San Benito High coach Billy Aviles has been involved in the game of baseball for a long time. When asked if he’s ever seen or heard of a player who excelled at both the pitcher and catcher positions, his answer was succinct: “Never.” That’s what makes what Tyler Triano is doing this season all the more remarkable.
The San Benito High senior is the reigning Monterey Bay League Gabilan Division Co-Pitcher of the Year, and he’s followed up an outstanding 2016 campaign with a terrific 2017 season. But what truly separates Triano from everyone else in the Central Coast Section is his versatility at the battery positions—a truly uncommon feat.
High school athletes often play multiple positions, a byproduct of a team’s need. However, few, if any, play pitcher and catcher at a high level. For one, some coaches might be hesitant to stick one of their best pitchers behind the dish, for the fear of an increased chance of injury.
Second, players grow up playing the infield and outfield—and in a number of cases, both—but few tackle the pitcher-catcher dynamic. Triano grew up playing catcher—he still counts it as his natural and favorite position—but he was recruited to pitch at the college level. The right-hander has committed to play at Cal State Monterey Bay.
Triano entered the week having started one game at first base, two games at catcher (four overall appearances) and three games at third base this season. The Balers needed to fortify the third-base position, and Triano has done more than a capable job when he’s at third. The amazing thing? Triano had never played third base—ever—up until this season.
“My first game at third base I was super nervous since I had never played it before,” he said. “I still get a little nervous and some of the jitters, but I play the position with the same love and passion when I’m pitching or catching.”
A year ago, Triano caught two games. This year, he’s already doubled that total. Aviles takes a cautious approach with Triano, knowing he’s valuable behind the dish but at the same time being cognizant that Triano is a standout pitcher who is vital in the team’s quest for its first-ever Central Coast Section playoff championship.
“We don’t baby him, but at the same time he’s so valuable as a pitcher that we have to do our best to limit any possible injuries playing catcher,” Aviles said. “Tyler is just a pure athlete, and that’s why he can pitch and catch at that level.”
A year ago, Triano’s primary job was to shut down the opposition every time he took the mound—which is exactly what he did. Triano allowed just 33 hits over 53 innings while striking out 48 with a 0.92 ERA. This season, Triano has been almost as dominant while adding another dimension to his game: hitting.
A year ago, Triano’s bat was a liability. This season, the left-handed hitting Triano has really upped his offensive game, with three multi-hit games thus far.
“Billy really helped me find my swing,” Triano said. “He would say I was swinging like a little baby, and that I needed to swing out of my shoes so my bat would stay in the proper plane. I’ve been doing that, and my average keeps rising up.”
Triano said the most challenging aspect of playing catcher is making sure the infield is in constant communication and on the same page in certain key situations involving coverage and alignment. But it’s a challenge he takes on with pride.
“I’ve always loved catching,” he said. “It’s been my No. 1 passion since I was 9. But trying out new positions like third base is pretty exciting, too. Wherever I play, I have the same love for the game.”
Triano’s strengths at catcher are obvious. In addition to being sound defensively—Triano has an excellent pop-up time—he knows what opposing batters might be thinking on certain counts because of his own hitting experience in the box.
NOTE: For the first time in school history, the Balers earned an invite to play in the Boras Classic, one of the most prestigious high school baseball tournaments on the West Coast. San Benito lost both of its games Tuesday, dropping a 3-2 decision to Stockdale followed by a 4-1 loss to Heritage.
Even though the Balers’ stay in Sacramento was a short one, the appearance only further confirmed their reputation as one of the premier programs in the Central Coast Section. San Benito was one of only four teams from the CCS to earn an invite to the tournament, and the only public school. Aviles said upwards of 150 to 200 college coaches attended the tournament.
“It’s one of the most scouted tournaments on the West Coast,” he said. “It’s a pretty big deal. We’ve been trying to get into this tournament for a long time.”