FAYETTEVILLE -- Major League Baseball teams thought enough of SEC catchers this season to draft 11 of them.
From that deep pool of catching talent, SEC coaches voted the Arkansas Razorbacks' Grant Koch as the conference's best behind the plate.
Koch, a junior from Fayetteville, was the catcher on the SEC's All-Defensive Team.
"Having a catcher who's able to deal with a pitching staff like Grant does is a big reason for our success," University of Arkansas, Fayetteville pitching coach Wes Johnson said. "I told all the scouts when the draft was coming up, 'This guy's ready to catch in the big leagues right now.'
"I just can't say enough about the job Grant does behind the plate for us. It's not just that he can catch and throw, but the way he's so calm and can really talk to the guys about their stuff."
The Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Koch in the fifth round June 5 with the 144th pick.
"It was one of the best days of my life," Koch said. "I got to share it with my family and a few friends, which was really cool.
"But it still hasn't set in, because I'm so focused on what we've got to do here."
The Razorbacks are one of eight teams to advance to the College World Series, and they play Texas on Sunday at 1 p.m. in Omaha, Neb.
Grant Koch at a glance
HEIGHT/WEIGHT 6-0, 195 pounds
BATS/THROWS Right, right
HIGH SCHOOL Fayetteville
AGE 21 (born Feb. 5, 1997)
NOTEWORTHY Has committed one error in 60 games this season, including 56 starts, and has a .998 fielding percentage. … Voted to the SEC All-Defensive team. … Hitting .251 with 7 home runs and 34 RBI this season. … All-SEC first-team catcher last season when he hit .264 with 13 home runs and 42 RBI. … Team captain the past two seasons. … Selected in the fifth round (No. 144 overall) by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the MLB Draft last week. … Last summer played for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team that won three international series against Chinese Taipei, Cuba and Japan. … Arkansas team captain the past two seasons. … Son of Tim and Courtney Koch.
The Razorbacks' ninth appearance in the College World Series is their first since 2015, when Koch was a senior at Fayetteville High School.
"I grew up cheering for the Razorbacks, and now to be on a team going to Omaha, it's unbelievable," said Koch, a two-time team captain. "It's all I've ever wanted. But it's not about me. It's about the team. I could hit .100 and if we go to Omaha, that's all I care about."
Koch is hitting .251 after being at .264 last season when he was the All-SEC first-team catcher. His home runs (13 to 7) and RBI (42 to 34) also are down from last season, but teammates said Koch's defense and leadership are invaluable.
"Grant means everything to us," pitcher Kacey Murphy said. "We wouldn't get half the calls we do back there if it wasn't for the way he catches the pitch and frames it for the umpire.
"Not dogging our other catchers -- they're great -- but Grant's one of a kind behind the plate. He's way above and beyond in talent compared to what most college teams have at catcher."
Koch said he has called more than 90 percent of the pitches since he became a starter last season. He appreciates Johnson's trust.
"Grant's like a coach back there, and he catches with a pitcher's mind," Murphy said. "He thinks like a pitcher behind the plate. That's what makes him so special.
"He sees all the pitches coming in the same as we see them. So he always knows what to call."
Koch has a committed one error in 60 games -- on a throw attempting to catch North Carolina-Charlotte's Reece Hampton stealing second base -- and has a fielding percentage of .998.
"I take a lot of pride in my defense," Koch said.
Koch has thrown out 15 of 34 base runners (44.1 percent) trying to steal in the past two seasons.
"I think Koch's hands have really gotten better over the years," said Norm DeBriyn, the former Arkansas coach who scouts for the Colorado Rockies. "He doesn't have a cannon, but he's got an accurate arm, and he gets rid of the ball quickly."
DeBriyn played catcher at Wisconsin-Oshkosh and specialized in coaching the position.
Tom Pagnozzi, who played for the Razorbacks in 1983 as a junior-college transfer, credited DeBriyn for helping him make the conversion from third baseman to catcher, where he played 12 seasons for the St. Louis Cardinals and was a three-time Gold Glove winner.
Koch learned to catch while playing for a summer travel team coached by Pagnozzi.
"I think Koch is going to play in the big leagues," DeBriyn said. "I think he's that good. In addition to his catching skills, I think he's got the perfect baseball mentality. You never see him get too excited or real down."
Koch showed his ability to stay calm in a tough situation when Arkansas' pitchers issued a school-record 15 walks in a 9-7 victory over Alabama. The Razorbacks also had seven wild pitches, but Coach Dave Van Horn said it could have been much worse.
College World Series
WHERE TD Ameritrade Park, Omaha, Neb.
SATURDAY’S GAMES All times Central
Oregon St. vs. N. Carolina, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Washington vs. Miss. St., 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Arkansas vs. Texas, 1 p.m. (ESPN)
Texas Tech vs. Florida, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
"Grant probably blocked about 15 more [potential wild pitches]," Van Horn said. "He did an amazing job."
One of Koch's best plays came in Arkansas' 3-1 victory over Texas A&M, when he saved at least two runs in the first inning by catching a one-hop throw home from third baseman Casey Martin.
Chris Andritsos hit a line drive at Martin, who made a back-handed stop, jumped to his feet and fired home to Koch for a force out. The throw hit the dirt but stuck in Koch's glove.
"It was game-changing," second baseman Carson Shaddy said. "Grant was a hero."
Murphy said Koch has made key plays all season.
"Grant has saved us so many times with his defense," Murphy said. "You could probably put a handful of our wins just on him. He's been unreal for us."
Pitcher Isaiah Campbell, who held South Carolina to two runs in four innings of the Razorbacks' 14-4 super regional-clinching victory, credited Koch with helping him stay relaxed.
"Grant just knows how to call a game and help keep you settled down," Campbell said. "I feel really good throwing to him, really comfortable."
Sports on 06/14/2018
Print Headline: Koch a great catch for Hogs