Bashing backstop: Ferntheil breaks the mold for catchers

March 22, 2015

Stephen Ferntheil baseball

Stephen Ferntheil

Most catchers don’t run fast enough or hit well enough to bat at the top of the order, but Stephen Ferntheil of Anchorage is different.

He is a bashing backstop.

The 23-year-old sophomore catcher at East Georgia State College is hitting leadoff and batting .371 in 20 games this year. He’s even got three stolen bases.

“I’m not blazing on the base paths, but I’m not slow either,” he told me.

Hitting leadoff has advantages, he said, like seeing more fastballs early in the count.

“It allows me to be more aggressive rather than having to wait for the perfect pitch,” he said. “Pitchers aren’t going to attack a leadoff hitter like they would the three, four hitter in the lineup.”

Ferntheil, of Service High fame, is hitting so well it wouldn’t matter where you put him. Dating back to last season, the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder is hitting .402 in the last 36 games in junior college.

The wear and tear of logging nine innings at the catcher position is so rigorous, so rugged, that most coaches don’t expect much offense. They’d rather a catcher focus on building defensive fundamentals, working with pitchers and learning a hitter’s tendencies.

“My dad said I could be a good defensive catcher, hit .100 and they’d be happy, just because it’s so difficult,” he said.

Ferntheil just makes it look easy. But he’s got here because of hard work.

“You gotta work hard on the field if you want to be a good hitter,” he said. “I spent hours and hours in the cage, hitting off the tee, off my brother. You have to put in work on the field.”