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Minor League Spotlight

Keys Catcher Joseph Says Love For Game 'Almost Embarrassing'

July 07, 2009|By Dan Connolly | Dan Connolly,dan.connolly@baltsun.com

Frederick Keys catcher Caleb Joseph occasionally lingers after games, assists the clubhouse attendant, orders some pizza and then crashes at the stadium.

Talk about eating and sleeping baseball.

"It's been about 30 percent of nights in the clubhouse at Frederick that I have spent the night on the couch," said Joseph, 23, a right-handed hitter. "I didn't want to leave. You never know when your last day is going to be."

A 2008 seventh-round pick out of Lipscomb (Tenn.) University, Joseph is in no danger of being sent home. Despite skipping a level in 2008 from short-season Single-A Aberdeen to High-A Frederick, Joseph is the Carolina League's leading hitter, batting .330 (70-for-212) with six homers and 35 RBIs in 57 games.

Discovered by Orioles scout Rich Morales while playing at the small Division I school, Joseph has gotten stronger, improved his defense and quickly become one of the most intriguing prospects in an organization sorely lacking in position players.

"Even though he is still learning a lot of things, he has hit the ball much better than anyone could have guessed," Orioles director of player development David Stockstill said. "He has a good swing, a quick bat and recognizes pitches much better."

What sets Joseph apart, however, is his attitude.

"I guarantee you there is not anybody on this team, maybe even in our minor league system, that loves the game more," said Joseph, whose younger brother Corban plays in the New York Yankees' system. "I guarantee you that. It's almost embarrassing."

He began attending Triple-A Nashville Sounds games about age 4, and he wouldn't let his family leave until the last out was recorded. By high school, he was working as an attendant in the Sounds visitors' clubhouse, soaking up advice from prospects on their way up to the majors and veterans on their way down.

So it doesn't strike him as strange that he now likes to sleep in the Keys' clubhouse.

"We have a flat-screen TV in there, a soda machine, we get pizza delivered all the time," Joseph said. "It's great."

Before a recent game, the clubhouse TV showed The Rookie, a 2002 Walt Disney movie about Jim Morris, a former high school teacher who made his major league debut at age 35. Even though he had seen the movie before, Joseph choked up during the scene in which Morris learns of his big league promotion. While his buddies played cards, oblivious to the drama unfolding, Joseph said he watched the scene with "these big old teardrops in my eyes."

"I've got to hide my head because I've got these big old tears," Joseph laughed. "I'm like: 'I can't be crying in front of these guys. I've got to get my act together.' "

That's Joseph in all his baseball-loving glory.

"He's the kind of guy you can't help but like," minor league catching instructor Don Werner said. "He's got one of those infectious personalities. He studies the game. He is just a baseball guy."

Last week, the Keys were rained out, so Joseph drove to Aberdeen to catch the last half of the IronBirds' contest.

"Baseball is always on my mind," he said. "It's an obsession. I don't know what I'll do when baseball is over. I may be homeless. I'll always be hanging around the ballpark with this huge beard because I have no other place else to go."

He's more than just a baseball nut, however. For several summers, Joseph participated in brief mission trips to Honduras to build homes and churches. While there, he would bolster his Spanish, which he now uses to communicate with his Latino teammates.

He also created a blog, calebjoseph.wordpress.com, to keep friends and family updated on his minor league journey. Soon, others discovered it, and now he receives comments and interacts with fans.

In one entry he mentioned that he would love to be the backup to "the great Matt Wieters." There is no sarcasm or insincerity in that statement, no lingering bitterness that his position in the majors is blocked by the Orioles' 23-year-old rookie catcher, who is only a month older.

Because he was drafted for his bat, the 6-foot-3 Joseph could end up at another position, such as left field or corner infield. The specifics don't matter to him, as long as he becomes an Oriole.

Wieters "is the franchise guy, I totally understand that. I don't want to come in and steal his spot," Joseph said. "I want to be a complementary player, and if I am that with him for 10, 15 years of a big league career, I'd take that every day."

Keys notes: : Right-handed pitcher Luis Lebron, 24, was promoted to Double-A Bowie after going 2-3 with a 3.00 ERA and 11 saves in 28 games. He struck out 52 batters in 33 innings. ... Left-hander Zach Britton (4-3, 2.40 ERA) had a 1.61 ERA in five June starts. He allowed four earned runs in seven innings in his first July start. ... Designated hitter Robbie Widlansky batted .364 with a .402 on-base percentage in his first 29 games with the Keys.

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