Iannetta ready to enjoy this year
TUCSON _ In retrospect, catcher‘s view of his 2009 season is less harsh. It was a disappointment, to be sure, not at all close to what Iannetta believes he’s capable of but not as uniformly dismal as it appeared at the time.
“Looking back on it, it wasn’t as bad as I made it out to be,” Iannetta said. “It wasn’t good, but production was still top 10 in the league for my position (tied for third in homers and sixth in RBI), which isn’t bad. From a production standpoint, it wasn’t bad. Average-wise, it’s not me. I started pressing.”
Both Iannetta and the Rockies hope he might do less of the latter now that he has financial security. Hitting coach Don Baylor would like Iannetta to “learn how to relax a little bit, enjoy the game. Have fun. Seems like last year, he didn’t have a lot of fun.”
In 93 games last year, Iannetta hit .228 with 16 home runs and 52 RBI. Eligible for arbitration for the first time, Iannetta was “a little surprised,” when the Rockies signed him to a three-year, $8.35 million contract. The deal includes a $5 million club option for 2013, Iannetta’s first year of free agency.
General manager Dan O’Dowd downplayed the importance of cost certainty from the team’s standpoint.
“It had more to do with trying to take one less thing off of his plate,” O’Dowd said. “We just want him to relax and go play the game.”
Iannetta, who will turn 27 during the first week of the regular season, is very analytical; he was a math major at the University of North Carolina. He is a maniacal worker, very driven and at this early point in his career (896 at-bats in 285 major league games) is trying to turn lofty ambition into lasting results.
“I love what I do so much.” Iannetta said. “I know how good I can be. I want to be that and I want to be that for a long time. So that’s when I put pressure on myself, because I know what I’m capable of.
If I thought I was what I did last year (was the norm), I would’ve been, ‘Well, I did my job and that’s the best I’m going to do.’ But it’s frustrating when you know what you’re capable of and you know what you can do.”
Iannetta began 2009 as the Rockies regular catcher. He lost that job in August to Yorvit Torrealba and from Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season had a mere 20 at-bats. Torrealba, a free agent, signed with San Diego. To replace him, the Rockies signed catcherto a one-year, $2.5 million contract. He will compete with Iannetta, whom the Rockies ultimately expect will emerge as a top-flight catcher both on offense and defense. It will be a huge surprise if he doesn’t leave spring training as the clear starter.
Iannetta worried about being demoted to Triple-A in August last year, something O’Dowd said “wasn’t even a thought.” The club’s thinking, on the contrary, is in Iannetta, they have a very valuable commodity at catcher.
“It’s a premium position,” O’Dowd said. “He’s got all the talent in the world on both sides of the ball for that position. It’s just about us being patient and him believing in himself.”
He’s better able to do that because of a mechanical adjustment at the plate that occurred in August, when Iannetta wasn’t playing. At the suggestion of first base coach Glenallen Hill, Iannetta incorporated a toe tap and simultaneously brought his hands down.
“I worked with Don (Baylor) all year, and Don was great,” Iannetta said. “We worked so hard and he pulled me aside so many times just to talk, try to get what was going on in my head, offered so much advice. August came around, I started talking a little bit more to G. Hill to get a different voice. Don was telling me the things I needed to do, and he was 100 percent right. But for some reason, I just wasn’t getting the hang of it as fast as I needed to.
“G. gave me a couple suggestions and one was the toe tap. I saw what it did for Troy (Tulowitzki). We have different swings, but we were suffering from some of the same things early on in the year.”
Iannetta said he first used the top tap in the indoor batting cage, marveled at how unconventional it felt and found it to be a nice diversion and rather enjoyable. Iannetta said this different approach “got me to a point where I wasn’t thinking about counts, I wasn’t thinking about pitch location, selection and stuff like that.
I brought my foot back, brought my hands down and from that point, all I did was see the ball. Naturally my hands would come back up without thinking about it. I would stride without thinking about it. I stopped thinking about all the little things and just went to hitting. And it made an immediate difference.”
The first time Iannetta took the toe tap into a game was Aug. 26 against Los Angeles. On his second at-bat, Iannetta drove a curveball from Dodgers left-hander Randy Wolf to the gap in left-center at Coors Field for a double.
“It was a pitch that I’d normally take or I’d wait until it was later in the count to hit,” Iannetta said. “I just reacted and hit a double in the gap and it was like, ‘Wow. This is cool.’ ”
The Rockies are hoping for more of those moments this season. Iannetta realizes slumps are inevitable, but knowing he’ll be with the Rockies the next three seasons, barring a trade or injury, Iannetta says he “might not press as much.”
All of which might help Iannetta, who will never be regarded as carefree, fulfill his sizable potential. Managerreferred to that when he said, “I want to see this young man realize how good he is. It’s a goal of mine.”