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Q & A: Ben Carhart talks about winning a championship, his Daytona coaching staff and teammates, and converting to catcher

Q & A: Ben Carhart talks about winning a championship, his Daytona coaching staff and teammates, and converting to catcher

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.

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  • A really nice feeling to this. Mr. Carhart is a gem.

  • In reply to wastrel:

    Indeed. Great guy.

  • I hope all cubs players can half of this kids winning attitude. Wow. Impressive kid

  • In reply to CubfanInUT:

    Great character guy. Easy to see why they picked him for a conversion to catcher. Not only can he handle it, but he's enjoying it too.

  • Great teammate and clubhouse guy. How talented is he?

  • In reply to 44slug:

    He's a good hitter, but like he said, he's not going to hit for a lot of power. But he showed some good doubles power. Bat could play at catcher.

  • John, not to blow smoke at you, but the questions you asked him were outstanding. It was great hearing about the coaching and team atmosphere, especially. I get giddy just thinking about what we have going on in our minors. It's not just developing skill, it's also attitude. Ben exemplifies that attitude and determination and it sounds like the entire team has it. Here is another example of the culture Theo/Jed are building.

  • Excellent work John & as previously mentioned you had a great list of questions/topics for BC! I had a chance to see the D-Cubs play several times this year and it was very clear to me that these guys were a team - a cohesive group that genuinely enjoyed playing together. Also, you couldn't help but notice how good Coach Keller and his staff were - they were clearly in control & the team played very good fundamental baseball!

  • In reply to Pepitone8:

    Keller has stood out to me too. I know he has coached at higher levels than advanced A, but makes me wonder, how do we reward guys like him & Mariano Duncan? On one hand, we want them right where they are doing what they're doing for our prospects. On the other, any career minded individual wants to see growth & upward mobility....

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Great point HD and I've thought the same thing. Right now - given that the majority of our talent & future is in the minor leagues - high quality coaches at the minor league is critical now but it's also critical for the long-term success of the organization. How do you keep great coaches engaged for the long term? I don't think you can. I think you keep them within your organization as long as you can recognizing they will need to be replaced. Keller, Duncan, Buckner, etc. deserve the next challenge & upward mobility - if that's what they want. And, if they're good, inevitably they will get offers at the next level which means we have to have a strong succession plan in place to ensure we continually have quality managers & coaches at all levels in the organization. Just like T&J are trying to do with loading the minor & major league teams with talented players they must do the same for managers & coaches at all levels of the organization.

  • In reply to Pepitone8:

    Thanks. I think Ben's responses made this interview great and he really gave us a good feel for the type of winning culture that exists in Daytona. That is a great staff and Keller is truly and asset to the organization.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I think it is important to point out that we need those developmental skills at the next level too, all the way to the top. These kids continue to encounter problems and insecurity at every level.

  • Nice read John. I love the guys attitude and humility. It's like he knows he's blessed to not only play a childs game professionally, but that he's in a special organization at a special time.

    He seems to have the ideal size & build for catcher. Getting a peak at his personality, I can now see why they picked him for a conversion. Obviously his bat profiles much better there vs. 3B where it didn't really profile at all. My question is at 23, can he make it to the MLB in time to still be relevant because he's got two more physically talented catcher conversions immediately behind him that are younger to boot.... Do you think he repeats Daytona?

    I've called several games at Stetson and I honestly do not remember this kid. That's not bad, it's totally normal. Unless you have a man among boys like Baez... Anyways guys like this are fun to root for.

    Best of luck to you Mr. Carhart! Hope to see you in Wrigley soon!

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    He hit .323 and led the team with 63 RBI in 2011 for Stetson. Led team with 27 multi-hit games.

    I don't know if he repeats Daytona because he's learning a new position, but Rafael Lopez is 25 in AA and he's got a shot. He was a late conversion as well, though he did it in college. Carhart seems to be picking up catching quickly, so I think he has a shot as well.

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    Nice interview, and best of luck to young mister Carhart.

    Now for a non-thread related baseball rant.

    It would seem the hypocrisy of the White Sox organization, especially their ownership, knows no bounds. The owner that is single-handedly most responsible for the restrictions on the signing of amateur talent under the age of 23 has apparently allowed his team to spend big on 26 year old Cuban DH/1B Jose Abreu. Granted, they've done nothing outside of the rules, but as stated above, they are most responsible for the rules that are in place. So it still strikes me as a bit hypocritical.

