Tatum to open year a Lookout
SARASOTA, Fla. — Craig Tatum did not pick Mississippi State to win the NCAA basketball tournament. He didn’t even have his Bulldogs getting past Memphis in last Sunday’s second round.
Tatum went with head over heart while filling out his bracket, and that kind of reasoning seems to be one of several characteristics the Cincinnati Reds like about the former Mississippi State catcher. The 25-year-old is scheduled to start in Chattanooga and could be the only Lookouts opening-day player on Cincinnati’s 40-man roster.
“He’s a guy they’re pretty high on,” new Lookouts manager Mike Goff said. “He can quarterback this ball club and take it and run with it.”
A third-round pick of the Reds in 2004, Tatum began to flourish two years ago in Single-A Dayton, hitting .277 and earning a spot in the Midwest League’s all-star game. He sizzled at the start of last season at high Single-A Sarasota, hitting .320 with 15 doubles and 10 home runs before earning a promotion to Chattanooga on June 27.
The Reds named Tatum their minor league player of the month for June, when he hit .417 with seven homers and 17 RBIs.
Like so many players making the adjustment to Double-A pitching for the first time, Tatum then struggled. He hit .231 in 46 games with the Lookouts but rebounded somewhat with a .255 average in 13 games in the Arizona Fall League.
He was added to the 40-man roster in November and was rated by Baseball America as the organization’s top defensive catcher.
“For the most part, coming to Chattanooga was a learning experience,” Tatum said. “I hit really well up there until the last 15 or 20 games, and not having a lot of at-bats killed me when I went into that skid at the end. I didn’t make my adjustments quick enough at the end of the season, but I learned from that, and hopefully this year is a little better.”
After a run in which Paul Bako, Jason LaRue and Corky Miller came through Chattanooga on their way to extended stays in the major leagues, that pipeline has dried up as of late. Dane Sardinha was the catcher of promise for the Lookouts in 2002-03 but has played just two big-league games in the past five seasons.
Miguel Perez had that role in 2006-07, but he is scheduled to start this season as Pittsburgh’s Double-A catcher.
Tatum is behind Ryan Hanigan on Cincinnati’s developmental ladder at catcher and is well ahead of Devin Mesoraco, a first-round pick last June. Hanigan, who played for the Lookouts in 2005-07, hit .300 in five big-league games with the Reds last year and will open this season in Triple-A Louisville.
“We’re better than we were at catcher, but that’s one position where you can never have enough,” Reds farm director Terry Reynolds said. “We got two good guys in the draft last year. We’re pretty solid, but it’s one of those positions where you’re one foul tip from needing somebody.”
When Chattanooga’s season opens next Thursday in Montgomery, Tatum would love to start duplicating the opening stretch he had last season. Hitting .285 or better is his goal at the plate, but he’s more concerned with how he performs behind the plate.
He won’t be lacking in familiarity, as starting pitchers James Avery, Carlos Fisher, Sam Lecure and Justin Mallett are scheduled to return to the Lookouts.
“My thing is just to try and take care of the pitching staff and let them have the confidence in me,” Tatum said. “They’re the people who make everything roll, so you’ve got work with them. Hitting comes last. You have to do everything you can to keep your pitcher happy and to let him trust you, so that’s what I’ve been trying to work on.”