Brendan Katin has a chance this season to become the all-time leading home run hitter in Nashville Sounds’ history. But the journey between Katin’s 69 home runs entering this season and former Sound Chad Hermansen’s team record 92 homers could be quite an adventure.
It might not look like such an uphill climb, given Katin hit 26 home runs last season. Another 23 homers might appear within reach at first glance. But although no other player stands between the two, Katin has all kinds of obstacles in his way before reaching the top of the list.
For starters, he has a bad knee. Katin missed seven weeks of playing time last year because of the knee injury, and that lingering problem alone could cut down on the amount of playing time he receives this season. Katin might not get enough at-bats to make a real home-run chase possible – even though he hit his single-season career high in homers last year in 336 at-bats. He hit 24 the year before in 459 at-bats.
Ideally for Katin, who is now in his fourth year as a Sound, the whole home run thing would become a moot point if he were to be called up by the parent club Milwaukee Brewers. But there has been little to suggest the Brewers are eager to promote him. Katin is 28, and although he has been in the Brewers’ organization for his entire six-year career, he has never made it to the major leagues – not even for the proverbial cup of coffee.
Throw in the fact that the Brewers have outfield talent like Caleb Gindl and Brandon Boggs who stand to see considerable playing time with Katin and Brett Carroll as part of an outfield rotation, it’s no sure thing Katin will be in the lineup. The Brewers are a National League team, so that means Katin couldn’t even see playing time as a designated hitter in games against other National League-affilliated clubs.
When he hits, Katin is a classic power hitter. He’s likely to bat in the clean-up spot. He is also likely to get about as many extra-base hits as singles. And he is likely to strike out a lot, although Katin points to improvements in that category.
Katin could also become the team’s all-time RBI leader this season. He is second to Hermansen there as well. The leader has 286, Katin 240, which makes the RBI record a far more reachable goal.
Hermansen, was in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization at the time, and played for Nashville from 1998-2002. The two players have never met.
Katin, who stands 6-feet-1-inch and 223 pounds, calls the home run record a “bittersweet” subject, a very nice accomplishment if it happens but also a painfully obvious bit of evidence that he is spending his time in the minor leagues. He will be a free agent at the end of the season, and he is already thinking about the possibility of playing in Japan, which he sees as potentially good money.
Is a call-up to the Brewers in the future? Sounds Manager Don Money says he can’t say yes or no because so much depends on what the Brewers need.
“He has the power. But I will say he’s pitch-able,” Money said. “What I mean by that is he can be pitched to.”
What Money means by that is pitchers can figure out how to get Katin out. Money isn’t sure Katin can make the adjustments needed to face big-league pitching.
“Physically, he has a bad knee. I don’t see him playing as much this year as last year, just because of that,” Money said.
And like other power hitters, Katin goes hot or cold.
“He’s a streaky hitter,” Money said. “When he’s hot, he carries the team. When he’s cold, he’s as cold as an iceberg.”
“This game is always a game of adjustments. He’s a right fielder, an OK right fielder. He’s got a pretty good arm. At times in the past, he just doesn’t know how to use it. He throws to the wrong base sometimes. He overthrows guys. He has made some improvements, but you’ve got to pretty much do it all the time.”
Money says he has seen players who can hit 30 home runs a season in the minor leagues but can’t play in the big leagues. He has seen guys hit for a .320 average in the minors but can’t make it in the majors because “there are other things they can’t do.”
Katin was asked how much Brewer officials have told him about their plans for him in the field.
“To be honest with you, not much at all,” he said. “I’m not the kind of guy that goes in and asks. If I’m in there, I’m in there. If not, I’ll be in the dugout ready to pinch hit. My best guess is we we’ll have some sort of outfield rotation. There are four outfielders for three positions. It’s just how it plays out.”
Katin doesn’t sound especially fond of being a designated hitter anyway.
“On a bad day at DH you get frustrated, because you don’t have anything to make up for it. You can’t go out there and rob a hit or throw a guy out to make up for a bad day at the plate,” he said.
Katin lives in Wellington, Fla. He played in high school in Fort Myers and collegiately at Lake-Sumter Community College in Leesburg, Fla., then at the University of Miami, where he was a member of a College World Series team, although he didn’t get to play much on that trip.
“I came in late against South Carolina and ended up going 2-for-2, so my career batting average in the College World Series is 1.000,” he said.
Katin is one of eight children in his family, and he recalls playing baseball in his youth in the yard with two older brothers. His favorite player was a power hitter, Mark McGwire, first with the Oakland A’s and then with the St. Louis Cardinals. When asked what he thought about the steroids issue that swirled around McGwire after his retirement, Katin said it didn’t bother him much.
Katin is a fixture with the Sounds, so much so the team has already scheduled a Brendan Katin Bobblehead day July 14. It has become the new measure that shows you have arrived in baseball when they make a bobblehead doll of you. But just like with the home run record, Katin would just as soon be in Milwaukee.
He was asked his own opinion as to why he has never received the big-league call.
“In 2008 or ‘09, my understanding was it was strikeouts,” he said. “Last year, in my opinion, I cut them down, increased my walks, increased my batting average, and increased my home runs and RBIs.
“Last year, I thought I had a shot. It kind of frustrates me a little bit, but as far as one part of my game that’s keeping me there, I honestly couldn’t tell you. Who knows? I guess I’m just stuck behind a good group of outfielders in the big leagues.”
In 2009 with the Sounds, Katin hit .244, with the 24 homers, 92 RBIs, 35 walks and 164 strikeouts. Last year, he batted .286 with 26 homers, 76 RBIs, 39 walks and 91 strikeouts. Money notes that Katin also had fewer at-bats last year, however.
Baseball at any level can be a grind. On an off day, Katin will usually just crash on the couch at home and watch television. In the offseason, he occasionally enjoys fishing. And that’s Florida fishing, not freshwater fishing like in Nashville.
“I’ve tried bass fishing here a couple of times and came up empty,” he said. “So that’s off my list.”
But he has found an appreciation for a lot of things after playing winter ball in Venezuela and Mexico.
“The first time I went to Venezuela, I came home 15 pounds less,” Katin said. “The access to food is a little different. You don’t have a 7-11 on every street corner. You don’t have the drive-thrus and whatnot. I’ve been to Venezuela three times and Mexico once. My stint in Mexico lasted only two or three weeks.
“It’s a different world. It’s great to go see how other people live, but when you come home you appreciate a little more being able to do what we do every day. We get in our cars and go to the mall. We have hundreds of places to eat. There, you’ve got hamburger stands, and it’s just completely different. It makes you appreciate living in the United States.”