Phillies catching prospect shows promise at Lakewood
DEIVI GRULLON was living the dream. In 2012, he signed a contract with the Phillies organization to come to the United States at only 17 years old to chase his dream of playing professional baseball. It was not only his dream, but also his father's, to make his way to the States to play.
His father got him playing the game, and his father was his practice partner when he was young. Only a few weeks after Grullon's dreams were realized, he endured a nightmare. His father was killed in a motorcycle accident in his home country of the Dominican Republic.
"It was very hard for me, because my dad was the one practicing with me all the time, that helped and wanted me to become a professional player," Grullon said through his translator and teammate, Jose Mayorga. "It was very hard for me because I wanted to be with my dad during these moments."
With his father gone, Grullon moved to the States with added motivation to realize his and his father's dream. Moving to a new country without the guidance of the person who had always been his rock was tough, but he's adjusting.
"It was always a dream," Grullon said. "Everybody wants to play pro baseball in the United States. Nobody wanted to play pro more than my dad. My dad played in Dominican, but never was a pro baseball player up here. He wanted to make me a pro baseball player, and now I am doing all of this as a gift to my dad."
At age 18, he now plays catcher for the Low-A Lakewood BlueClaws. He has tremendous upside, but is a long way from wearing a Phillies uniform. He has the body type of Carlos Ruiz with an above-average arm for a catcher.
"If you were to go out and say I need a catcher with a good arm, he's got a cannon for an arm," Lakewood manager Greg Legg said. "For me, that's his biggest tool. He's got a plus arm. He is so young. His receiving skills are pretty good, and they are only going to get better. He blocks the ball pretty good. You've got toughness, you've got size."
Every year, an influx of young players from Latin America make their way to the United States in hopes of playing professional baseball. Roughly a quarter of major leaguers are from Spanish-speaking countries. There is a learning curve for those players, as many of them, like Grullon, speak little English. They also are learning the little things about the game.
"The things we are trying to focus on for him are is getting him to call a game," Legg said. "To recognize hitters' swings and have a feel for our pitcher that night, what does he have going good and what's not working. Those are the things he is behind in. In overall catching tools, he is pretty good and he is only going to get better."
He is a solid defensive catcher, who has room to improve at the plate. He was hitting .250 with one home run and seven RBI going into last night's game at Greensboro, but his best asset is his defense. He is taking the time and putting in the effort to learn from the BlueClaws' coaching staff.
When he is not playing, he sits next to Legg or pitching coach Les Lancaster to tell how he would call the game. The coaches are doing their best to take him under their wings and maximize his potential.
"We have a guy with tools, now it is our job to develop him into a big-league catcher," Legg said. "It is hard to do and it takes time. You have to be patient and weigh all the things out."
Baseball America ranked him 14th in the Phillies system after last seaon. He has a lot to learn, but he also has time to do so. Losing a parent and a mentor that early in life has lit a fire under Grullon, and he is determined to put in the work and do what it takes to get to the majors.
"My main goal is to be in the big leagues," Grullon said. "I swore when my dad died that I would be in the big leagues. I am going to make it. I have to do it. I swore to my dad. I am working hard every day to do that."
With his dad as his motivation, Grullon is learning the game every day, and has to potential to move his way up the system in the coming years.
On Twitter: @AndrewJAlbert01