‘You always need two’ – The Mercury News



Most mornings, Bowie Baysox first baseman Andrew Daschbach wakes up to the smell of bacon.

When Bowie catcher Maverick Handley isn’t behind the dish, he loves making them, with Daschbach often the beneficiary as his roommate as they play for the Orioles’ Double-A affiliate. Handley’s signature, Daschbach said, is a breakfast sandwich made with an everything bagel, two fried eggs, a slice of cheese and at least four slices of bacon. His father grew up in kitchens, and once Handley was on his own at Stanford — where he, Daschbach and fellow Orioles prospect Kyle Stowers were teammates — he picked up the skills himself.

“It’s pretty much math,” Handley said.

It doesn’t take being a biomechanical engineering major, as Handley was, to do the calculus on Handley’s place in the Orioles’ future. Baltimore took him with the first pick of the 2019 draft’s sixth round, having selected Adley Rutschman — baseball’s top prospect, catching or otherwise — No. 1 overall five rounds earlier. But even with Rutschman arriving in the majors and finding his form as Handley does the same with the Baysox, the latter believes the arithmetic will work out in the end.

“You always need two catchers,” Handley said. “I don’t want to be envious. I want him to have success and go on and be a Hall of Famer. That would be amazing, and it’s not going to impact my career. Just because he’s there, it’s not impacting where I’m gonna be.”

Handley, 24, is the archetype of a catcher who could tandem with Rutschman at some point, with his showing over the past two months in Double-A hinting at the potential for more. While he continues to play the standout defense that’s long been the trademark of his game, Handley’s bat is coming around. After a 1-for-25 start, Handley is batting .302 with a .906 OPS in the two months since thanks to an approach focused on using the whole field and driving pitches the other way. He has four home runs in that 31-game span after hitting five in 60 games last season.

Those improvements have come from a player who is “ultra prepared,” Baysox manager Kyle Moore said. He recalled one victory that prompted a clubhouse celebration, but during it, Moore looked at Handley’s locker and saw him on his phone.

“Dude, what are you watching?” Moore asked.

“My at-bats,” Handley flatly responded, already using his MiLB TV account to review the game that finished minutes before.

“Ultimately, you can’t really get anything past Mav,” Moore later said. “Good chance he’s already looked it up.”

Handley brings the same intensity to his defensive work. Moore will show up to the park, and Handley is already there, ready to explain the ball-strike tendencies of that night’s home plate umpire. He’s an “elite transfer guy,” Moore said, a skill Handley possessed at Stanford that allows him to quickly get the ball out of his glove on stolen base attempts; his career caught-stealing rate is nearly 50%. Daschbach said Handley has an innate ability to pick up cues from opposing batters’ stances, strides and swings — “almost thinking as if he were in their brain” and thus what pitch to call to counteract them.

“He’s playing a game of chess,” Daschbach said. “And he’s an unbelievable chess player.”

That’s among the ways his intellect shows itself away from the baseball field, too. Handley participated in major league spring training for the second straight year, and for the team’s talent show, he did a series of science experiments, one of which involved lighting bubbles on fire in his hand. Daschbach’s girlfriend, a Stanford lacrosse player, visited them earlier this month, having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her knee. Handley began firing off questions about the procedure, able to detail the biological aspects of the recovery process regarding how the cells and tissue would heal depending on the type of surgery.

“He’s always got fun facts,” said Cody Roberts, who has spent much of this year catching for Bowie alongside Handley. “He always knows stuff that’s way beyond what we understand.”

Roberts said that also applies to some aspects of baseball’s analytics. Handley has spent the past two offseasons training at Driveline, a renowned pitching and hitting lab based in the Pacific Northwest and Arizona. There, he participated in, among other drills, the foam ball batting practice that now litters the Orioles’ system, which features dynamic pitch movement that’s an exaggerated form of what players see in games and thus is meant to challenge them. He also worked with Orioles reliever Dillon Tate, who said he has Handley among the catchers “at the top of my list” because of his ability to provide a good target and steal extra strikes through pitch framing.

Handley also committed to a workout and nutrition plan, where his passion for cooking was quite useful. He played at a lighter weight a year ago and finished the year with 12 stolen bases, a mark only a handful of other minor league catchers surpassed, but he also dealt with oblique and hamstring injuries that disrupted the rhythm of his season.

“He was out there running around like a banshee, stealing bases and going crazy,” said Moore, who managed Handley in High-A Aberdeen last year. “I’m like, ‘Dude, take it back, take it back. You don’t have to run and steal bases and do all that to make yourself valuable.’”

Handley’s defense is plenty, Moore said, adding that he has a skill set matching that of the backup catchers the Orioles had when they were the American League’s winningest team from 2012 to 2016. Moore hesitated to put that kind of role on a young player still a couple of steps from the majors, but with Rutschman in Baltimore, it’s a possibility Handley openly accepts. He’s relished the opportunity to be around Rutschman during their time in the Orioles’ system, studying his approach both at the plate and behind it.

“Getting drafted in the same organization as him, I took it almost as a compliment,” Handley said. “If they’re taking me, especially in the sixth round, that means they have faith in me, and you always need two catchers. Especially if they want somebody as Adley Rutschman, who’s going to be a cornerstone of the organization, you gotta take some miles off his legs. He’s gonna be the dude, but if I can prove that I’m also a dude, he’s not going to prevent me.

“That’s the hope: I can be a complement to him.”

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