Rifle High’s Wyatt Robinson one of the state’s best at throwing out base stealers
Wyatt Robinson puts things in perspective when it comes to catching would-be base stealers who run against Rifle High School’s baseball team.
“Last year, I was a little bit better,” the Bears catcher said with a wry smile.
Actually, there haven’t been many catchers on Colorado’s Western Slope who have been better at his position over this season or last. Robinson, Rifle’s starting catcher, has thrown out 17-of-52 runners (32.5 percent) stealing during his last two seasons, including a 10-for-31 mark this season. That ranks him second among catchers in Class 4A this year, trailing only Conifer senior Taylor Vigil (12-for-36, 33.3 percent).
But there’s more to Robinson than just a strong arm. He’s allowed just five passed balls this season, down from eight a year ago. He’s also committed only two errors all year, with his last fielding miscue coming more than a month ago when he made a pair of errors in a loss to Delta.
Add in all of the other intangibles that have made Robinson a solid backstop for the Bears, and it’s easy to see why he’s a big reason the Bears (12-7 overall) have made a return trip to the Class 4A state playoffs. First- and second-round play begins Saturday.
“I think he’s done a great job over the past three years,” Rifle coach Troy Phillips said. “We had just graduated a pretty good catcher from the year before [Luke Buss], and I was kind of worried because he hadn’t caught a whole lot and had been playing other positions. But he stepped up into that role and has done a great job with it.”
Robinson’s previous primary positions were third base and outfield, so Phillips was already confident about the then-sophomore’s arm strength when making the transition to becoming the Bears’ backstop. What made Phillips hesitate was the torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) Robinson suffered on his left knee in his freshman season during a basketball camp, although the coach said Robinson has never complained about knee pain.
It definitely hasn’t hurt the mobility of the senior backstop. Phillips recalled several times when a Rifle pitcher has “thrown the ball four feet out of the strike zone, and I couldn’t believe he got to it.” As a precaution, however, Robinson still wears a knee brace that fits snugly under his pants and shin guards when he’s catching.
That added mobility has made a huge difference for Rifle’s pitching staff, as Robinson has allowed just 11 wild pitches to go with those five passed balls in 122 innings.
“When you’re looking at it from the perspective of a fan, you just see something like that as normal and you don’t really think about it,” Phillips said. “But then if you put someone back there behind the plate who’s not as good, you really appreciate what he does back there and realize how many runs he’s kept from scoring.”
Then there’s the runners Robinson has kept from stealing.
Robinson typically reads baserunners on their movements and tendencies when they reach base. If a baserunner is leaning toward second base, he’ll watch that to be ready to throw once that runner takes off for second base. He’ll readily admit that everyone is different, though, and getting the jump on a runner taking off for second can be a real guessing game.
He’s also learned to adjust to his pitching staff, more notably Rifle’s No. 1 starter, Bailey Hoffmeister. Robinson said the senior righthander has a quick move to the plate from the stretch, which helps reduce the time it takes for Robinson’s throw to second base to reach its target. Hoffmeister’s primary pitches, however, are his curveball and knuckleball. They take longer to reach the plate than the close-to 80 mph fastball Hoffmeister throws, and the ball movements of the off-speed pitches can prompt Robinson to change his throwing approach when a runner takes off.
“If someone goes and I know that Bailey is throwing a knuckleball or something, that’s when I know I’ve got to get rid of the ball a lot quicker,” Robinson said. “I’ll throw from my knees if I have to.”
And he’s gotten runners out from his knees, too. Phillips readily admits that Robinson might have caught more runners had some of his throws simply been six inches closer to where they needed to be. Robinson is also working to keep improving, trying to quicken his release time to two seconds or below — the time college baseball teams would like to see from their catchers at that level.
In the meantime, though, Robinson still has at least one more game to play in his high school career, which he hopes can continue past Saturday.
“I think I’ve done pretty well as a high school player,” Robinson said. “But as a team, we just try to pick each other up all the time and have a snowball effect on each other to do great together. I hope we can keep doing that.”
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Fans, players and coaches on both sides of Stubler Memorial Field seemed to know it would come down just the way it did, regardless of who had the ball at the end.