ARLINGTON, Texas – At times in 2016, catcher Brady Cox would be physically ill in the dugout between innings.
As the only healthy catcher on the roster, Cox was called upon to make 55 of UTA’s 58 starts behind the plate, a grueling task that leaves a toll on even the toughest of competitors. Right-handed reliever Dylan Schneider was the other other potential catching option head coach Darin Thomas had at his disposal.
“I don’t think I will ever complain about playing,” Cox confessed. “It was guaranteed playing time and I came here to play.”
There is no position more physically taxing on the baseball diamond than catcher. With a player of Cox’s offensive ability – a clutch, veteran presence from the right side – such a high workload, at a stressful position, can drain production.
A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Cox wouldn’t let fatigue factor into his offensive role. He produced to the tune of a .365 average with 81 hits, good enough to rank third in the Sun Belt Conference.
“I wouldn’t trade him for any catcher in the country,” UTA head coach Darin Thomas said.
Cox was a semifinalist for the 2016 Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the nation’s top catcher.
“I was fortunate enough to have a good year to go with it,” Cox said. “If I had a bad year and had to catch every single game, and then deal with struggling offensively, maybe I’d be saying something different.”
After the season, the circuit coaches tabbed Cox first-team All-Sun Belt Conference.
Cox learned about the day-to-day challenges of serving as the primary catcher while backing up Greg McCall during the 2014 season.
“As a freshman, Greg caught a bunch of games and I was in awe of that,” Cox said. “That was a big learning year for me, just seeing how he handled himself. I kind of molded myself after what he did. Taking care of my body. When the season was going on, I realized it was a lot physically. I was finding ways to take care of my body and arm. It was a blessing.”
One of the key influences on the defensive reliance on Cox in 2016 was a season-ending injury to talented sophomore catcher/infielder Will Olson. A left-handed hitter, Olson recovered from injury to play fully in fall and preseason practice and – along with Cox – has the ability to start games at either corner infield position.
“The fact that I caught every single game, I don’t have an issue with it,” Cox said. “If I could do it again I would but we have other guys that can do it. That is part of the versatility (in the lineup). If you have multiple guys that can do multiple things. Any given day you can roll a lineup out there that is different from the day before but is just as dangerous. Having that depth is a very special weapon that coach can use.”
The backstop duo is among a versatile lineup selection that Thomas will have at his disposal. A proponent of players who can defend around the diamond, Thomas is eager to spell his senior catcher with starts as the DH or at a corner-infield post.
“If you have a bunch of guys that just played one position and one goes down, then you are stuck between a rock and a hard place,” Cox said. “Any given day we can have a lineup that looks completely different yet is just as dangerous and we are just as confident that things will go smoothly. It helps that we have guys that we can move around if there is an injury, or whatever be the case. It is nice to know we always have options.”
Entering his senior season, Cox was voted as a preseason All-Sun Belt Conference honoree. Regarded as a defensive-minded catcher early in his career, Cox has emerged as a legitimate offensive weapon in the UTA lineup.
“My approach offensively has changed a lot over my career,” Cox said. “Freshman and sophomore year we were tinkering with stances. Then last year, it was big just being able to slow the game down and realize that I was here for a reason. I am good enough to get it done. I just need to slow the game down and stick to my approach. It’s interesting to see where I was freshman year to where I am now and where I can go.”
A line-drive hitter who is capable of working the count and has an ability to use rightfield, Cox was able to reach base safely in 51 of his 57 starts as a junior.
“I had guys around me that were giving me opportunities to have a good year,” Cox said. “I was just put in a really good situation and was able to make the most of it.”
Defensively, Cox led all conference catchers in runners picked off, while nabbing 16 runners attempting to steal.
An infectious personality, Cox is a natural leader in the clubhouse. He leads – not just with his physical stamina – but as a player capable of impacting newcomers on the roster.
“It is very important to have player leadership,” Cox said. “Any time you have leaders showing other guys how it is supposed to be done and leading the way, it helps in the long run. It keeps people on track. Whether things are going well or going bad, the leadership is what keeps you on track.”
Thomas has noticed the growth of Cox as a leader, which puts the coaching staff in a position to further impact each player.
“Confidence is the biggest thing with his leadership,” Thomas said. “It’s hard to lead when you aren’t having success on the field. With his success comes more leadership. He was a good leader, even by example, before he was having success at the plate. Last year, he was our only catcher. We had some injuries and what not and he ended up having to go back there on days he didn’t feel like it. For him to do what he did is really pretty remarkable.”
UTA’s pitching staff appreciates the leadership of Cox behind the plate.
“It’s huge because anytime you can get a lot of work with a guy as knowledgeable and as good of a catcher as him, it boosts your confidence,” Senior righty Kadon Simmons said. “It boosts the overall team confidence when they see that you work well with a guy. It helps out in all aspects.”
In addition to his preseason accolades from the league, Cox was rated as the seventh-best conference prospect available for the 2017 MLB Draft by Baseball America.
“Brady’s a workhorse,” Senior utility dynamo Quintin Rohrbaugh raved. “That’s something we get behind.”