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Sea Dogs catcher Kyle Teel is focused on the process, not results

Jun. 7—When told one scouting report refers to him as having a carefree personality, Kyle Teel bristled. Yeah, the 22-year old catcher with the Portland Sea Dogs likes to have fun away from the ballpark, playing his guitar or serving as the clubhouse DJ. And he considers himself laid back when he's not working, but carefree carries the wrong connotation.

"I care a lot. I really do care a lot. I feel like the appearance that I have is carefree, but I care a ton about performance. I care a ton about the guys I play with. And most importantly, I care a ton about winning," Teel said, sitting in the dugout following a recent batting practice. "You just have to put everything in perspective and not be so results oriented. Being process-oriented, with the goal of winning in mind, is I think the best way to describe me."

A year ago at this time, Teel was leading the University of Virginia to the College World Series as the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. Now he's one of the top prospects in the Red Sox organization, and one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball. The 14th overall pick in last year's MLB draft, Teel's fast rise through the Red Sox organization is right on track.

Teel entered Saturday's game at Hadlock Field against the Akron RubberDucks with six home runs, a team-leading 37 runs batted in, a .294 average, and a .397 on-base percentage.

Teel is rated Boston's third-best prospect by both MLB Pipeline and soxprospects.com, just behind his Portland teammates, shortstop Marcelo Mayer and center fielder Roman Anthony. MLB Pipeline ranks Teel as the No. 5 catching prospect in baseball.

Last season, Teel's ascension through Boston's system was brisk. After three games with the Rookie League team in Fort Myers, Florida, Teel bypassed Low-A Salem for High-A Greenville, where he played just 14 games before ending the season with nine games in Portland.

"He's very athletic. He moves really well behind the plate. He blocks well, he throws well. Just continuing to get to know the staff, focusing on the pitchers' strengths so he can call a good game," said Brian Abraham, Boston's director of player development. "That will put him in the best position to have success, because it really is a selfless position. I'm really pleased with the progress he's making and he'll continue to get better every day."

This week, Teel earned a pair of honors that are proof of his progress. First, he was named Eastern League Player of the Week after hitting .410 (10 for 24) with six runs scored, three home runs, 11 RBI, and two stolen bases in a six-game series at Altoona. Last Friday night, Teel's three-run home run with two outs in the top of the ninth tied a game that the Sea Dogs won in extra innings. The next night, he hit a ninth-inning grand slam to give Portland a 6-4 lead in another game it won in extra innings.

"Hopefully those things happen in Boston late in the game at some point when they matter, but it's always good to see a lot of contact wherever you're playing," Abraham said.

On Wednesday, Teel was honored for his torrid May, earning the Eastern League's Player of the Month award. He finished the month with a .357 average, three home runs and 22 RBI. Most importantly, Teel lowered his strikeout rate, from 28% in April, when he hit .213, to just under 20%.

When Portland Manager Chad Epperson sees Teel in the batting cage, he sees a player taking his cuts with a purpose, playing out game scenarios in his head before every swing.

"He's got an idea of what he's trying to do all the time. He prepares. When he's in the cage, he's 'Bases loaded. Runner at second.' He's always talking to himself," Epperson said. "I'm not surprised at all. It was kind of cool seeing him back-to-back nights in the ninth put us back in the lead. He's just seeing the ball really well right now."

Teel practically grew up in a batting cage. His father, Garett, spent five years in the Los Angeles Dodgers system as a player and coach, and now owns a baseball training center in New Jersey.

"My dad taught me baseball since I was 2 years old. He taught me, really, everything I know. Playing hard. Knowing that you play to win and have fun. I grew up in the (batting) cage. That's what I did every day. My dad was a big part of that," Teel said.

The main focus of Teel's development now is his defense and working with the pitching staff.

"I know I'm going to get 100% out of him. He's not going to take a pitch off. He's going to give us everything he's got back there. He's going to hit home runs for us. He's going to get on base," said Portland starting pitcher Hunter Dobbins. "I've definitely seen this year, his game-calling behind the dish has really taken a step forward. Which I've loved to be a part of. I look forward to working with him some more."

Teel sees working with the pitchers as a key piece of his development as a leader.

"It's just getting to know your guys, whether it's pitchers or position players, that's the key to leading a team, knowing who you're leading," Teel said. "When it comes to a staff, all our guys are so talented, I feel like they teach me so much every day about baseball at this level. It's been a lot of fun."

The Red Sox have a great catching resource in former team captain Jason Varitek, who is now the game planning coordinator in Boston.

"I talked to Jason Varitek during the winter weekend event in Boston. We didn't talk too much, but from what we talked about, it was more little things. He's so experienced and has such a strong baseball mind, whenever I speak to him, I make to sure to listen as best I can," Teel said.

After being interviewed, Teel planned to take some grounders. It's all part of becoming a better all-around player. When Teel says he has things he needs to improve, he means everything. Every day is about putting in the work. He's focused on the process, not the results.

"I always say catchers are just an infielder behind the plate. It's fun, you know? I like getting out here and shagging balls, maybe get a couple ground balls and just enjoying my time out here," Teel said. "There's ups and downs in this game, and you've got to stay level."

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