Every once in a while we like to do an interview here and learn what its like from a pro ballplayer's perspective. Today we're doing a Q & A with Daytona prospect Ben Carhart. Ben played for one of the best Cubs minor league team in recent memory, the 2013 FSL champion Daytona Cubs. Ben is a solid hitter who is making the conversion to catcher this offseason. I had 9 questions for Ben and I think you'll find he's a very thoughtful ballplayer who took the time to give some outstanding responses and some great insight into the Daytona team, the great coaching staff, his conversion to catching, and his experiences as a ballplayer.
A big thanks to Ben and I know you'll enjoy reading his responses as much as I did. If this is the kind of close-knit, winning culture that will one day graduate to Wrigley, I'm sure you'll agree the future looks very bright indeed.
Q & A with Ben Carhart
JA: Congrats on the championship. What was that like? How did you celebrate?
BC: Honestly is was one of the greatest baseball moments of my entire life. We went into Port Charlotte with just about the most confidence a baseball team can have. And when we were hoisting up that trophy on their field it was so unique because it wasn't a feeling of "we did it" but more of a feeling like "finally this trophy is where it belongs". We all had lots and lots of hugs to give around because we were all a family by that time. And the only way we knew how to celebrate was to enjoy each other's company for one last night and to reflect on what a heck of a year we had.
JA: We were big fans of the Daytona team because of how resilient they were all year. You lost Stephen Bruno, Tim Saunders, and Jorge Soler to injury. You lost Javier Baez and John Andreoli to promotion. How did you manage to keep it all together until reinforcements arrived?
BC: All year long Dave Keller and the rest of our coaching staff drilled into our minds that we were the best team and we could go as far as we wanted to. Losing all those great players was of course something none of us were happy about, but at the same time we had guys coming in that stepped up and played huge roles for us all year. And to be quite honest it never really felt like we lost them at all. Tim, Stephen, Jorge, Javier, and John always were contacting guys at Daytona even after they left letting us know to keep it up and to finish strong. That also goes with all of the other pitchers and players that came through as well. The Daytona Cubs were a great, big family and we were just so determined day in and day out, and we knew that no matter who we had on the field we had a great chance of winning.
JA: It seems to us that a lot of players make great progress once they get to Daytona. What's it like working for manager Dave Keller, hitting coach Mariano Duncan, and the rest of the coaching staff there? How are they able to help you all make progress?
BC: From the beginning of the year all of the players on the team were thrilled about our coaching staff. Each and every person brought something to the table that was so unique. Dave is a baseball genius and knows more about baseball than anyone I've ever met. Myself, and everyone else on the team would pick his brain constantly because we knew there was something to learn from every single play in a game. Mariano was unbelievable as a hitting coach. He refused to let us fail at the plate and whenever someone was struggling he would sit down with them and have them change their approach mentally and/or physically until everything started to work again; and coming from a guy like him who has so much success in the MLB was a real treat. I didn't have too much one on one time with Storm Davis, our pitching coach, but he also had so much success in the big leagues and it was so easy to see our pitchers perform better and better with each outing under his tutelage.
We had the perfect coaching staff for a Championship team. Failure was never an option and day in and day out they never let us get complacent and that went a long, long way.
JA: You made quite a leap playing, basically starting 2012 in Stetson one year and starting in advanced A ball in Daytona in 2013. You were regarded as a very good hitter at Stetson but what was the biggest challenge/adjustment that you had to make after that big leap?
BC: The biggest adjustment by far was basically the amount of great pitchers you'd face. In college it was rare to see a team with a lot of great arms. At Daytona, and in all of pro ball, pitchers are there for a reason and one thing I really noticed in Daytona was each and every pitcher had one great thing about them. Whether it's a power fastball, the ability to locate the fastball, or off-speed pitches they all had at least one thing about them that separated them from others. Duncan and our staff did a great job of letting us know how important it was to study a pitcher's film and/or reports to know exactly what to expect every at bat. The biggest challenge at that level was to always stay mentally focused for every at bat and to always compete trying to get for your pitch to hit, whereas in college there were much more mistakes thrown by pitchers and much less pitchers with plus stuff.
JA: How would you describe your approach at the plate?
BC: The hardest part about hitting is accepting who you are and playing into your strengths. I know I'm not a Javy Baez or Dustin Geiger who will hit a lot of home runs a year so I just always go up to the plate trying to hit the ball as hard as I can every time and always having a plan depending on the situation of the game. "Get the barrel to the ball" is a quote I heard growing up from a coach and that has stuck with me since.
JA: You're making a big change this offseason by converting to catcher. I think it's a testament to what the organization thinks about your mental makeup, instincts and feel for the game. And it takes more athleticism than people might think. It's not an easy switch. How has that transition gone and what has been the toughest part so far?
BC: To be completely honest I absolutely love catching. I never realized how much went into it before I arrived here in Instructs. However, Tim Cousins, along with all of the other staff here in Arizona has broken it down step by step and slowly but surely I have became much more confident and consistent. There's no better feeling than being in every play of the game and basically knowing you're always in control is something I really enjoy. The toughest part thus far has to be getting to know all the pitchers and knowing what to throw and what they like to throw. The physical part of catching has slowly come along and it will just take more and more practice to master it. The mental part of the game as a Catcher however is huge and can easily dictate the outcome of a game.
JA: Other than learning to catch, what are your goals for next season?
BC: Next season I plan to come to spring training ready to go and to be the best teammate I can be to help those around me. No one knows where I will end up, but no matter where that is I will do my absolute best to make progress both behind the plate and hitting. This game is something special and I plan on doing everything I can to stay around for a very long time. Especially with the Cubs because this organization is a hidden gem and only those who follow us really know how special our future looks.
JA:. I follow you on Twitter and you're always praising and having fun with your teammates. We mentioned some of those teammates earlier in the interview and then later the team received a boost with Kris Bryant, Dan Vogelbach, C.J. Edwards, Pierce Johnson, and Ivan Pineyro. You played with some outstanding talent throughout the year, what was it like?
BC: The best thing about Daytona was everyone's personality. Everyone got along so well and we always carried that onto the field. Watching some of these guys go about their business on the field is just unbelievable to see. The guys in this organization are so ridiculously talented it's a treat to be able to call them my teammates. Behind the scenes, this organization works its tail off every day and when you see them put it all together on the field it is a great thing to be apart of.
JA: We know you're favorite team is the Cubs now, but who was your favorite player and team growing up?
BC: Growing up I was a huge fan of Manny Ramirez and always have liked the Red Sox since I can remember. I've also always liked watching David Wright and Dustin Pedroia also because they always play the game the right way and I'd like to think we have similar styles of play between the white lines.