Productivity From Catchers Key to Pack Baseball Success
April 27, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. - The way Elliott Avent sounded, you’d think the NC State baseball coach would rather miss several paychecks than grind through a season without two competent catchers.
“It’s almost impossible to win without two catchers," Avent said. “They take such a beating. You need two good ones and fortunately we have two good ones.”
Indeed, the Wolfpack does.
Fans can check the durable duo out again this weekend at Doak Field at Dail Park, where the Pack opens a three-game series Friday against Duke.
While sharing time behind the plate, both Canela and Austin have contributed in various ways -- working with pitchers, managing the game, and flashing sufficient arm strength to challenge daring base runners. And, both can hit.
Their ability with the bat is why one is in the lineup as a designated hitter when the other is catching.
Though a bit unsung amid the hoopla swirling around freshman pitching sensation Carlos Rodon and rookie base-stealing bandit Trea Turner, it’s doubtful State would be 27-12 overall and 13-8 in the ACC without Canela and Austin.
“They’ve been a strength of our club, a big part of our success," Avent acknowledged.
Canela, on a batting tear recently, carries a .312 batting average with 14 doubles and 31 RBIs.
Those aren’t surprising stats, considering Canela hit .356 as a freshman and .306 last season. He's more disciplined at the plate now, swinging at good pitches and laying off bad balls, a key factor also in his drawing 28 walks.
Austin's .264 average isn't eye-popping and is somewhat misleading. It includes 10 doubles, 23 RBIs, and several hard hit balls that turned into loud outs. A switch-hitter, Austin has had to adapt to college pitching as a lefty and righty, doubling his batting challenge.
“I’ve been hitting balls right at people, but you can’t get frustrated over that," said Austin, whose aura and perspective reflects a maturity beyond his age.
A former prep All-America at Charlotte's Providence High and rated by Baseball America as the nation's No. 4 preseason freshman prospect, Austin could be counting his money and playing professional baseball somewhere. But for now, he's content playing with the Pack.
“I figure that (professional) opportunity will be there three years down the road," Austin reasons. “I didn’t want to miss the college experience. That’s something you can’t put a price on. I’ve had a great time here.”
“He fits well into the program," Canela said. “He’s a very, very gifted athlete. He’s a five-tool player -- can run, hit, play defense, has a great arm. He will be a high draft pick.”
The genesis for Austin’s catching career came at age 8, when a coach stuck him behind the plate. He liked the position from the get go, still does, and relishes being engaged on every pitch despite taking the “beating” Avent talked about earlier.
“Getting beat up comes with the job," said Austin, who has two big bruises on his leg. “We (including Canela) are both tired. But we work hard, stay in shape, keep grinding.”
A tried and trusted batterymate, Canela says he has always had a “feel” for catching. He revels in controlling the game’s pace, helping pitchers maintain the proper tempo, and will get down and dirty to block wild pitches.
“We are very fortunate in the catching department," Avent reiterated. “We’ve just got to keep them healthy. They are kind of like linemen in football. They'll be a little mangled."
Look deeper. Who are these men behind the masks?
Canela, from Miami, is dubbed the effervescent, engaging type who flashes a winsome sense of humor.
For example, on a trip early this season to Wilmington, he unabashedly took the bus microphone and made an entertaining tour guide’s presentation before coaches and teammates.
Away from baseball, Canela likes to fish, hang out with friends, and he has participated in the campus Athletes-In-Action/Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter.
Austin, more reserved of the two, is an avid ping-pong player and finds video games a relaxing diversion. Like Canela, he's polite, smiles easily, talks freely and is fan friendly, willing to linger after games to sign autographs.
But when the ump yells "Play Ball," the two catchers flip a switch. They are fiercely competitive and eager to help State win a championship.
“The season has been going well, and I think we can do something special pretty soon," said Austin, who like Canela, is a pretty special player.
By A.J. Carr