Catchers rarely lead their baseball teams in stolen bases.
The constant crouching, and the wear and tear from the heat, errant pitches and foul balls can take a toll.
Former University of Maine catcher Chris Bec has overcome those dynamics. He has emerged as the stolen base leader (13) for Dunedin of the advanced Class A Florida State League.
Bec has accomplished the feat in only 26 games and has been caught just once.
The fifth-round draft choice of the Toronto Blue Jays is hitting a solid .275 including 12-for-32 (.375) over his last 10 games. He has a home run, four doubles, a triple and 10 runs batted in with 11 runs scored.
Bec stole 16 bases and didn’t get caught in his first pro season for the Class A (short season) Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League last summer.
In his two seasons at UMaine, Bec twice led the team in stolen bases with 16 a year ago and 15 in 2017.
Dunedin hitting coach Matt Young said Bec uses attention to detail and his aggressiveness to steal bases.
“He isn’t scared to get thrown out. He is aggressive,” Young said.
Bec studies pitchers’ pickoff moves and pays attention to how long it takes them to make a pitch.
“I trust my instincts,” Bec said. “I try to be smart on the basepaths.”
Bec led UMaine in hitting each season at .315 (2018) and .340 (2017) and was a two-time America East all-star. He was a first-team pick in 2018 and a second-teamer in 2017. He was also a third-team All-New England pick in 2018.
“His success at the plate and with his base stealing go hand in hand with the work he is putting in to it,” Young said.
Young said Bec has shown dramatic improvement this season and is oozing with confidence.
Bec jumped from a low-level Class A team in Vancouver to the top Class A league franchise in Dunedin, bypassing the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts and the Gulf Coast League Blue Jays.
“He really feels he belongs,” Young said.
“It’s definitely a big jump and a big challenge but he has shown he’s one of the guys who can handle it.”
Bec said has been challenged by pitchers who throw more strikes with a better repertoire of pitches. They also throw harder and exhibit improved command.
“Baseball is definitely harder here,” Bec said. “It’s more a mental game at this level.
“It’s a good challenge and that’s one of the things I love about it.”
The 23-year-old Miami native has been a full-time catcher for only three years. He verbally committed to attend the University of Tennessee as a shortstop, but that fell through, so he played outfield for two seasons at Miami Dade College, where he caught approximately 15 games.
At Dunedin, he shares catching duties with two other players.
“I am going to work on becoming the best catcher that I can possibly be and help the pitchers out as much as I can,” he said.
Bec enjoys being back in Florida. His family and girlfriend, Thalia Valdes, have attended several games, although it is 286 miles from Miami to Clearwater, where the Blue Jays play their home games because their field in Dunedin is being renovated.
“I grew up in this type of weather. You’ve got the beach, good Hispanic restaurants. I love it,” Bec said.
But he also misses Maine.
“My girlfriend misses the snow. I do, too,” Bec said. “I’ll be up there to visit.”
Bec could return to New England in the near future because the Blue Jays’ Class AA Eastern League franchise is the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Manchester.
He said his two years at UMaine were valuable in his development.
“It got me used to being away from home, and I was able to stay focused on baseball,” Bec said. “Coach [Nick] Derba was my mentor. He taught me how to carry myself as a professional. He knew what you needed to do. He taught me how to build relationships with my pitchers to earn their trust.”
Derba, a former catcher, played six years in the minor leagues and was a teammate of Young at Triple-A Memphis.
Bec hit .245 in Vancouver last season with three homers and 21 RBIs.
Dunedin has already qualified for the playoffs by posting the best record over the first half of the season (41-24) in the Florida State League’s North Division.
“We have a great group of guys and good chemistry,” said Bec, who has benefited playing for manager Cesar Martin and a staff that preaches aggressive baseball. Four Blue Jays have at least 10 steals.
“They trust our speed and our instincts,” Bec said.