Robert Stock has a different view of things now.
After strapping on catcher’s gear for the Quad-Cities River Bandits for the past three seasons, Stock now takes the mound for the Midwest League club and is warming to the reality that this is where his future in baseball lies.
Stock was initially less than enamored when the Cardinals made the decision in early March to reassign to their second-round choice in the 2009 draft to the minor-league spring training camp as a pitcher.
The decision began a conversion process which continues with on-the-job training with the River Bandits.
"It was a little surprising, shocking at first. It wasn’t something I was thinking about when it happened, but obviously they were, and at the end of the day they do want what is best for you,” Stock said.
“The people in the front office feel like my best chance to get to the big leagues is as a pitcher, and I have to trust their judgment. I’m committed to making this work.”
The Cardinals have a history of successful conversions, creating pitchers out of players who began their professional careers as catchers.
St. Louis closer Jason Motte’s career began behind the plate, but his conversion to the mound included eight late-season appearances for Quad-Cities in 2006.
David Carpenter, now working out of the bullpen for the Houston Astros, left the Quad-Cities in 2008 as a catcher and returned a year later to work 52 games as a relief pitcher on his way to the majors.
“I’m not the first player who has found himself in this situation, and I probably won’t be the last,” Stock said. “If it gives me a chance to fulfill my goals, I’m willing to give it everything I have.”
Stock has the credentials to make it work.
He played both positions at the high school and collegiate levels and multiple organizations looked at Stock as a pitching prospect when St. Louis drafted him as a catcher out of Southern California.
Stock had a 2.90 ERA and struck out 86 batters while walking 33 in 77 2/3 innings during his final season with the Trojans.
He had hit .241 in 680 professional at-bats before the Cardinals chose to begin the conversion process.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve pitched, but things are coming around. The main thing right now is develop the strength and durability and to gain the control I need to make it work,” Stock said.
Quad-Cities pitching coach Ace Adams believes once that happens, Stock has the potential to rise quickly through the organization.
“He’s a great athlete, and he has a great mind for the game,” Adams said. “That will only help him. He knows what he is doing. It’s just a matter of getting him some experience, getting him used to pitching again and getting him comfortable out there. Once that happens, he has a bright future.”
Stock’s fastball clocks between 91 and 93 miles per hour. He throws a solid curveball and is gaining a good feel for his change-up.
He is working to regain the longer throwing motion needed as a pitcher after spending recent seasons working to develop short, quick releases that are among the tools expected of catchers.
Stock’s move came the day before the Cardinals’ minor-league camp opened, and in the five-and-a-half weeks since, he has worked to make steady progress.
“Every single coach in spring has done what he can to help. They’ve been pretty understanding when I’ve messed up on the drills I’ve seen pitchers do a thousand times,” Stock said. “They’ve been really encouraging.”
Stock believes his time spent behind the plate calling games should benefit him as he now delivers pitches.
“I do think that should help me in understanding hitters and understanding what I need to do as certain situations arise,” he said.
Stock has taken the mound twice for the River Bandits during the opening week of the season, allowing four runs over 1 2/3 innings in his debut and following that with a scoreless 1 2/3-inning effort Monday at Peoria.
His initial target for this season is to work no more than 60 innings, and Adams will measure Stock’s progress once the season ends.
“I’ve always felt with any pitcher the best way to look at things is to see where he is in August and how does that compare to where he was in April,” Adams said. “With Stock in particular, I think that is the only fair way to gauge it. He’ll have some ups, some downs, but I do expect him to compete. I know he’ll give us that.”
The Stock file
Hometown: Westlake Village, Calif.
Selected: Second round, 2009 draft
Weight: 175 pounds
By the numbers: Played 106 games for Quad-Cities over the past three seasons, hitting .197 in 390 at-bats. … Is currently 0-0 with a 10.80 ERA, striking out five and walking three in 3.1 innings.
FYI: Stock was Baseball America’s 2005 Youth Player of the Year after hitting .456, throwing out 70 percent of runners who attempted to steal and going 5-3 with a 2.69 ERA on the mound as a junior at Agoura High School in California.