The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Sports

July 4, 2013

Catching On: Former infielders making transition with LumberKings

CLINTON — CLINTON – There was just something about them. Tyler Marlette was a short, stocky, college-bound third baseman; Marcus Littlewood was a shortstop on the tall side who made all the plays you should in the middle infield.

Something somewhere along the line said to the Seattle Mariners scouts, “These two kids ought to be catchers.” And so, here they are manning the Clinton LumberKings’ backstop.

“I had never caught before, not even in Little League. I’d never even thought about catching,” Littlewood, 21, from Saint George, Utah, said.

“I caught maybe six games my senior year of high school,” said Marlette, 20, from Oviedo, Fla. “A couple scouts went up to my coach and were like, ‘A lot of us want to see him behind the plate.’

“That’s when I got the clue that if I wanted to be drafted, it wouldn’t be at third base.”

Littlewood’s future also appeared brighter if he made the change.

“They said it’d be a good opportunity for me, so I thought I’d try it out,” he said. “From there it just took off.”

Both players have essentially grown into their roles together. Marlette and Littlewood met two years ago at a rookie training camp.

“I thought he was mean,” Marlette said, jokingly. “I tried to approach him because I knew he was newer. We were with a bunch of older guys and he was the only other high-school-aged catcher.”

Marlette’s first impression was that Littlewood was too standoffish.

“I’m just not very approachable,” Littlewood said, laughing.

Now with the LumberKings, both players room together on every road trip and spend hours together on the practice field. The player who doesn’t get the night’s start watches from the bench and gives his counterpart an observational scouting report. In the midst of a three- or four-game series, the previous night’s starter will suggest batter tendencies for the opponent’s lineup.

Compared with other players on the team, the Clinton catchers are babies at their position. Both are in their second full year at the spot. Unlike a teammate pitcher who can tap into years of situational experience, both players are honing in on the basics of professional catching.

The learning curve wasn’t as steep as either player imagined.

“There wasn’t one big hurdle. It’s a tough position to play,” Littlewood said. “I gained a lot of respect for catchers as I was transitioning. It’s hard to slow the game down at first. That just comes through experience. I think I’m learning to slow it down more.

“It’s all similar to the infield.”

Yet, the LumberKings have high expectations for Littlewood and Marlette, holding both players to higher attitude standards than the rest of the dugout. Manager Eddie Menchaca said the staff constantly gameplans with both catchers. He was actually on staff before Littlewood made the conversion.

“These are the guys that are pretty much dictating the game,” Menchaca said. “They control that. They control the speed, the tempo. When a (pitcher’s) struggling, the catcher calms him down. There’s a lot of things that go through the catcher.

“It is a process because they’re used to wearing a different glove. It’s not easy to convert from infield to catcher because the infield’s in front of you.”

Although both players could reasonably be labeled “projects,” the experiment has yielded major benefits for Clinton. Marlette leads the team in batting average, slugging, has six home runs in 152 at-bats. He was also named a 2013 Midwest League All-Star. In 29 games, Littlewood has a .250 average and 14 runs. Through 80 games, there’s only one error between them.

The players credit the work of Mariners roaming catcher coach John Stearns (a former major league catcher whom Marlette called his “idol” at the position); Stearns was named interim manager of Seattle’s Triple-A club, the Tacoma Rainiers in early May.

“He’s very enthusiastic and positive,” Littlewood said. “Baseball is full of failure, so you need someone to sort of trick you into thinking you’re good.”

And, unlike with the other positions, both players said they want the best for each other even while competing for one spot.

“He’s probably one of my closest friends here,” Marlette said.

“You don’t see that very often,” Littlewood said.

1
Text Only
Sports
  • River Hawks win triangular CLINTON -- Cration Andresen claimed medalist honors and teammate Logan Wilhelm took second Thursday as they led Easton Valley to first place at a boys golf triangular hosted by Camanche at The Oaks Golf Course. Easton Valley finished with a 190-strok

    April 19, 2014

  • White Sox whipped by Texas Rangers ARLINGTON, Texas -- Martin Perez turned toward first base, waiting for the call he hoped was coming. When the umpire's arm went up signaling a strikeout on Dayan Viciedo's check-swing with a full count, the young Texas Rangers left-hander pumped his

    April 19, 2014

  • L'Kings keep Hot Rods cold BOWLING GREEN, Ky. -- There's nothing like jumping on a team when it's down, and the Clinton LumberKings did just that Friday night. For the second night in a row, the LumberKings used a five-run inning to take a victory at Bowling Green Ballpark, th

    April 19, 2014

  • Saints split on the road CEDAR RAPIDS -- Ashford split a pair of lopsided softball games on the road Friday. The Saints beat Mount Mercy 14-2 in the first game of the doubleheader, but the Mustangs came back to take the second game 9-1 in five innings. Special to the Herald

    April 19, 2014

  • Cubs drop fifth straight CHICAGO -- Jeff Samardzija has had a hard time finding run support this season. The same could be said for all Chicago Cubs' pitchers. First, the good news: Chicago managed to break a 24-inning scoreless streak. And then, the usual dose of bad news:

    April 19, 2014

  • 4-19-14 1B-Photo, Fulton catch HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL Hall halts Steamers FULTON, Ill. -- Fulton knew it had its hands full heading into Friday's baseball game against Hall. After all, the Red Devils entered the game with an 8-1 record, and they had momentum after blanking Rockridge the day before. Fulton fell to Hall 5-2

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Shutout gives Ashford split CLINTON - Kevin Delzell's strong pitching helped Ashford come away with a split as it began its final home weekend of the season with a split against Clarke in college baseball Friday afternoon at Ashford University Field. Ashford got a strong pitchi

    April 19, 2014

  • 4-18-14 1C-Photo, Blackhawks Blackhawks start blue in Cup defense ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues went the distance, and then some, to get the jump on the defending Stanley Cup champions. Alexander Steen scored at 26 seconds of the third overtime to cap the longest playoff game in franchise history and give the Bl

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • River Kings light up the Day DAVENPORT -- Clinton continued its strong season in boys track and field, taking first place Thursday at the Jesse Day Relays on the final day of qualifying for the Drake Relays. The River Kings scored 138 points. Solon edged Davenport Central 120-11

    April 18, 2014

  • 4-18-14 3C-Photo, Rasche Clinton tennis splits with Muscatine CLINTON -- The Clinton tennis team faced Muscatine at Max Lynn Tennis Complex on Thursday where it was a tale of two duals. The girls' team won 9-0 over the Muskies while the River Kings fell 8-1. Queens sail in sweep In the six singles matches, not

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

High School Sports