Jonah Heim won’t turn 23 until June, but he’s already got a PhD in baseball as a business.
The Stockton Ports catcher was a fourth-round pick of the Baltimore Orioles in 2013. Heim grew comfortable in the Orioles’ organization, but found his baseball world uprooted in August 2016 when he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for Steve Pearce. After a little more than a year in the Rays’ chain, Heim got another reminder that nothing in baseball is permanent when he was traded to the A’s for Joey Wendle.
Heim says the first trade was harder for him to process.
“The first time was more emotional than the second time,” Heim said before the Stockton Ports took on the Lake Elsinore Storm on Sunday. “I didn’t know what to expect. Now I was more prepared. I got traded with one of the guys that I knew from Baltimore (Jake Bray) so it made it easier. Building relationships is the most important part for me.”
Heim says spending spring training in A’s camp was all the time he needed to start building that relationship with his pitching staff.
“Anything from catching a bullpen to getting to sit down and talk to the guys is enough for me (to get to know the pitchers),” Heim said. “Being here all spring was nice because I was able to catch all of the guys.”
Stockton manager Rick Magnante has been impressed with how Heim has handled the move to the A’s organization.
“It’s kind of been a seamless transition for him,” Magnante said. “He’s picked up on some of the nuances of getting used to a new staff, new pitching coordinators, new managers, hitting instructors. It’s a lot, but this is his third organization, so he’s been baptized to some degree.”
Heim and Bray actually joined the A’s in separate deals, but they were acquired on the same day (Bray was traded to the A’s from Baltimore for Jaycob Brugman). The two are part of a Ports’ roster that is off to a fast start to the 2018 season.
Through Wednesday, the Ports were 6-1 and sported a California League-best team ERA of 1.68. Stockton starters have been especially effective, allowing only two runs in 34.2 innings pitched.
Heim takes great pride in the success of his pitching staff.
“It’s always a good feeling to get off to a good start. Especially the pitching,” he said. “From a catching standpoint, the pitching has been phenomenal. That’s great to see. I’m looking forward to keeping that rolling.”
It has been a bit of a slower start for Heim at the plate. Through Wednesday, he had three hits in 19 at-bats. One of those hits was a home run, however, and he has walked five times for a .360 OBP. A switch-hitter, Heim has double the work to keep his swing feeling good. That extra work along with his pregame prep work with the pitchers has made Heim an expert in time management in his early career.
“Just being here early. We have the cage so it’s just getting here early and managing my time is a big part of it,” he said. “I get more lefty swings in spring so that feels a little more advanced than the right-handed one does right now, but in a couple of months it will probably be about the same.”
With his ability to hit for power from both sides of the plate and his 6’4’’ frame, Heim has drawn comparisons to veteran catcher Matt Wieters. Heim says he learned a lot from Wieters when he was with the Orioles’ organization.
“He’s obviously a great catcher. He’s shown that all these years in the big leagues,” Heim said. “It’s just the little things like setting up the right way and using your body to get low. Stuff like that. All the intricate details of the game.”
Magnante believes Heim has a lot to offer as a player.
“I think I could be ahead of myself a little bit, but as someone who has spent many years in baseball in scouting and development, you start to develop a little bit of an instinct about players,” Magnante said. “Jonah is kind of a quiet guy. He’s a little bit subdued in terms of personality, but his ability to play from the first time I saw him stood out, and I think he’s a heck of an acquisition for us. He’s big, he’s physical, he defends. He offers the switch-hit with power from both sides. He just seems to be at ease with himself.”
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