Four years after his bat kept him in the Seibu Lions lineup when his defense behind the plate would not, 23-year-old Tomoya Mori has gone from pleading for an opportunity to catch to becoming the club’s everyday backstop.
The Lions No. 1 draft pick in 2013 out of high school powerhouse Osaka Toin, Mori had trouble with passed balls in his 2014 rookie year in the minors. But having destroyed minor league pitching with his bat, the Lions made Mori their designated hitter in 2015, but didn’t play a single game behind the plate.
But Mori worked hard that offseason and in camp and caught 33 games from 2015 to 2016 as a backup to two-time Golden Glove winner Ginjiro Sumitani. A year ago, Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji made Mori his No. 1 catcher.
Mori hit like an MVP when he was in the lineup as a catcher as the Lions won the Pacific League, overcoming the PL’s worst ERA with a 792-run battering ram of an offense.
“That (being an everyday catcher) has always been my goal. Last year, manager Tsuji stuck with me, and I’m grateful to him for that,” Mori said in an April interview. “Because of that, I feel I have to produce good results this season.”
“I believe catching is pretty hard, and so it’s worth doing –if only for that reason alone. So I want to not only catch but play that position for all I’m worth.”
“Last season, the batters really helped us out. That’s something I thought about all season. My theme for this entire season is to be part of a battery that gives us a chance to win games. Even if it only happens once, I want to be a part of a game where people say the battery won it for us. For their part, the pitchers share in that desire.”
“First and foremost is getting results. Getting those demands we shut down our opponents. The biggest issue from last year was the quality of our battery work when everything fell apart after we gave up the first run.”
Although Mori did not call all the pitches last year, he said he had to share responsibility for the outcomes.
“No (I don’t call every pitch). But if I put down a sign, I have to take some responsibility for that,” he said. “But rather than trying to assign blame to the catcher or to the pitcher that we think of those as mistakes by the battery.”
So how do you minimize those mistakes?
“Communication is important, whether or not you get a batter out or not, if you’re always talking about pitch selection, then you don’t have to say it because you are in sync,” he said. “Having a battery that is thinking along the same lines is a big factor in getting batters out.”
He said there are times when he gets a bad feeling from the pitcher’s body language about a pitch.
“Those times, I think, ‘Oh, no. This is going to get hit,'” he said. “So sometimes, I’ll think I’ll want a pitch that might lead to a walk but will avoid giving up an extra-base hit. Of course, you plan to change the pitch selection based depending on the situation.”
One situation where Mori’s performance definitely looked like he was uncomfortable last year was at designated hitter, where he hit like a catcher — a .318 OBP with a .330 slugging average. When he caught, his OBP was .396 and he slugged .420.
“I wasn’t aware of that until some people in the media pointed it out,” he said. “After that I started thinking that maybe I did feel a little different as a DH, but it wasn’t like I wanted to change things or tried to do anything differently.”
Also see my thoughts on Mori as a candidate for the PL’s top catcher last year.