Two years ago, Michael Ohlman faced a crossroads. The Baltimore Orioles catching prospect was suspended 50 games after testing positive for a recreational drug. In three professional seasons, the 2009 11th-round draft pick had hit .217 with six home runs.
After looking both ways, Ohlman took the right turn. Following a solid 2012 season in low-A, he broke out in 2013. Playing for high-A Frederick, Ohlman hit .313/.410/.524, with 29 doubles and 13 home runs, in 361 at bats. He was honored as the Carolina League’s player of the year.
Ohlman, who celebrated his 23rd birthday last month, talked about his game shortly before the new year.
Ohlman on maturing into a highly-regarded prospect: “It was about coming into my own and understanding what I have to do in order to be successful. I learned that I need to prepare myself every day to be the best player I can, both for myself and the organization.
“I feel I’ve always had the commitment and dedication, but I was also just kind of living the dream of playing professional baseball. I wasn’t setting up a routine for myself and taking it more as a job.
“I think [the suspension] was a great teaching point. I could have gone one of two ways and picked myself up. I did some soul searching. I obviously hadn’t been going in the right direction, but that’s history.”
On reports that his swing can get too long: “I don’t agree with that assessment. A lot of major league hitters are long, and I wouldn’t consider myself especially long. I’m happy with where my swing is. But I am 6-foot-5, so there’s nothing short with what I do. I have to make adjustments to try to be as short as possible, yet still have the power I need.
“Baseball is a game of adjustments. You’re always doing something. A pitcher figures out a little hole you have, and you have to make an adjustment to that. Even my look [has changed]. I want to be able to walk up to the plate and have the pitcher need to change his mindset about how he’s going to pitch to me.”
On plate discipline and approach: “I stay gap to gap and never try to hit a home run. I just want to have a good at bat, put a good swing on the ball, and if it happens, it happens. I just try to hit the ball hard.
“My [plate discipline] has improved considerably. I see the ball well. That’s the most important thing for me, to see it early and recognize the pitch. I see the rotation. But even before I get in the box, I’m watching the pitcher. I’m in the dugout, checking for his tendencies and trying to get any edge I can. The pitcher is always going to have the upper edge.”
On thinking like a catcher: “When I’m at the plate, I’ll sometimes think, ’If I were the catcher, I’d throw this to me here.’ I feel that helps out a lot — thinking like a catcher — as far as making the game flow. I definitely enjoy calling pitches behind the plate for my own pitchers.
“Everyone has their tendencies. What the pitcher has working for him that day also matters. Just like I make adjustments to pitchers when I’m at the plate, their hitters are making adjustments to our pitchers. It’s a constant game of cat and mouse that I enjoy.”
On his position: “I love catching. That’s what I came into the organization doing. I love being in control — controlling the game — and knowing everything that’s going on. I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I can get to the big leagues like that… I take ground balls at first base, and some fly balls in the outfield, just to give me some options, but I’m a catcher.
“I think my strengths are my footwork and my throwing, which has gotten a lot better — a lot better and a lot smoother. I’d like to work on my receiving and presenting the pitch. That’s my main focus this off-season, to really build on my defense. I obviously need to work on my hitting as well. I want to turn all of my weaknesses into strengths. I’m a catcher who has proved he has a good bat, and all I can do is go out there and work on being as good as I can.”
On being a 6-foot-5 catcher: “I looked up to Joe Mauer growing up, and Matt Wieters is obviously a tall guy too. I pick his brain when I can. I don’t think there are any difficulties with [being tall]. You just have to find out what works for you, because you can’t catch exactly the same as a shorter catcher. You have to find what’s comfortable for you and what gets you through the game.”
On choosing pro ball over college: “That was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make. I was moving into my dorm [at the University of Miami] when I agreed to terms with the Orioles. But a big point of that decision was to not have any regrets, to not look back at it — like we are now — and question it. I’m still convinced I made the right decision. Do I wonder what the college experience would have been like? Sure. But I’m very happy, and comfortable, where I am.
“The experience has molded me, and conditioned me, I think college guys are kind of coddled compared to us. They have kind of a false sense of what it’s like to play every day. The minor leagues are a grind. I think it was great for me to be 18, 19, 20 years old and experiencing that. It definitely helped me grow up.”
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