By Nick Ashbourne
Canadian Baseball Network
Victor Cerny has a firm grasp on the unteachable
At event like Tournament 12 that has so many scouts in attendance, there was inevitably be a great deal of discussion about tools.
There are five tools that are widely sought after and graded on a 20-80 scale: hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, fielding, and arm strength.
The multitude of college and pro scouts at Rogers Centre will search for players that have as many of these tools as possible, but if they focus on those five exclusively the might miss out on someone like Victor Cerny of Prairies Purple.
While the Winnipeg, Man. native doesn’t lack for traditional tools, the catcher’s greatest strengths lie in the subtlest aspects of the game. JM Habeck, the pitching and defensive coach on the Manitoba 17U Provincial Team, is consistently blown away by the young backstop’s ability to handle his pitching staff.
“He has some tools you just can’t teach,” Habeck says. “He’s earned the trust of every pitcher on our staff, the way he calls the games the way he has chemistry with his pitchers … you can’t teach that to a kid.
“Honestly, it’s mind-blowing how every pitcher trusts him.”
Often these are the type of abilities that come to a player last after they’ve accumulated years of experience. Habeck can’t help but be impressed by Cerny’s defensive acumen at such a young age.
“His knowledge of the game improves every single day,” he says. “The way he calls the game, talks to pitchers and manages it’s crazy what he can do as a 16-year-old.”
Cerny first became interested in catching at a very early on. When he was six he went to see the Independent-League Winnipeg Goldeyes play and immediately fell in love with the position.
“When I was six I went to watch [the Goldeyes] and right away I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he recalls. “I saw the catcher behind home plate and I thought ‘that’s the position I want to play’.”
Cerny would wind up befriending Winnipeg’s catcher Aaron Mendoza - a journeyman who played four seasons of professional baseball in three different Independent Leagues. Mendoza became a key figure in Cerny’s early development and according to the 16-year-old the pro “taught him how to catch”.
Mendoza’s imparted knowledge combined with a remarkable athletic pedigree-Cerny’s father was an Olympic swimmer and his mother was on the Canadian track and field team- to create an impressive defensive backstop.
“I could sit here all day and talk about how good his arm is, how good his receiving is, and how good his blocking is,” Habeck says. “He’s got the ability to be a great, great catcher.”
The next step for the 16-year-old is to get his bat to catch up to his glove. At last year’s Tournament 12 the higher level of competition was a bit of a shock to the system for Cerny who went 1-for-6 with three walks.
“The pitching [at Tournament 12] was a lot better than I was used to,” he recalls. “In Manitoba not many people throw as hard as they do at Tournament 12.”
One thing that helped him adjust was a little wisdom from Blue Jays’ great Lloyd Moseby.
“Moseby talked to me about how I should be a little bit more relaxed at the plate,” Cerny says. “It really helped me in my next at-bat.”
The young catcher believes that his approach in the past has been a bit too passive, and he may need to get the bat off his shoulder more often.
“I think I need to be a little more aggressive,” he says. “Sometimes I see too many pitches, which makes me fall behind in counts.”
Habeck, who has coached Cerny since he was 12, has an unwavering faith that his bat will come around.
“He’s a very, very smart hitter. The more he experiences games at a high level the better he’ll be,” he says. “I have no doubt he’ll be a great hitter in the future.”
Impressing offensively at Tournament 12 would only improve Cerny’s chances of reaching his goal of securing a scholarship with a major college program in the United States, but like all catchers he will be judged for his defensive abilities first.
That will play to Cerny’s strengths, even if they are hard to see with the naked eye and even harder to teach.