CLEARWATER, Fla. - Just before 9 o'clock Monday morning, Deivi Grullon rose from his seat in the Phillies clubhouse, walked over to Jake Arrieta and asked if he had a minute.
Grullon, a young catcher in his first big-league camp, proceeded to pepper the former Cy Young Award winner with questions.
"It was an interesting conversation," Grullon said through Spanish-language translator Diego Ettedgui later in the day. "I'm trying to learn as much as possible."
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Grullon spoke the word esponja.
It might have taken a little nerve for Grullon to approach Arrieta, but he explained that he has been encouraged to build a bond with pitchers. The day before, Grullon had been in the video room watching tape of Arrieta pitching in a game last season. He was curious about Arrieta's thought process in attacking right-handed hitters with his sinker and was eager to learn about it, just in case he found himself catching the pitcher this spring. Arrieta was gracious and more than willing to fill up the sponge. During the conversation, Arrieta reached into his locker, grabbed a baseball and showed Grullon several different pitch grips.
The early-morning clubhouse scene proved to be a fitting backdrop to the day because, later on, manager Gabe Kapler raved about what he'd seen from Grullon in the first week of workouts. Kapler had been impressed by Grullon's raw power - especially to the opposite field - at the plate and his willingness to work hard on framing pitches behind it.
"There had been a little bit of information presented to me that his concentration level waned from time to time," Kapler said. "I have not seen that. I have actually seen the concentration super high. The work he's done with (catching instructors) Craig Driver and Bob Stumpo has been really good. They've seen improvement in just four or five days.
"This is a guy that from a raw talent perspective, our player development staff has been excited about for a couple of years. He's kind of stood out so far."
Grullon, who turned 23 earlier this week, is powerfully built at 5-10 and 235 pounds. He was signed for $575,000 out of the Dominican Republic in the summer of 2012. The Phillies have long liked the power in his bat and in his throwing arm. He had a strong season at Double-A Reading in 2018, hitting .273 with a .825 OPS, 21 homers and 59 RBIs in 326 at-bats.
The Phils rolled the dice and left Grullon unprotected in the Rule 5 draft in December. No team selected him and he is slated to be the No. 1 catcher at Triple-A Lehigh Valley this season. It will be a good test and if he passes it, the Phillies will likely have to protect him next winter.
In the meantime, Grullon is happy to be in his first big-league camp, happy to be making an impression and soaking up all the knowledge he can.
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