Garko out to prove critics wrong
Futures catcher wants to put defensive doubts in past
Note to the baseball world: Ryan Garko is still a catcher.
And judging by the fact that he was just named one of two catchers on the United States Team in the 2005 XM Satellite Radio All-Star Futures Game, he's quite a good one, too.
No one has ever questioned Garko's ability to hit. After winning the Johnny Bench Award as the nation's top collegiate catcher while at Stanford in 2003, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound backstop slugged his way from Class A to Triple-A in 2004, hitting a combined .330 with 22 home runs and 99 RBIs in his first full season. His bat is clearly his ticket to The Show.
But Garko hears the rumblings: he can't catch; he's all offense, no defense; he'll have to change positions to make it in the Major Leagues. And when he's compared to big leaguers, he's not compared to Ivan Rodriguez or even Mike Piazza, who he grew up watching in Los Angeles. Instead, he's likened to Matthew LeCroy, Craig Wilson and Josh Phelps -- all of whom have had varying degrees of success at the Major League level, but have had to abandon catching and learn to play new positions in order to keep their bats in the lineup.
"You know, I've played with this stigma since I was at Stanford -- that I can't catch -- and it's hard to overcome a reputation," conceded Garko. "But I want people to come watch -- I'll prove them wrong."
The Cleveland Indians' top catching prospect is the first to admit that he has room to improve on defense, but he also says that he's made a lot of progress.
"I know I have a lot of work to do, and I really think I'm improving and getting better every day. From this time last year to now, it's like night and day."
He also maintains that not all of the criticism his defense receives is warranted.
"I'll play seven straight games without a flaw and then one will squib by me and it'll be 'Oh, he can't block the ball.' I talked to [Indians catcher] Vic[tor Martinez] about it and he told me, 'Someone will always find something wrong, whether it's a scout or whoever, but the bottom line is that you've just got to have the confidence of the guys in your dugout -- your teammates, the pitchers, the coaching staff.'"
And it doesn't hurt to have the confidence of your front office, either.
According to Cleveland's Director of Player Development, John Farrell, "Ryan knows he's got needs, and he's very smart and very confident, and he's working very hard to improve.
"He'll knock people out of his way," added Farrell. "He's gonna push his way onto our roster."
Which may be exactly what Garko has to do since his path to the big leagues is littered with young talent, including 2004 American League All-Star catcher Victor Martinez, blossoming designated hitter Travis Hafner, and the organization's top offensive prospect, first baseman Michael Aubrey, who is at Double-A Akron.
But while he's not opposed to learning a new position to increase his value -- he's played 17 games at first base through the first half of the Bisons' season -- Garko isn't letting go of his dream to catch in the Major Leagues just yet.
"People said Victor wouldn't catch in the big leagues either. When he was coming up, they talked about moving him to first base, third base . . . but look where he is -- he's an All-Star."
And this year, Garko will be at the All-Star Game, too. As a catcher.
Jason Ratliff is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.