There’s definitely something in the water when it comes to Penn baseball catchers.
While the 2016 successes of current Quakers Matt O’Neill and Tim Graul have fueled Penn’s postseason aspirations, a distinguished alumnus — 2015 graduate Austin Bossart — is making his way through the Philadelphia Phillies’ minor league system.
After winning the Ivy Player of the Year in his senior campaign, Bossart was selected by Philly’s local squad in the 14th round of last year’s MLB Draft. After excelling for the Class Low-A Williamsport Crosscutters a season ago, the backstop was promoted to the Class A Lakewood (N.J.) Blueclaws this spring.
“[The promotion] was hinted at before spring training; I got a call from our catching coordinator and he was pretty sure I’d be moving up,” the Illinois native said. “So I showed up to camp a little early and caught a lot of bullpens and got the opportunity to move up a level.”
Bossart started out the season as Lakewood’s backup catcher, blocked from regular playing time by teammate Deivi Grullon, who already had played 107 games for the Blueclaws in 2015. However, when Grullon went down with injury on April 12, Bossart got the opportunity for more regular playing time.
“At first, I was only playing once every third or forth game,” Bossart explained. “But [Grullon] hurt his shoulder and had to go down to Florida to rehab, so now I’m usually catching two or three days in a row.”
A year ago, after hitting .361 and guiding Penn to a program-record 16 conference wins, Bossart kept up his hot hitting at the professional level; he led Williamsport regulars with a .333 average across 37 games. Behind the plate, he helped guide the Crosscutters pitching staff to a 3.15 earned run average, good for second in the 14-team NY-Penn League.
Though he has been off to a slower start this season — hitting just .188 with a .297 on-base percentage — those numbers are likely attributable to a minuscule sample size of nine games. He has heated up in his last two contests, swatting his first home run of the season on Friday versus Greensboro before going 3-for-6 with an RBI in a 11-7 win on Sunday.
Since he has found success at nearly every level, Bossart says his primary focus is just on maintaining his impressive numbers.
“I think they’re really just looking for consistency at this point,” he said. “Putting up consistent numbers, doing well at the plate and behind it ... that’s the name of the game at this level.”
As a catcher and one of a limited number of college graduates on the roster, Bossart sees himself as one of the team’s leaders.
“Leadership is really one of the things I take upon myself; that’s part of the defensive job of a catcher. That’s definitely a priority for me.”
It would be a valid assumption to presume that Bossart’s graduation would leave a massive hole at catcher for Penn; However, the dynamic duo of junior Tim Graul — essentially Bossart’s understudy during his first two — and freshman Matt O’Neill have combined for production that rivals that of their predecessor. Graul leads the Ivy league with seven home runs and 29 RBI while O’Neill has chipped in with four homers and a .304 average of his own.
“We’ve just been fortunate to recruit some good catchers, to be honest,” Penn coach John Yurkow said of his squad’s backstop pipeline. “When those guys come up with runners in scoring position, they’re not missing.”
“I’m really happy for them; that’s really awesome to see,” Bossart commented. “They just keep getting better. I unfortunately haven’t gotten the opportunity to meet Matt [O’Neill] yet, but I know he’s doing really well and the coaching staff is very pleased with him.”
And if the Quakers’ current crop of talent is thinking of taking their skills to the professional level, they don’t have to look far for reassurance.
Because Austin Bossart is proof positive that success at Penn is just a step away from prosperity in the pros.
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