Jacob Stallings came to spring training with the Pirates Pirates under different circumstances, not just in competing for a spot on the Opening Day roster but because he is out of minor-league options.
This is a make-or-break spring for Stallings.
“Maybe there’s a little heightened sense of focus on everything you do,” Stallings said. “At the same time, you don’t want it to weigh you down. I’ve seen that a lot, whether it’s getting called up and down a lot, whether you’re going to get called up in September. So many things can weigh you down. You just try not to worry about it, go out there and be the best you can be.”
The 29-year-old catcher is getting ample opportunities to show what he can do, with the Pirates easing starter Francisco Cervelli’s workload and backup Elias Diaz out indefinitely with a virus that could cause him to miss the start of the season.
That could prove to be a blessing in disguise for Stallings and the Pirates. It would allow them to carry three catchers without sacrificing at another position, and they wouldn’t have to wait to see if Stallings clears waivers to keep him in the organization.
“Obviously, I’d love to stay here,” Stallings said. “These are some of my best friends in the world, the only organization I’ve known. But it’s out of my control.
“I’d say it’s something I think about more when I go home. It’s something hanging over my head but, in terms of being at the field and getting work done, it’s not something I think about.”
Instead, Stallings is focused on proving that his offseason work will pay off. Pirates pitchers rave about his preparation and game-calling, but Stallings knows he needs to improve his offense.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder has a lot of moving parts, and admits getting them in sync with his swing has been the biggest challenge of his career. He took only a week-and-a-half off before starting on his swing, hoping to improve his plate production.
Stallings slashed .285/.335/.414 in Triple-A Indianapolis last season but was .216/.268/.216 in 14 games with the Pirates last season and has yet to hit his first career major-league home run.
Stallings does, however, have some success to build upon. His greater heroics came against Kansas City on Sept. 17, when he hit a two-strike pitch off Ben Lively for a line-drive single to shallow left field to score Kevin Kramer for a 7-6 walk-off victory.
“Anytime you can have success, especially at the big-league level, it’s going to give you confidence,” Stallings said. “The biggest thing for me that I gained from last year was calling the game. I felt like when I was back there, we faced some really good offensive teams and called some good games, had some success in that way.
“I felt like that was the biggest step forward I made last year.”