By: Jonathan Hodgson
Canadian Baseball Network
Jordan Procyshen is wrapping up his second spring training in Fort Myers, Florida as a Boston Red Sox prospect, and with opening day now just around the corner, this camp has been particularly eventful.
2016 will be the third season overall in the Red Sox system for the 23-year-old catcher from Okotoks, Alta, who was 14th round selection by the club in the 2014 June draft. ‘Pro’ as he’s known enjoyed an accomplished college career, headlined by his sophomore year at Northeastern Junior College in 2013 where he hit .418 with 15 home runs before transferring to Northern Kentucky University and being named as a junior to the watch list for the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the top catcher in NCAA division 1 baseball.
After putting pen to paper with the Red Sox, Procyshen has kept up his progression with each year and with each level. The graduate of the Okotoks Dawgs youth academy and four-year member of the Dawgs summer-collegiate (Western Major Baseball League) squad played just 19 games with the rookie-class Lowell Spinners in 2014 before being promoted to Greenville to finish out the season in the single-A South Atlantic League. The Red Sox then sent him back to fall instructional league in Florida at the conclusion of the minor league season to continue working on his craft while receiving personalized hands on instruction from coaches and instructors within the organization.
That extra work added to the nine games of experience at Greenville in 2014 may well have prepared Procyshen for 2015. He started the season with Greenville and proceeded to hit .285 with two homeruns and 28 RBIs in 51 games. He was one of seven Greenville Drive players named to the Sally League All-Star Game. Procyshen, the starting catcher for the South Division, was informed after the game that he had been promoted and was told to fly to Salem, Virginia to report to the Salem Red Sox in the advanced-A Carolina League.
Procyshen struggled slightly in the second half of 2015 for the first time as a professional, batting .209 with 11 RBIs in 38 games. However Procyshen looks at it as a positive explaining that it will serve as valuable experience that will help him in 2016 as he figures to return to Salem to begin 2016.
“The struggles I faced in Salem last year allowed me to grow as a baseball player,” says Procyshen. “It’s easy when everything is going well but when things aren’t going as well, it’s a great learning lesson.”
Procyshen feels that all experiences, positive and negative, will help him continue to grow in 2016.
“It will all help me this year and going forward,” he says. “Another thing is I am now accustomed to a full year of pro ball and know what to expect.”
If spring training is any indication, he indeed looks sufficiently prepared to take that next step in 2016, and some events that have taken place this spring could be particularly impactful as the Red Sox have spent this spring showing Procyshen what it means to be a major leaguer.
Red Sox assigned Procyshen to catch in the bullpen at the major league game against the Pittsburgh Pirates on March 9 at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Although not on the active roster, it was his first time on the major league side of camp around big leaguers in a game setting. He was summoned to handle bullpen catching duties twice more, on March 12 and 14, home games at Jet Blue Park in Fort Myers against the Marlins and Pirates.
Finally, Procyshen was assigned to one more major league game in Fort Myers on March 19 against the Cardinals, and this time he was on the active roster. While he didn’t enter the game, and admits that his role was mostly an emergency backup role, Procyshen says there is value in time spent around the major league players and coaches.
“Being on the bench for a big league spring training game for the first time was quite the experience,” Procyshen says. “I tried to take in as much as I could.”
A coach approached him in the dugout during the game, and asked if he saw anything different watching a major league game.
“Aside from some bigger bodies and a cleaner game, no I really didn’t,” says Procyshen. “His response to me was ‘It’s still the same game up here. You use the same ball and the same bat.”
The Red Sox beat the Cardinals 3-1, and Procyshen returned to minor league camp and prepared to wake up for another day of work on the minor league fields the next morning. The task he woke up to however was hardly just another day’s work.
Prized pitching acquisition, David Price was sent to minor league camp by the Red Sox on March 20 for the purpose of pitching in a minor league game. There was a chance that Procyshen, a left handed hitting catching prospect would have a chance to test himself against one of the premier left handed pitchers in baseball.