    What's more is that this move strikes me of desparation. Because depending upon who you believe, the White were bidding against themselves near the end. Not another team came close to matching what the White Sox are giving Abreu. In fact, the offer Abreu signed is said to be almost double the next closest offer.

    The Cubs are not believed to have ever shown any serious interest in Abreu, which makes sense to me since the NL has no DH and Rizzo is a better 1B and hits left-handed, but it's also believed that neither did the Yankees or Red Sox didnt' show a lot of interest either, which tells me they didn't think he was worth the money.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    They just spent what all those small market teams spent on the draft and international amateur talent -- over the past 3-4 years combined. The idea that they were helping small market teams was always B.S. This was always about Reinsdorf's unwillingness to invest in scouting and development mixed with a personal vendetta against Scott Boras.

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    To be fair, they did not out bid other teams by more than double.

    Sox offered $68M. Other teams were between $63-$66M.

    Your other points do still stand though.

  • Great interview. It's so easy to forget that all these prospect are kids really, just becoming young men. Someone obviously has done a fine job with this kid. This also reminds me to not just focus on the destination, but to enjoy the journey. Stop focusing on who and when gets to Wrigley, but more closely follow these MiLB teams and enjoy their seasons without regard to the future.

  • In reply to Nondorf:

    Great point. And I think he gets that. Sometimes when I get a chance to do some Q & A with these kids I realize how much more mature they were than I was at the same age!

  • Nice work John, sounds like a great personality there, will follow him. . I love that he liked ManRam growing up. You just can't account for taste!

  • In reply to rsanchez11:

    Haha! I always liked Manny actually. And man, that guy could hit.

  • Nice interview John! I'll be pulling for Ben & looks like Dave Keller certainly has a nice coaching future ahead of him.

    I always forget about Stephen Bruno. He's did nothing but hit since being signed & unfortunately had the TJ surgery. I'm hoping he recovers quickly & gets into the future 2B mix. Once he does, can you see him as a mid-season AA guy & AFL candidate in 2014?

  • In reply to Cub Fan Dan:

    Absolutely. I think he would have had a shot at a promotion had he been healthy all year. Bruno can flat out hit. I think some fall league ABs next offseason are definitely a possibility.

  • I'd like to apologize to all here for my lack of knowledge of the minor leagues. I have always been skeptical of the prospects concept, because history tells us that very few turn out to be major leaguers. I understand the importance of developing talent, but I can't really get too excited bout these kids. I wish that all of them would wind up in the HOF, but we all know that ain't happening.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Nobody disputes that Bloomie. I think what's important is that the Cubs are developing a lot of talent which makes the odds of a few breaking through greater. And you have to appreciate the kind of winning, team-oriented attitude these kids have. Part of it is their development, but part of it is that the Cubs pick these kinds of players on purpose. You want the Cubs losing culture to change? It starts with this foundation.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Bloomie, with all due respect, perhaps this site is not a good fit for your interests. I would suggest that most of us here full we'll realize that the majority of these kids will not even get a cup of coffee in the bigs (let alone wind up in the HOF). Speaking for myself here, I follow these kids with the hope that they achieve their dreams, and for my interest in the types of players we are drafting and signing. Like you, I too have seen more than my shares of prospect flops (Gene Hiser, anyone?). Have a great day and do know that I enjoy your perspectives all the same!

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Hey Bloomie. I have been following the minors for quite a time. But since I have discovered this site I am more interested than ever. Couple that up with where the current system is now brings me much excitement. I guess over the years I have followed, if anything I found it always offered hope. Hope that the Cubs can supply their own players that become stars. Sadly over the years there have been only a handful I have seen. But now with the influx of layers of talent I can not help to think some of them will rise to the top. At minimum I can hope.

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    Why do you read and comment on a Cub's blog that is focused on Cub's prospects if you don't care about that?

    There are plenty of Cub's blog's that are focused on other aspects of the Cub's that you are more interested in, so why do you insist on coming here and telling everyone that you don't care about prospects because most of them won't pan out. That's the main focus of this blog!

