Rancho Cucamonga, California —— It’s an understatement to say Collin Theroux isn’t happy with his .143 batting average right now. The Oakland Athletics catching prospect, playing this summer for the Stockton Ports of the High-A California League, is slashing just .143/.286/.337/.622 (14-for-98) ahead of Sunday’s action as he splits catching duties with Jonah Heim. But while his average has stubbornly struggled to move north, Theroux’s five home runs in limited action stand out as an enticing teaser for what he could be when right — a future backup/platoon catcher with pop and a very strong arm — just as he’s thriving in a far more important role behind the plate.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a hot start,” Theroux told me before a recent Ports game on the road in Rancho Cucamonga. “Last year I started really cold, and then in the second half I got myself up to .280 before I started trying to do too much and fell back a little bit. But I know it’s within me. And I know that first and foremost, my job is behind the plate rather than beside it, so it’s nice to be able to lean on that a little bit and worry about handling my staff.”
Handle the staff, he has; Collin Theroux’s pitchers have the lowest WHIP (1.24) and second-lowest ERA (3.65) in the Cal League right now, and Stockton finds themselves surging, by far the best team in the league and already 21 games north of .500 (47-26) before entering play on Sunday. Very quickly, Theroux (and Heim) are getting high praise from teammates about the pitching staff’s success — a compliment far beyond anything he’d hope to receive about his offensive work.
“Collin is the same guy no matter what the result is, especially with his bat,” Stockton infielder Nate Mondou told me a few weeks ago. “That’s what you need with a guy behind the plate, because he’s controlling the entire field. Knowing he’s going to be the same guy whether he’s 4-for-4 or 0-for-4, that’s comforting for the defense. You see a guy freaking out, or getting frustrated, and it rubs off, you lose confidence. But with Collin, it’s comforting to know he’s not going to be back there taking a pitch off just because of a bad at-bat.”
Slow start aside, a bad at-bat here or there is nothing compared to where Collin Theroux has seen, anyways; a failed start to his college career at the University of Nevada had the catcher questioning himself as a baseball player, nearly derailing the whole thing before he ever go to Stockton, or to the Oakland Athletics. Not ready for Division I baseball like he thought he’d been upon showing up at Nevada, Theroux had to scramble and return home, opting for a junior college bounce-back at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton before eventually winding up at Oklahoma State University alongside future foe Donnie Walton.
“Looking back, I wish I had just gone to junior college first, because I wasn’t ready [for Nevada],” Theroux reflected on his college path. “But I understand why I went. There’s so much pressure to sign. There’s pressure to look good, to post the Instagram of “I’m so blessed to commit to this school,” to look good on Twitter, but you know what? A lot of guys aren’t ready. And you need to be mature enough to sit down with yourself and say ‘I need a year or maybe two to go play every day, to go get bigger, and better, and stronger.’ That’s what JuCo is all about.”
Theroux flourished in JuCo, starting behind the plate for the Mustangs for two years before transferring to Oklahoma State and starting 62 games behind the plate there in 2016, leading to the Oakland Athletics selecting him in the 32nd round of the 2016 MLB Draft. It’s ironic, then, that he’s back at Banner Island Balllpark in Stockton now, too — back in his old haunts, just a few blocks down the road from Delta. All signs, past and present, just seem to point to Stockton for Collin Theroux — for he wouldn’t be with the Ports now had he not been honest enough with himself to admit early failure at Nevada and opt for the JuCo path of no comfort and fewer guarantees.
“I had to go back to the drawing board personally, athletically, everything,” he admitted. “I got to Nevada and I was overwhelmed. I went and played summer ball, came back, and I was still overwhelmed. I needed the reps, and you know what, I needed to feel like I was the man again. Going to JuCo gave me that boost. It wasn’t glamorous. You’re doing home plate after every practice, after the games, no one is there to do anything for you. But that was the best thing for me. It was a reality check, and it allowed me to find myself. I think a lot of guys find themselves when they go back.”
“I know I wouldn’t be in Stockton now if I hadn’t been here [at Delta] first,” he continued. “But it all works out in the end if you work hard. It’s one of those things where I know I’ve got good things coming my way if I handle things the way I should be handling them.”
If the objective success of Stockton’s pitching staff is any indication of that, then, perhaps a little more good karma isn’t far from raining down on Collin Theroux and the Oakland Athletics.
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