Sure enough, it happened. Five-time major league all-star and 2012 Cy Young Award winner against 2015 Sally League and 2013 WMBL all-star. When Procyshen stepped into the box the first time though, you would have thought the resumes were reversed.
“My approach against Price was to get a pitch I could handle early in the count,” explains Procyshen. “I got one on the first pitch so I attacked it and it resulted in a single up the middle.”
Inconsequential on this day was Procyshen’s second at-bat against Price which ended with a fastball inside sending the barrel of his bat helicoptering to the backstop with only the handle left in his hand, while the balled rolled back to Price for a 1-3 putout. Chalk that up to the established star reclaiming his territory and reminding the youngster that there is still work to be done.
Procyshen is one of three members of a talent-laden 2013 Okotoks Dawgs WMBL squad currently playing in the systems of AL East franchises including fellow Canadian catcher and Dawgs academy grad Chris Shaw (Winnipeg, MB) who now plays in the Orioles system.
The two catchers have striking similarities in their resumes. Procyshen and Shaw were a backstop tandem with both the Academy and summer-collegiate Dawgs, both were members of Canada’s Junior National Team, and in 2014 were selected with consecutive picks in the 14th round of the June draft, Procyshen #434 to Boston, Shaw #435 to St. Louis.
Shaw played his junior year at the University of Oklahoma before being selected in the 15th round and signing with the Orioles in 2015. Shaw, who figures to begin 2016 in the South Atlantic League, joins Procyshen in returning to Okotoks each winter for offseason training, which Jordan says is a major advantage for both.
“Many guys here ask me about my offseason training facilities and how I get my work in since it’s Canada and it’s cold and snowy,” says Procyshen. “This is where the Dawgs Academy continues to further my career thanks to the ability to come back and train in the Duvernay Fieldhouse all winter.”
Procyshen also spends his winters as a seasonal catching instructor with the Academy, much the same way as Jim Henderson, the first Dawg to play in the major leagues has returned as a seasonal pitching coach during many of his off seasons during his 14-year professional career.
“It shows a lot about the organization to have so many professional alumni come back to work out like Chris and I did this winter, and help the kids who are there now,” Procyshen says.
The Red Sox, Orioles and Rays all hold spring training in Florida, creating the possibility for the former teammates to cross paths during minor league games and that has happened twice this spring when Procyshen and the third former Dawg in the AL East, Tampa Bay outfield prospect Cade Gotta, found themselves in opposing dugouts. With Procyshen catching, the two have shared a batter’s box, one old Dawg trying to get a hit, the other formulating a plan to get the other out.
Once noted for his “linebacker eyes” by Calgary Flames radio broadcaster Peter Loubardias during a Dawgs game in 2013, Gotta was a 26th round selection by the Rays in 2014, and was an all-star in the short-season New York-Penn League last season before a promotion to the single-A Midwest League, where he figures to begin 2016.
Gotta possesses great speed, so when he reached first base with a former teammate behind the dish who is known for his defense, you knew what had to happen. Gotta took round one, successfully stealing second when the two squared off on March 16, but Procyshen evened the score by gunning down his former right fielder a week later.
Procyshen says that even with the competitive environment, the bond of former teammates never goes away.
“It’s always great to see former teammates in pro ball,” he says. “You get to catch up with each other, see how their family is doing, so it’s a great opportunity to stay in touch. Cade and I have played each other each of the past two springs, and hopefully there’s many more to come.”
All things considered, it has been a remarkably positive start to 2016 for Jordan Procyshen. From a handful of major league assignments, to rekindling a friendly rivalry with a former teammate, and the cherry on top, a hit off of one of the elite pitchers in baseball.
Through it all Procyshen maintains an even keel approach. Yes, there is much work to be done, but that’s okay because he knows a baseball career, like life, is a process. At this moment in time, that process is going quite well.