Cameron Rupp wants to do whatever he can to cement his status as the catcher of the Phillies moving forward.
His .252 average, 54 RBI and 26 doubles in his first season with 100-plus games was a good start for the 28-year-old. Yet, he knows there’s much more to be done if he wants to hold off the young talent behind, including his current backup, 25-year-old Andrew Knapp.
And so does management, which is why both Rupp and Pete Mackanin spoke “at length” after the 2016 season about the other side of the game – the mental preparation.
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“We’ve hammered it home with him that he’s got to do more and I think he’s bought in,” Mackanin said. “I think he enjoys and looks forward to being a little smarter behind the plate.”
On the baseball diamond, a catcher is somewhat like the quarterback of a football team. He’s the one responsible for relaying the signals, making sure everyone is lined up in the right spot and above all else, knowing the situation and what to do in a blink of an eye.
Rupp has spent a good portion of his career hitting his way through the minors, driving in 40-plus runs in three consecutive seasons in which he averaged just north of 90 games a year. He’s proven to swing a good stick at the major league level, as well, but he’s more aware and willing now to truly amplify his game.
That starts well before the first pitch. How much work does he put in watching film, looking over the numbers and chatting with his pitchers?
“There’s never a time limit,” Rupp said with a chuckle. “It’s whatever it takes to get the job done.”
That’s exactly what Mackanin and the rest of the staff wants to hear.
One of the underlying tidbits about Rupp and his newfound approach in preparation is the origins of it. It wasn’t as simple as the coaches telling him to intensify his pregame work; it actually spawned from A.J. Ellis, who played in only 11 games with the Phillies last year.
A 10-year veteran, Ellis approached each game like nothing that Mackanin has seen before. Longtime Phillies backstop, and Rupp’s predecessor, Carlos Ruiz was one of the smartest guys behind the plate, but not even he put in preparation work like Ellis.
Seeing that was what changed things for Mackanin and Rupp.
“Ellis took it to another level,” Mackanin said. “He took it deeper in preparation and we looked at the way he prepares for a game, got together with Rupp and now Rupp kind of inherited that way of doing things. It seems to me from what I’ve observed he’s made a good adjustment and put more time into his preparation.”
Between the prep work he’s putting in and having a year under his belt, Rupp is feeling more confident than ever.
“You learn the hitters a little bit more, and I take what [Ellis] taught me, having a gameplan with your pitcher … you want to make the adjustment before the hitter does,” Rupp said.
All of this preparation and studying should make Rupp a much-more well-rounded catcher, and it also should help limit the scene of Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure tossing their arms up in the air after a missed call.
Mackanin is most excited for having less stress, for now.