FutureBacks.com Interview: Phil Avlas

FutureBacks.com Interview: Phil Avlas

Phil Avlas is a smart guy, which has become something of a cliche for catchers. While we all know that catchers are supposed to be the smartest guys on the field, Avlas knows his game on the diamond and off. The Double-A Tennessee Smokies catcher talked to FutureBacks Managing Editor James Renwick about offseason workouts, weight loss, steroids, and his guys.

FutureBacks:  You sort of exploded offensively last season, how much of that was figuring things out and how much, especially the power numbers, was because of the hitter friendly California League?


Phil Avlas:  A little bit of both, me and the League.  I worked hard in the offseason lifting, getting where I want to be.  I know that I'm going to be losing weight during the season, so a lot of the offseason was spent working out so I could come into camp in shape, and then a lot of what I'm doing now is staying in shape.  Yeah, in the Cal League, the wind blows, but for me last season and it was really about getting my head right.  Before the season I sat myself down, and really worked on the mental side of the game because I realized that is where it's at.  


FutureBacks:  41 minor leaguers have now been confirmed testing positive for steroids, and several of the tests are now rumored to be false positives, does that scare you, that even though you're clean something not steroid related could taint your name?


Phil Avlas:  No, I'm not that type of person.  I never was part of it. It really doesn't scare me because I know in my heart how hard I worked.  I'm not going to let anybody accuse me and take that away.  If they accuse anybody, it won't be me, because the people in the clubhouse see how hard I work.


FutureBacks:  You're a stellar defensive catcher, and in particular the pitchers that I've talked to that have worked with you have said you're very adept at handling pitchers, how did that develop?


Phil Avlas:  I grew up catching, I've been doing it since I was nine years old.  That's a big thing, coming up as a youngster catching.  The defense, it comes natural to me.  As far as handling pitchers and calling games, that's where catching my whole life really helps.  I have watched guys who get moved behind the plate later in their careers, and it just makes it real tough for them.  You get used to a pitcher, get to know the staff, and it gets easier.  Most of the pitchers I came up with, I consider those guys ‘my guys.'  We've developed a real relationship.  Sometimes you have to pitch not for the pitcher, but against the hitter, throw what they are not expecting, and it takes your pitcher trusting you for them to throw what might not be their best pitch. 


FutureBacks:  You're moving to Double-A this season, most players say that the jump from Hi-A to Double-A is the biggest jump you'll take until you jump to the big leagues.  Are you intimidated, nervous, or just excited at the challenge?


Phil Avlas:  I was really excited to be in Tennessee this year.  I felt like I deserved it from the year I had last year.  It feels good playing against players of the same caliber as you are, everyone trying to get to the next level.  You just keep working toward your goal.  I look around at the (Double-A) Southern League, and it's just a faster, smarter league.  There are less mistakes.  That's the biggest difference between the different levels.  The higher you go the less mistakes are made.  Everyone is doing their job.


FutureBacks:  Talk to me about some of the pitchers you'll be working with. 


Phil Avlas:  Enrique Gonzalez is by far one of the best pitchers in our organization.  Justin Wechsler and Mike Schultz are both real professional guys who get after it and are not scared to pitch inside.  With Gonzalez though, there is a real burning fire in his eyes, you can just see it.  These are ‘my guys,' and that's why it really doesn't bother me if I go 0-4 or not.  Offense is just an added bonus for me, I work hard at it, and don't get me wrong I want to do well, but I'm proud of my defense.  I love to win, when we get a W then I'm happy. 


FutureBacks:  How much do you tie your pitching staff's success to your success?


Phil Avlas:  I don't look at it that way.  I just try to form the relationship with the pitchers.  If I can get my starters to the seventh, the majority of the time that will bring success.


FutureBacks:  What was the focus of your offseason?


Phil Avlas:  Same routine as last year.  I had a good Spring, it was decent.  Mostly though coming in here I felt really good.  Once July and August comes around you're body is going to be tired no matter what you do, but I've just tried to get in as good a shape as possible, so that as it gets later in the season I'm in a little bit better shape than the next guy, which gives me an advantage.


FutureBacks:  What is a good 2005 for you?


Phil Avlas:  Ending the season over .500 as a team.  Hitting like I did last year, hitting .300.  What we all want is a Championship.  We were so close last year and it hurts, every time I see a ring I have to look away.  That's what I'm looking for, just playing for the ring.



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