From the time he was drafted in 1993, until he hung up his cleats after the 2009 season, Sal Fasano had played for 9 different major league teams. Bouncing around from city to city, Fasano was the poster boy for the journeyman baseball player, filling the role as a useful backup catcher for each team that took a chance on him. But like all good things, his playing career came to a close, and in 2010, the Blue Jays hired him to be the manager of their A ball team in Lansing.
After one year at the helm of the Lansing Lugnuts, Fasano was given the reigns to the AA New Hampshire Fisher Cats by the Blue Jays in 2011, and led them to an Eastern League Championship, while winning the AA manager of the year award.
Although Fasano had success managing, he became the Blue Jays roving catching instructor in 2012, and has been in that role since. When I was in Dunedin at Spring Training a few weeks ago, watching Sal work with the catchers was my favourite thing to do. After the morning workouts, the catchers would break away from the other groups and would go with Sal to a mock homeplate. This is where they’d spend their entire morning. For the catchers not playing in the games that afternoon, they’d also be training for a good chunk of that time their as well, unlike the normal players, who’ll go watch the games taking place that day if they are not participating in them.
For all the hours they were together, Fasano was teaching the catchers how to improve on the three areas of catching: Receiving, Blocking, and Throwing. If you are wondering why framing is not on that list, it is because, as Sal told me, “Framing is what carpenters do. What I teach is receiving”. I’ll go through each one individually with pictures, and quotes from Sal.
Most of the training that goes on involves receiving because, “[Catchers are] going to catch 140 balls a game. So they have to be great at it”. How they train varies.
The first drill I saw was the one taking place in the picture on the right.
Two catchers were being tossed balls by Fasano and a volunteer (in this case, Santiago Nessy), and their objective was to receive the ball using a perfect motion, with a glove or without one.
That drill is a review of basic receiving principles. When I was talking to Fasano about receiving, he described it in the following way:
Basically, when we are trying to catch a ball, we never just want to catch the ball, we want to work outside to in, so that means if it is a little bit outside, I got to get my glove to attack an area, and I receive the ball. So, basically, the three parts of catching, Clock-Midline-Absorb. Your hand is like a clock, you get around it, and you bring it back. Midline is we always bring things back to the middle of our body, and absorb is catching it. So how we catch it- We’re never going out to attack, we’re always bringing it back in to us.
The next drill that focused on receiving was amazing, and a true testament to Fasano’s knowledge of catching.
A pitching machine is lined up with the catcher, while the catcher sits on a bench. Fasano is turned away from the action, and just listens to what happens. The goal is to work on the positioning and action of the arm/hand when going to receive a ball. If Fasano hears the “click”, the catcher did it correctly, but if he didn’t, the catcher has to do it again and again, until he gets it right. Least surprising thing about the whole drill? AJ Jimenez, notorious for his great receiving skills, was used as an example for the younger catchers. Another prospect who did this drill with ease was Gabriel Cenas, a 20-year-old out of Venezuela currently in extended spring training. Fasano seems to like him at catcher, which means he’ll likely play there in Bluefield or Vancouver this year, after playing multiple positions in the GCL last season.
Lastly, there was a drill that focused on getting the glove to be at the proper angle when catching a ball. If the glove was at the proper angle, the ball would bounce right off and into the bucket. If it wasn’t positioned correctly, it would bounce to the side, where the 17-year-old kid taking notes would pick it up, and throw it back to them.
On the topic of receiving, I asked Fasano what he thought about Dioner Navarro, who has a reputation of being a lazy receiver.
Hate to use the word lazy. I mean lazy is a pretty bad word in catching terms. Basically just help him with his anticipation. Probably more so than anything mechanical. When you know the ball is going to be down and away, making sure you get to that spot, and not just twist into it. Twist is a term I use when you’re late. Some people say lazy, you twist you end up pushing the ball away from you, and we want to make sure we are getting our body behind it.
Blocking is second. Because they are going to throw more balls in the dirt then we’re going to throw guys out.
The drills Fasano ran to practice blocking were basically all about being able to move to the ball and not sticking your glove out. The ability to move smoothly and at a good pace is key. They did this first drill, which practiced the various movements they’d do if they were going to block a ball that was in the dirt.
Next, Fasano combined blocking with throwing. A pitching machine was set up away from the catcher, and it would be positioned so the ball would bounce before it got to the catcher. The catcher would need to recover the ball, stand up, and be in a position to throw the ball as fast as possible. If they didn’t do it fast enough, they had to repeat the drill again and again.
One player who he worked with a lot last year on mechanics was Josh Thole. He has become noticeably better behind the plate. Sal offered this thoughts on Thole:
We spent a lot of time together. With Josh we tried to find an identity for him, which was first and foremost, I think most catchers, in sports in general, everyone tries to teach mechanics. The kid has his own mechanics, so I try to teach him what his body is telling me. So basically it was restructuring how he was catching the ball, receiving, blocking it and throwing, and trying to master it.
Sal Fasano does a lot of great work, and it does not go unnoticed. When I was speaking to A.J. Jimenez about the work he does with him, he said Fasano has become his second dad.
So, we know Fasano can work with catchers, but what does that hold for his future? They say catchers make the best managers. But, does Sal have plans on doing that in the future?
Well I think anything. You know I’m working with catchers down here, I love what I’m doing. I’m trying to learn everything about the game that I possibly can, so if I ever do get an opportunity to go to the big leagues, I’ll be able to stick, and not have to go up and down.
Is Sal Fasano more valuable to the Blue Jays in his current role, or would he be an even better manager? I’m not really sure, but the selfish person inside of me kind of hopes Fasano stays in his current position. Over the next few years, the Blue Jays will be pumping out some great defensive catchers from their minor league system, and it is all thanks to one man, the Blue Jays’ hidden gem; Sal Fasano.