted me to get my whole body into it. At my height and at 215 pounds, I really should get some pop on the ball and he really honed in on using my legs more,” he explained.
With year one in the bag, Tatford still has many strides to make to raise his stature in the organization. The new position gave him a starting point in the field, but he will need to demonstrate equal growth on both sides of the ball in order to move up the ladder as quickly as he would like. For now, he continues to adapt to professional ball and all the elements tied into it.
” I definitely feel after one short season, my body really took the beating of a full season, but that is a demand my body will need for however long my career my last. It showed me that I really need to keep my body in shape, and I’ll do it whatever it takes. I really need to come prepared physically and mentally for next season and every year after that,” he closed.