I got so much better than my first offseason receiving and getting to catch [Cubs LHP Justin Steele] because his stuff, it’s big league stuff. So when you’re catching him every single day, you have no option to get better, or you’re just gonna fail.Ethan Hearn
A special thanks to Ethan Hearn for joining
Ethan Hearn is a long way from the majors. Such is the nature of being a catcher drafted out of high school. The learning curve is steep, far more than other positions on the diamond. This learning curve isn’t just proving yourself with a bat or in the field. Now, more than ever, catchers must be adept at game-planning. Sequencing of pitches, communicating with a pitching staff, preparing for opposing hitters, are all vital for the success of a young backstop. He’ll begin 2021 with a strong chance to make a full-season club out of spring training, but in a way, Ethan Hearn has been getting a crash course in being a big league catcher this offseason.
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Ethan Hearn was known for two things in the 2019 draft, plus raw power and pure arm strength. As the top rated prep catcher in draft class, his selection was another welcome change from pre-2018 draft picks of relatively safe selections by the Cubs. Drafting Ethan Hearn brings some serious ceiling to your organization, and a lot of moxie to go with it. But with that excitement comes the need to polish those raw tools. Only a handful of teams boast a better hitting infrastructure than what the Cubs currently offer with Director of Hitting, Justin Stone (‘Stoney’). According to Ethan, it’s a great match. “The first time I met Stoney, he’s real big into the technical side of how the body works. I had no idea. I just grabbed the bat, swinging as hard as I possibly can. So it was kind of it was like coming from the rock age of hitting and getting to talk to him and see that I was fascinated on how he approaches hitting.” Ethan said.
Ethan went on to provide more insight into how Justin Stone and the rest of the hitting gurus impact batters in the organization. Unlike a few very strong organizations with solid hitting infrastructures, the Cubs don’t exert a “one-size fits all” approach. Instead, Stone and company want each individual hitter’s body dictate how their swing should move. “There’s certain swings, your body naturally goes into so everything now with [Justin Stone] that I feel like for me, there’s not one set way. Everyone is different.” Hearn said, “Nobody’s body moves the same as somebody else’s body. So instead of forcing [you to change and saying] ‘well, you need to have your hands here, just because this looks better’. It’s kind of like ‘you should move your hands here because this is where your body wants to be’. And so you’re adjusting your swing to you instead of adjusting the swing just because you want it to be adjusted.”
What I found fascinating is that Ethan described how the Cubs provided each player with examples of successful hitters with similar body movements to give each player multiple examples of how they could let their own natural body work for them. “I bought into it the first day I saw it. And they kind of just went through it was ‘hey, this is what type of hitter you are. This is how your body moves. Here’s six or seven big leaguers that move the same way you do. And this is how they hit. Take those six or seven and kind of make it your own thing’.” Hearn said. If it sounds like Ethan is excited about his work with the hitting coordinators, you’re right. And as a Cubs fan, that should excite you even more.
But it takes more to be a successful catcher than a powerful bat. Ethan knows this too. Early in his pro career, he was able to connect with Chicago Cubs LHP Justin Steele. The two men lived only about 20 miles from each other back home. They’ve since formed a strong bond. During 2020 and the early parts of 2021, the pair have been training together both pushing each other to fulfill their ultimate dream. Cub fans may not have been able to see Steele in action, but he was briefly called up in 2020. A hamstring injury in an inopportune moment later in the season prevented him from ultimately getting on the mound, but Justin Steele has big league ‘stuff’. With a mid 90s fastball and a new high spin slider, Steele is ready to impact the big league roster. He’s a Darkhorse pick for a bullpen slot on Opening Day 2021. Ethan Hearn has embraced the challenge of catching a major league caliber arm. “I got so much better than my first offseason receiving and getting to catch [Steele] because his “stuff”, it’s big league “stuff”. So when you’re catching him every single day, you have no option to get better, or you’re just gonna fail.” Hearn said.
It’s a long road to the big leagues for young players like Ethan Hearn, but he’s embracing the challenge. And any opportunity to hone his craft catching wicked “stuff”, only provides him more of a leg up in his development. Fans will hopefully be able to see Ethan in action this year in Myrtle Beach, where he can bring that power, that arm, that moxie, and a bit more experience knowing he can catch elite pitches.
Full interview coming soon to