Get To Know Your Mariners: Cal Raleigh has been on the baseball path since Day 1
Mariners spring training is full of names and faces you may recognize, but they belong to players who for the most part have yet to have a chance to make an impression to fans. That’s where our new series comes in.
Shannon Drayer, Mariners insider for 710 ESPN Seattle, is catching up with the highly touted prospects, recent acquisitions and more under-the-radar players throughout spring training in Peoria, Ariz., to provide insight into the Mariners of 2020 and beyond.
Now up to the plate: Cal Raleigh, a switch-hitting catcher prospect who made waves in 2019 and could be closing in on his MLB debut.
Mariners prospect Cal Raleigh has yet to have an arrival date stamped next to his name, but with the progress the 23-year-old catcher has made in the last year, it’s not hard to imagine he could move quickly.
Drafted in 2018 in the third round out of Florida State, Raleigh looks immensely more comfortable in big league camp this year than he did in his first camp a year ago. For Raleigh, 2019 was about big numbers and big learning with the young catcher forcing the issue of promotion early, hitting .261 with a .872 OPS in 82 games at High-A Modesto. He went on an absolute tear at the end of his stay, hitting .351 with 13 home runs in 20 games. It was a remarkable run, but it’s something that was easy for the switch-hitting catcher to put in perspective.
“It was really cool but it’s just baseball,” Raleigh said. “It can happen to anybody, you can run into a few. Thing is you can go 13 (homers) in 20 (games), then I won’t hit one in the next 20. That’s just how it is. That’s why baseball is one of the most unique, greatest games out there. It’s awesome.”
Raleigh developed his love for the game early growing up in picturesque Cullowhee, N.C., in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains. Dad was a baseball coach, and like all good baseball dads and moms do (or think of doing), he turned his son around at the plate the day he first picked up a baseball bat.
“It’s a funny story. I don’t actually know if I am naturally a lefty or a natural righty,” Raleigh said about being a switch-hitter. “Right when I picked up the bat one way, he made me turn around the other way. So I just thought that was the normal thing to do, what everybody did. So all through Little League kids were only hitting from one side and I thought that was weird.”
Raleigh tries to keep things simple with both of his swings. He doesn’t have time to tinker as the bulk of his time is spent on the catching side of his game. A self-professed baseball nerd, he is a catcher through and through.
“I could sit down and talk about situations for hours,” he said, noting that he would like to manage some day. “I just love that part of the game, that whole baseball feel.”
It’s more than feel, though. Raleigh, who is currently finishing up his degree in business entrepreneurship and was a Dean’s list student at Florida State, adds smarts to the feel. The smarts and confidence in his knowledge that comes with growing up in the game makes him a natural leader.
Don’t let his laid-back drawl fool you – Raleigh has definite ideas about what he wants to do behind the plate and puts much into his daily preparation. He learned last year, however, that just because he knows what he wants to do, the pitcher has a voice, too. A series of tough conversations with teammates while in Modesto led to better understanding and learning for Raleigh, who gave a slight widening of the eyes when I remarked in our interview that pitchers can be a handful. His response, however, sounded like it came from the most veteran of catchers.
“Each guy is different,” he said. “You have to realize you have 13 pitchers on a team, you have 13 different personalities. You don’t know what you are going to get out of each one. Getting to know them, understanding what they do well, don’t do well, what they dislike, even their off-field habits. Hobbies, what they do, how much they sleep.”
It’s a ton of work, but the passion for that work was evident as Raleigh continued.
“It’s kind of crazy, you are kind of like another parent sometimes,” he said with a chuckle. “You ask them, ‘How are you doing? Did you eat some food? Do you need some water?’ It’s just showing that you care, taking interest in them. That’s the biggest thing.”
Raleigh has worked particularly well with prized prospect Logan Gilbert, who Seattle drafted in the first round in 2018, two rounds ahead of Raleigh. The two played against each other in college – Gilbert went to Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., which is about four hours away from FSU in Tallahassee – but they didn’t meet until they participated in an offseason program with the Mariners. Both now call the other a good friend.
“The biggest part for me was I saw how much he cared,” Gilbert said about Raleigh. “A lot of catchers might just care what their average was or how they are playing. He really wants to take the pitching staff and make it his and that’s been fun to see.
“He’s always been one to push me and call me out where it needs to happen. I think he sees that there is another gear that he really wants to get that out of me. At the end of the day we push each other and have each other’s backs.”
It will be a big win for the Mariners if the two form a battery in the not-too-distant future at T-Mobile Park.
Check out the video of my interview with Raleigh above to hear a little bit more about how he juggles school and baseball, what he does on an off day, and just exactly how the “Beef Boy Blast,” complete with song, came about last year in Modesto.
Let’s get to know Cal Raleigh.