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Tyrell catches on in San Diego minor league system

Published: Thursday, July 7, 2011 9:36 p.m. CDT

When he wore the orange and black for the Minooka Indians baseball team, he was the starting shortstop. He also did some pitching, but Cole Tyrell was known locally as a very good middle infielder.

Parlaying those skills, Tyrell then went on to play successfully for the Dayton Flyers where he played 182 consecutive games over four years, culminating his senior year there with a .326 batting average, 49 RBI and 50 runs scored.

The San Diego Padres noticed what he the MCHS grad had done last spring and drafted him in the 42nd round with the 1,264th pick. Suddenly he was in professional baseball and living the dreams of many.

Only there was a catch. The Padres drafted him to catch.

"You have to understand that you have to do the things the organization wants you to do, and to show you are versatile if you want to keep a job as a baseball player," Tyrell said.

After a short season in rookie ball in Arizona where Tyrell played short, third and first, he was sent to low Class A ball to play for the Eugene Emeralds. It was there he was exposed to catching for the first time in a long, long time.

"After I got drafted last summer, I went to Eugene to learn to catch and there I started maybe once or twice in two weeks, though I did catch a lot of batting practice," Tyrell said. "I started catching right after the draft and then on into spring training this year. It was then that I started catching games for the first time since I was in Little League. They think I have the skills needed to do well and I saw it as an opportunity to play."

It was in spring training that Tyrell worked with former Major League catcher Shawn Wooten, the guy who would later become his current manager in the Midwest League with the Ft. Wayne TinCaps.

"Woot has worked with me a lot. He was in charge of all catchers in spring training and I can tell you that everything I know about catching is from him," Tyrell said. "It's nice learning from a guy who played on a World Series champion. He's been great to be around."

Wooten played on the World Champion Anaheim Angels in 2002, learning some tricks of the catching trade from manager Mike Scioscia. Scioscia also played 13 seasons at catcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Mike was the best at blocking home plate. He was one of the best at that ever," Wooten said. "But he learned how to do that safely. He was able to do that and protect himself by putting himself in the proper position to make the play. A lot of that goes into working with the catchers and what I teach them."

Tyrell has been primarily used as a backup catcher by Wooten so far, though Tyrell has gotten more playing time recently at other infield positions. Wooten said that Tyrell is a good enough athlete to make the adjustment to any position at this point in his career.

"He's a good athlete and a hard worker, which is what you need when you are learning a new position. That's what they were looking for. We have players drafted from last year and there are more going to be coming in who got drafted this year. Cole is taking his opportunity this year and is developing. I told him that I think he has the chance to make it. I pointed out that his career path has been close to mine. I was a third baseman in the minor leagues and was hitting at Double A, but they came up to me and said, 'the Angels have Troy Glaus playing third and if you want to get to the big leagues, you should learn to catch.'"

Wooten played 51 games at catcher, 83 at first and 23 at third in his six big league seasons.

This season, Tyrell has caught 11 games, played two at third, six at first and one as a relief pitcher.

"The key is to get him in position and to have him repeat the things we've worked on. The other thing is that he's probably our best fielding first baseman this year, which gives us options," Wooten said. "He can play first, third, could play short in a pinch and the outfield. He may not be the next "Pudge" Rodriguez, but I think Cole has the skills to catch at a higher level."

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