Injuries gave Blue Jays prospect Max Pentecost new perspective

Since the Toronto Blue Jays drafted Max Pentecost 11th overall in 2014, the catcher has spent more time than he'd prefer in the dugout rather than behind the plate. But Pentecost's time away from the game helped him see baseball from a new viewpoint.

Catcher drafted 11th overall in 2014 has endured 3 shoulder surgeries

Having three shoulder surgeries allowed aspiring Blue Jays catcher Max Pentecost time for reflection. "I was able to get a grasp on how my body works and reacts. It's helped me get to where I am now." The 11th overall draft pick in 2014 is expected to open this season with double-A New Hampshire. (@DunedinBlueJays/Twitter)

Toronto Blue Jays prospect Max Pentecost has spent many years around a baseball diamond. But over the past couple, the 24-year-old has spent more time watching from the dugout rather than catching behind the plate.

Drafted 11th overall in 2014, he has undergone three shoulder surgeries but it's given Pentecost a lot of time to reflect and learn about himself.

"I was able to look back and watch the game from a different perspective as opposed to being in it. At the same time, I was able to get a grasp on how my body works and reacts," Pentecost told CBC Sports at the Blue Jays' annual rookie orientation camp last January. "It's helped me get to where I am now."

The Winder, Ga., native will likely begin the season with double-A New Hampshire and has split time as a designated hitter and catcher at this year's big league spring training. 

Pentecost also saw time at first base last season as the Jays try to manage his workload. Being in the infield has benefited Pentecost when he's back behind the plate calling games. 

Attention to detail

"The best part is being able to watch other catchers and how they might set up a hitter or how they're working with that pitcher. I can translate that into whenever I do catch," Pentecost said. 

"You [also] get to watch other teams' hitters. From a catching perspective, you can see their footwork. But from the field, you can see where their hands are going and their thought process a bit better."

Pentecost's attention to detail helps his approach at the plate, where he's not just hacking blindly. He thinks like a pitcher and looks for tendencies — pitches at certain points in the count. 

Entering Friday's spring training game, the right-handed hitter had struggled with only a pair of hits and two runs batted in over 18 plate appearances. But Pentecost's past has shown he's a proven hitter.

He had a career .343 batting average in three years at Kennesaw State University and it's translated into the minor leagues where he's hit .294 in three seasons and three different levels of A-ball.

'I gotta get something going'

Pentecost has contributed when healthy — all of which has made things more frustrating for the oft-injured catcher. The questions surrounding Pentecost's health played a role in the Blue Jays' decision to expose him in the Rule 5 draft.

Suddenly, Pentecost faced the possibility of leaving the organization he ever knew but he doesn't blame the team one bit for their decision.

"I was hoping I'd get protected but not being able to get on the field and produce, why should I expect them to protect me, especially when others were really producing," Pentecost said. "It kind of lit a fire under me, 'I gotta get something going.' I still hope to have a great future with this program and work from there."

Pentecost is happy to be back playing and experiencing the adrenaline of game action. He missed the camaraderie and clubhouse atmosphere.

But in his absence, Pentecost has been surpassed by other prospects on the depth chart. Last year, Danny Jansen climbed from Class A Dunedin to triple-A Buffalo while Reese McGuire earned a spot on Toronto's 40-man roster after a productive season with New Hampshire.

Pentecost doesn't mind the competition knowing it's only going to help all parties.

"We all push each other. We hope we all make it to the big leagues. There's 29 other teams that possibly need a catcher so hopefully one day, two of us will be catching against each other in a big league game," Pentecost said.

Constantly learning

Seeing other members of his draft class progress to the majors hasn't been easy for Pentecost, but he recognizes that some things are out of his control.

"Catchers take a little bit longer just because they gotta learn the game. They're in control and it takes a while to get the right mindset. That's what I'm working on now," Pentecost said.

Since his college days, Pentecost always tried to grow with the game. The six-foot-two catcher says he never wanted to hit a point where he wasn't getting better. Pentecost was never satisfied despite winning the Johnny Bench award as the top catcher in NCAA Division I baseball and being a finalist for college player of the year.

In 2014, Blue Jays prospect Max Pentecost led the Kennesaw State Owls to their first conference championship. (Phil Sears/Associated Press)

He takes a lot of pride in all aspects of catching and puts it on himself if a pitcher is struggling. Pentecost says it's up to him to get them out of a funk and part of that is building a relationship.

"A lot of it is in-game — you learn their tendencies, get on the same page … you gotta know how their mind works, what they run off of, and what can bring them back up if something happens," Pentecost said.


Chicco Nacion returns to his birthplace of Toronto after growing up in Niagara Falls. He graduated from the Master of Media in Journalism and Communication program at the University of Western Ontario. Follow him on Twitter @chicco_n


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