    That's like going on Baseball Prospectus everyday, and commenting that you don't really believe in this new fangled Sabremetrics crap, and you wish people would just stick to talking about the "fundamentals", like bunting, steals, getting guy over,and maybe some good old school scouting thrown in for good measure.

    You can do whatever you want I guess, I just think it's weird.

  • In reply to Ghost Dawg:

    "you don't really believe in this new fangled Sabremetrics crap, and you wish people would just stick to talking about the "fundamentals", like bunting, steals, getting guy over,and maybe some good old school scouting thrown in for good measure."

    Does Dusty have a blog?????

  • In reply to BLOOMIE1937:

    While it's true that most minor leaguers nmake it to MLB, it's also true that nearly every player in MLB was in somebody's minor league system, once upon a time.

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    Hey John, non-baseball related question, since I write as well. When you do an interview, do you prepare the questions in advance or do you start with one direction and let the conversation dictate the flow and the line of questioning?

    I have a interview-phobia I need to get over. We really lack in that aspect of our business model. Your advice is greatly appreciated.

  • In reply to Michael Canter:

    I have done both but this was one where questions were all written in advance. It depends on what I'm looking for. Prospects usually don't have a lot of interview experience so I like to give it more structure, but looking at Ben's responses, I think he would have done fine either way.

    I like letting the conversation dictate as well. I'm pretty outgoing and so sometimes I get too conversational and lose structure, but at the same time, sometimes that's where you get some of the best info - just remember to bring a recorder!

    When you are doing any kind of interview, I like starting with a general question that makes the person you're talking to comfortable. First question I asked Tom Ricketts, for example, was something along the lines of what it was like to be able to buy the team for which you've been a fan your whole life. It gets people talking and breaks the ice. You don't want to hit them with heavy questions at first. Later we got down to really interesting stuff like his long term vision for the team. I did the same thing with Derek Johnson earlier.

    I had to interview people for my work and what I did when I first started was to give myself more structure, a set of questions written in advance and then gradually worked toward a more loose structure of questions as I gained experience. Eventually I was able to ad-lib and go off the cuff to follow the flow of the interview/conversation, because like I said, you can get some of the most interesting info that way.

    But this interview with Ben was highly structured but I tried to give thoughtful questions and that induced some very thoughtful responses. Not all of my interviews have gone this well. Keep in mind that the person you are talking to and their personality is a big factor as well. Ben did a fantastic job. If I were at my old job, I would have hired him on the spot!

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Thank you so much. Great insight! You are an accomplished interviewer certainly. Nice to see the foundation, thought process and method in print.

  • Another subject, people rail against Beltran's comments about Puig, like Beltran is some old school stuffed shirt. Is it possible that his comments are better understood as gamesmanship, an attempt to embarrass Puig and take some wind put of his sails?

  • In reply to wastrel:

    Interesting thought. My guess is it's a combination of being annoyed yet directing that with a sense of purpose. Puig definitely energizes that team and that stadium. If he can curb that at all, it can't hurt.

  • J

  • STUPID PHONE!!

    What I meant to say was, John, great interview. I LOVE that we have kids like Carhart in the system. It's easy to see from this why he was picked for catcher conversion. I hope Ben finds success in MLB as a catcher, either with the Cubs or somewhere else.

    I also love that he talked about the spirit in Daytona. I was at that game when the D-Cubs won the FSL championship and those kids acted like they had just one the World Series. No one will remember 20 years from now who the FSL Champion in 2013 was, and for that team, winning it was the ultimate goal and it meant something to them. I cannot wait for that attitude to pervade in the bigs.

    I also loved that Ben gave props to Keller. Watching him manage is a true treat. He is in total control of that team and all the players respect and listen to him. During games he is constantly teaching; every play, between innings, etc. He's also great with fans. Given the talent flowing through Daytona recently and that is also on the way, keller may be one of the most important pieces in the Cubs org. I love seeing him get great black ink.

    Nice job as always, John.

  • In reply to JamesInFLA:

    Thanks and this is a great take on the interview. Exactly what I was hoping it would convey.

  • Wow. Nice insight into the cubs organization. One thing that really struck me was this comment:

    "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. "

  • There was talk that the Cubs had 4 minor leaguers that they were moving to C. Anybody know who the other 3 are?

  • In reply to GAHillbilly:

    Gioskar Amaya, Mark Malave, and Jordan Hankins.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Thanks.

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