Brett Doe didn’t make the trip north to Cedar Rapids out of spring training with his friends and teammates when they broke camp to start the 2015 season, a fact that was, “pretty disheartening,” Doe said in an interview over the past weekend.
“When I first heard it, it was pretty tough,” Doe admitted. “I played with most of these guys down in E’town and they’re definitely the guys that I wanted to spend the year playing with.”
Doe didn’t allow himself to dwell long on that disheartened feeling though.
“A few hours kind of down on myself a little bit, doubting myself,” he said. “But then I thought, ‘what good is being negative?’ Negativity only slows you down, holds you back.”
Doe said he also got a bit of tough love from his buddies back home.
“I talked to a lot of friends and they were saying, ‘hey, we don’t want to hear you complain, we’re going to our jobs right now and we’d give anything to be where you are right now.’ So kind of taking that attitude kind of helped me once I got here because it’s something I can’t take for granted.
“Being down there (in extended spring training) and knowing how anxious I was to get here and knowing that nothing is guaranteed. Even if I’m playing well and hitting well, it’s still a long season to go.”
Even going back in to spring training, Doe recognized that a guy selected as late as he was in the draft can’t afford to relax in the effort department.
“I was a 38th rounder during spring training. I would wake up and think, ‘I hope today is not the day they send me home. I don’t want to go back home.’ So I’d work hard every single day and, as cliché as that sounds, I’d work hard and have to go back and get in bed so tired after the day was over. Still, every day I’ve got to realize that nothing is guaranteed.”
A couple of weeks in to the season, Doe got the call to join the Kernels when Jorge Fernandez went on the Disabled List with a concussion.
Since then, Doe has hit .318 and has stepped in to make a critical contribution to the Kernels’ offense during their successful drive to clinch at least a second-place finish in the Midwest League’s Western Division first-half standings and the guaranteed postseason berth that comes with it.
“It’s been huge, to be honest with you,” Kernels manager Jake Mauer said of Doe’s contribution.
“He just hadn’t gotten much of an opportunity early,” Mauer added. “Now he’s getting a chance and with his swing, how short it is and compact, it works, there’s no doubt about it. It’s just a matter of him getting an opportunity, really. He’s making the most of it.”
He didn’t exactly hit the ground running upon arrival in Cedar Rapids, though.
“When I first got here, I started off a little slow. Not playing that much and when I got in, I got up there with the attitude that I’ve got to prove that I belong here. I think that if I’d have squared up some of those balls I swung at, they’d have gone about 500 feet,” Doe recalled, laughing.
Mauer and Kernels hitting coach Tommy Watkins had some conversations with Doe about that approach.
“That’s not the type of player I am,” he acknowledged. “It’s putting the ball in play, trying to find barrels and move guys and score guys. That’s the type of player I am and they helped remind me of that and that’s helped me out a lot.”
Doe was primarily an infielder during his junior college and college career, but the Twins are making a catcher out of him.
The reason for the position change to squatting behind the plate was simple, according to Doe. Pro scouts spelled things out clearly to him during the scouting process.
“I went to junior college and looked to get drafted out of there,” Doe explained. “I was just a shortstop, and I’d show up places and run my 60-yard dashes and scouts would kind of hold their breath and kind of, ‘ohhh, not what we want.’ That had held me back.”
According to Doe, the scouts told him, “The only chance you may have is if you catch because you don’t have to run.”
“That was kind of what held me back from playing infield,” Doe added. “Struggled swinging the bat a few years in college. ‘Can’t run well, streaky hitter, so we want you to catch a little bit.’”
It took a bit of truth-stretching for Doe to get his first opportunity to get behind the plate during his junior year at Baylor, though.
“A couple of our catchers went down with injuries so I kind of mentioned it, ‘yeah I caught in junior college,’ which wasn’t entirely truthful,” Doe rather sheepishly admitted. “But I wanted to stay in the lineup. So I went back there and they said, ‘OK you’re catching this weekend.’
“That started it. That was my junior year. I caught about 15-20 games there. Then senior year, I went back to shortstop once our other catchers got healthy. I didn’t start doing it full time until last year at E’town.”
While his future in professional baseball is likely going to be determined by how well he wears the “tools of ignorance,” as we called catchers’ gear in my day, the Kernels currently have four catchers on their roster. That means that Doe’s defensive versatility allows his manager to keep his hot bat in the lineup and he’s been playing a lot of first base for the Kernels recently.
That’s fine with Doe, because it’s all about getting playing time. “Seeing my name in the lineup every day is really, really nice.
“The background of being in the infield has helped me. I’m taking some ground balls at other positions in case some guys need breaks in the long season.
“I’m more comfortable doing that than catching most of the time. Catching is still new to me. Now I’ve just got to figure out when I can get my catching work in and still be fresh and ready for games.”
Mauer thinks that Doe is handling his defensive responsibilities well, regardless of the position.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked,” said the manager. “He’s doing fine at first, a position he hasn’t played a lot.
“He was an infielder who’s catching, so he’s probably a little bit more familiar with going back out in the infield. He’s done a nice job when he’s caught for us. It’s just another way to get him in the lineup. (Alex) Real has been swinging the bat real well, too, so we’re trying to get both of them in there.”
Asked about his goals for the year, Doe emphasized team goals.
“Of course, the big goal is to make the playoffs,” he said. “I don’t really have any specific individual goals besides showing up every day and knowing that I did my best that day and just trying to help my team win.”
Three days after speaking those words, Doe and the Kernels locked in their playoff spot by clinching at least second place in their division for the first half of the season, so he and his teammates can check that goal off the list.