Cutting Room Floor: Jacob Stallings
Diamond Heels catcher Jacob Stallings is the cover subject of our June 2012 issue. Here, Turner Walston brings you content not found in his 2,000-word feature.
A year ago, Jacob Stallings set a single-season record with 32 runners caught stealing, good for third in the country. This year, he has thrown out just six runners through 51 games. While Stallings would like to own Carolina’s career record for runners caught stealing, he recognizing that the simple threat of his arm behind the plate is helping the Tar Heels.
“It took about a month for somebody to even try (to run),” Stallings said. It was a little frustrating at the beginning. Some people are starting to do it a little more now, but honestly it helps our team because there’s a big difference between first and second base. If they don’t want to try, then that’s fine, because if you’re going to go station to station on our pitchers then you’re not going to score many runs. It is a little frustrating because I want to break the record, and it’s not completely out of sight but it’s good for our team. If they’re not going to steal then it’s going to be really hard to score runs.”
Through the season’s first 51 games, the Tar Heels have used 238 pitcher-appearances, or 4 2/3 pitchers per game. Stallings has been behind the plate for nearly every one of them, but he says he doesn’t mind.
“It gets a little tiring, having to catch all the warmup pitches, but when you have the arms like that . . . We run three or four guys out there one day and it just keeps a team off-balance. When we can run three guys out one day and three guys out there the next it just gives them different looks, and it’s hard to hit a different pitcher almost every time up as a hitter.”
Stallings’s pitchers say that he is a good receiver of the ball, knowing that even if a pitch is a bit off the mark, the catcher will attempt to frame it in the strike zone.
“Familiarity with pitchers is key, and I think it’s something that I’ve been kind of blessed with. I’ve always been pretty good at receiving, and obviously catching so many power arms and catching potential big leaguers. Experience has helped, too. But I think it’s kind of something that you’re just blessed with good hands and a good feel for where the pitch is going to be at the right time.”
When a runner is coming toward home plate and the ball on the way, Stallings’s casual body doesn’t give away how close a play will be. Sometimes, his body pays the price, as it did when Wake Forest’s Conor Keniry ran him over in the first inning of a rubber match in early April. But Keniry was out, and the Tar Heels wound up winning by a single run.
“Jacob was just kind of sitting there acting like the ball wasn’t coming,” pitcher Benton Moss said. “He deked him out of thinking that the ball was coming there and all of a sudden he tags him, and the coach asked the guy, ‘Did you not know the ball was coming?’ He was like, ‘You can’t tell.’ Little things like that just make the biggest differences.”
“I do it on every one,” Stallings said. “I just kind of stand there like the ball’s not coming and it actually cost me because I got run over at Wake because of it, because I faked the guy out so bad that he didn’t have time to slide, so then I got run over, of course. But I got the out. I was able to hold onto it. I just stand there and act like the ball’s not coming just about every time.”
Matt Roberts appears to be the heir apparent behind the plate, but the sophomore has struggled with injuries at the beginning of both of his seasons in Chapel Hill.
“He’s just had such bad luck and he’s just been injured so much,” Stallings said of Roberts. “So I’ve just tried to be a constant encouragement to him because he’s got the ability, he’s just started off both years injured so he just hadn’t been able to get in a rhythm. I just try to be constant encouragement, because I’ve been where he is. When my freshman year started, I didn’t get consistent at-bats. I’m just trying to let him know that it’s going to happen for him because he’s too good a player for it not to happen.”