Last season with the Frederick Keys, B. J. Waszgis became an offensive force, leading the Single-A Carolina League with 100 RBIs and hitting 21 homers -- including two grand slams -- and making the league's All-Star team.
He won't put up numbers like that this season for the Double-A Bowie Baysox.
Waszgis is expending a lot of energy learning the nuances of becoming a full-time catcher, and he says the demands of the grind are making it difficult for him.
"I need to keep my intensity up for nine innings on defense and offense now," said Waszgis, who was behind the plate in 90 games for the Keys. "I'm concentrating a lot on catching."
No more designated hitting. No more fill-ins at first base. And no more appearances in the cleanup spot in the batting order.
"I like to hit him fifth or sixth," said Baysox manager Bob Miscik. "He doesn't need the pressure of batting fourth; he already has enough catching."
Not that Waszgis has suddenly become a cream puff at the plate. After a slump, he has rebounded to raise his average to .268, showing that he can handle Double-A pitching consistently.
Coach Craig Faulkner is assisting him with his catching, and the progress is evident.
"He's improved a lot over last year," Miscik said. "It's just a matter of getting the experience. The one thing he has to be concerned about is blocking the routine balls and forgetting those two feet outside."
Waszgis is strong and proving durable. The Baysox already have had three different backup catchers this season, and they started only six of the first 83 games.
A 10th-round choice, he is a member of the Orioles' prized 1991 draft class that also included Curtis Goodwin, Mark Smith, Alex Ochoa, Jim Wawruck, Jimmy Haynes, ChrisLemp, Rick Krivda and Rick Forney.
And he credits fellow Omahan Gregg Olson for opening the door.
"Our high school team wasn't very good, but after Gregg Olson got drafted, there must have been 20 guys from Omaha taken to the minor leagues," Waszgis said. "He gave us the exposure."
Waszgis is trying not to get ahead of himself. He doesn't want to project when he will reach the major leagues, but knows that this season is a big factor in that progression.
"I've matured. I've had to take a lot of responsibility this season, and it's a good feeling," he said. "When I come off the field, I know it has been my game. Last year, I was a little hesitant. Now, I know what the pitchers have going for them, how to get hitters out. Mentally, it's tough, but I'm loving it."
Waszgis -- whose given name is Robert Michael -- seemed to have afuture in football, but abandoned the sport after one high school season because "the coach and I didn't see eye to eye."
He played only baseball during his one year at McNeese (La.) State. The decision to focus on one sport probably has been a wise one.
"My main point this year is to learn how to keep focused on both catching and hitting," he said. "Last season, I'd catch three games, then go to first or DH. That gave me time to get my mind back together.
"This way is tough, but I'm learning how to deal with it."
Name: B. J. Waszgis
Team: Bowie Baysox, Double-A Eastern League
Parent organization: Orioles
School: South (Neb.) High, McNeese State
Estimated arrival in majors: 1997
(1 to 5, 5 highest)
Hitting: 4 1/2 . Sturdily built at 6 feet 2, 210 pounds, Waszgis is strong and has a quick bat. More frequent catching is giving him an even better understanding of the strike zone when he's on offense.
Power: 5. He came into his own with 21 homers and 100 RBIs at Frederick last year.
Speed: 2 1/2 . Catcher's speed. He is below average and not a threat to steal. But he doesn't embarrass with foolish mistakes on the bases.
Defense: 4. Waszgis has more progress to make but still is relatively new to catching. Has improved on blocking balls and now has relative freedom to call games.
Arm: 4. Given a chance by his pitcher, he can throw out would-be base stealers fairly regularly. His percentage is about average, but his arm is above average and accurate.
STATISTICS Yr. Team .. .. HR RBI Avg.
1991 Bluefield 3 8 .320
1992 Kane Cty. 11 46 .215
1993 Albany 8 52 .307
Frederick 3 9 .248
1994 Frederick 21 100 .282