When he's taken his last at-bat for Stony Brook in the College World Series, Travis Jankowski will trade Long Island college life for a baseball education.
Jankowski, an outfielder drafted with the 44th pick, will take his place in the minor leagues of the San Diego Padres organization faced with a suddenly harsh reality: he's no longer top dog. The Padres drafted two players before they got to Jankowski, and they had three more picks in the first 70, including St. John's Jeremy Baltz at No. 68. It's at this point Jankowski will have to choose a road: flourish with his natural talent, join the graveyard of underachieving draftees or teach himself how to succeed.
Frank Catalanotto knows all about the latter.
Drafted out of Smithtown East High School in the 10th round of the 1992 amateur draft, Catalanotto wasn't quite sure he belonged when he finally made it to the lower rungs of the Detroit Tigers farm system.
“When I got to the minor leagues, these guys were all bigger, stronger and faster than I was,” Catalanotto said before an event for his book “Heart and Hustle.”
“I was a little pudgy kid that, now they put a wood bat in my hand and I couldn't hit with it. The minor league coordinator after my first year wanted to release me. Larry Parrish, the roving hitting instructor, said, 'Listen, let me have a chance with this guy. He's got a good work ethic. I think I can make him into a better player.' They went back and forth and finally they let me stay.'”
Catalanotto hit just .200 his first season, as an 18-year-old in rookie ball. But he progressed quickly, hitting .298 or better in five of his next six minor league seasons and posting strong on-base percentages. Parish told Catalanotto that he should begin keeping a book on every pitcher, logging every at-bat, every pitch, every tendency that he could discern.
“A lot of people just try to go out there and let their ability take them as far as they can,” Catalanotto said. “But I tried to use my brain a little bit more than some of the other guys.”
“Some guys just had great ability and they trusted their skills. I felt like if I prepared, it gave me a little bit of an edge. It bridged the gap.”
Catalanotto began to notice certain pitchers would flare their gloves when they were about to throw a change-up and hold it narrower for a fastball. He wrote it down. He noticed the positions that different pitchers would come set it, and whether that had anything to do with their next offering. He wrote it down.
Catalanotto kept that up during his 14 seasons in the majors with the Tigers, Rangers, Blue Jays, Brewers and Mets. He compiled a .291 batting average, .357 on-base percentage and .802 on-base plus slugging percentage. During that time, he only noticed one other player who followed the same practice.
“Only other guy I saw doing that was Carlos Delgado,” Catalanotto said. “We would compare notes, because we were both left-handed hitters. It always surprised me that other guys didn't keep a book.”
And that is Catalanotto's best advice for his fellow Long Islanders who may soon find themselves over their heads in the minors. There is a way out.
“Become a student of the game, and really concentrate on the game,” he said. “Pay attention to the game and pick up the little things.”