At Lakewood, the catcher is listening

LAKEWOOD, N.J. - BlueClaws manager Mark Parent readily recalls the times he stood face-to-face with Sebastian Valle and told his young catcher, in no uncertain terms, that he "needed to get it going."

Those "grill sessions," as Parent calls them, were common earlier this year when Valle's struggles at the plate were distracting enough to affect his performance behind it.

Over the last two weeks, it looks as if Valle heard Parent's message.

After a sluggish start, the Phillies' top catching prospect has slugged six home runs and driven in 16 runs over his last 11 games with single-A Lakewood.

"Offensively, he started staying on the ball, he started to listen - to do what we tell him," Parent said. "He's going the other way with the ball, keeping his shoulder on the ball, staying square. And it's really paying dividends."

When Valle entered this season, the Phillies had traded away what was regarded as their future at catcher, Lou Marson and Travis d'Arnaud, in deals for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay.

The 19-year-old Valle, signed by the Phils out of Mexico in 2006, suddenly was the team's top catching prospect and the organization's fourth-highest-rated prospect overall by Baseball America.

Parent just wanted Valle to show him what all the hype was about.

"I knew I just needed to keep working hard every day," the 6-foot-1, 170-pounder said. "Hopefully, I can keep it going."

Parent, 38, a catcher in the big leagues for 13 years, has the task of trying to develop some of the brightest pitchers in the Phillies' minor-league system in Lakewood. He needs Valle.

"I went through this, too," Parent said. "Every catcher has to learn that when you play the position, the number-one thing is you have to get that pitcher through the game and win the ball game."

Parent said Valle is learning that lesson. According to the former Phillie, Valle is showing better command behind the plate and greater quickness with his release when throwing the ball. Offensively, Valle's average is up to .254 (after Thursday's game) and he's finally showing the power that put him on the map in the first place.

Looking toward the future beyond Carlos Ruiz, the Phillies took Cameron Rupp, a promising catcher who played in college at Texas, in the third round of this year's draft.