The Unlikeliest of All-Stars Makes Every Pitch Look Good

Jose Trevino remembers suiting up, squatting down, and catching for the first time at Oral Roberts University.

He had just come off a first-team freshman All-American campaign as a third baseman in 2013 when the Golden Eagles decided he would move behind the plate. Trevino had only caught sparingly in high school, but he did as he was told and set up to receive pitches from the program’s pitching machine — a test of sorts. He swears it immediately launched 100-mile-per-hour fastballs at his untested mitt. All the while, members of the Oral Roberts coaching staff repeated a mantra.

“All they kept saying was: ‘Catch it. Make it look easy!’” Trevino recalled, laughing. “I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’m built for that.’ Those days were tough.”

That, believe it or not, is the unlikely origin story of an unlikely All-Star catcher. Trevino is one of six Yankees who were selected to the Midsummer Classic, which will be played on Tuesday at Dodger Stadium. Trevino is considered an elite defensive backstop, and the numbers back that up: No catcher has been a better pitch-framer this season, per Baseball Savant’s catcher framing runs and strike rate statistics.

Trevino didn’t envision such a future behind the plate when he first tried the position, but his coaches knew better. Ryan Folmar, a longtime Oral Roberts assistant and the university’s head coach since 2013, first imagined Trevino catching when the two met at a camp for high school recruits.

Jose Trevino was initially a third baseman at Oral Roberts, but the team encouraged him to try catching. He proved to be a natural.Credit…ORU Athletics

“Right away, I thought: ‘Man, this guy’s a catcher. This guy, I can see transitioning to being behind the plate at some point,’” Folmar said. “We knew that transition was going to be easy because he was such a good baseball player.

“He had all the intangible stuff, leadership qualities and toughness, everything that needs to come with that position. And then the physical part as well. So it all just kind of lined up, it all just kind of fit.”

Trevino worked his way into being the Golden Eagles’ starting catcher that year, but another switch awaited. He spent his junior campaign at shortstop, filling a team need, and became a sixth-round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2014. Texas drafted him as an infielder, but Trevino soon realized that his future was catching.

When he arrived at Class-A Spokane in 2014, he unexpectedly found catching gear at his locker. A coach suggested that Trevino ask his agent to overnight a few new gloves, and he soon found himself working behind the plate.

Back then, it was a much harder job for him.

“I was really bad at it,” Trevino said. “I struggled with it. And I sat down, by myself, and I got a journal out and wrote. Like if I want to be a big leaguer, this is what I have to do to get better. I just wrote down everything I needed to do to get better.”

Those journal entries included just about every aspect of catching, including blocking, receiving, throwing, pitch-calling; “Everything,” Trevino said. It helped him become a full-time catcher in 2015, and he has been behind the plate ever since.

On May 24, Trevino’s walk-off single gave the Yankees an extra innings win over Baltimore.Credit…Jason Szenes/EPA, via Shutterstock
On June 10, he did it again, hitting a walk-off single in the 13th inning against the Chicago Cubs.Credit…Adam Hunger/Getty Images

For all the early woes, defense wasn’t Trevino’s issue with the Rangers. A Texas native, he played in 156 major league games from 2018 to 2021 — including a career-high 89 last year — and quietly established himself as a metrics darling even if he didn’t provide a lot of value with his bat.

Trevino’s defense made him attractive to the Yankees when Ben Rortvedt, a young catcher the Yankees had acquired to be team’s backup this season, got hurt in spring training. On April 2, the Yankees swung a deal for Trevino, sending minor leaguer Robby Ahlstrom and reliever Albert Abreu to Texas.

For Trevino, who grew up rooting for the Yankees, it was a dream come true.

“I was excited for a change of scenery,” he said. “The Rangers were great for me, and great to me. They developed me, they helped me with everything. I don’t have anything bad to say about the Rangers. I don’t think I ever will. I’m grateful for my time there, but I’m excited to be here.”

Forced to learn a new staff on the fly, Trevino has done nothing but impress with his receiving skills. His framing often tricks umpires, stealing strikes for pitchers who sometimes get fooled as well.

“He actually fakes us out a couple times where, because he’s so good back there, I think that it’s a strike,” said Michael King, a breakout star reliever for the Yankees. “But then I go back and look at it and it was two balls off. But because he’s so good at making it look like a strike, it fakes me out. Everything’s right there.”

While the Yankees knew what they were getting from Trevino’s glove, his bat was an open question. Over parts of four seasons with the Rangers, he hit .245 with a .634 on-base plus slugging percentage, nine homers and 55 runs batted in. He had only 0.5 wins above replacement, per Baseball Reference, and his offense wiped away nearly all of the value of his defense.

With the Yankees, however, Trevino has been a more complete player. He is hitting .251 at All-Star break with a .714 O.P.S., seven homers and 27 R.B.I. Those numbers are not otherworldly, but, when combined with his defense, they add up to 2.1 WAR and have allowed Trevino to displace Kyle Higashioka as the Yankees’ starter.

“He’s been an All-Star, and not just because he’s one of, if not the, best defensive catchers in the league,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “He’s swinging the bat really well.”

It was Boone who informed Trevino of his first All-Star nod. The Yankees shared the conversation on social media on July 10. This time, it was Trevino who kept repeating himself.

Twice he asked his manager if he was being serious.

The emotional moment was one of many for Trevino since he joined the Yankees.

Before he died in 2013, his father, Joe, dreamed of his son one day donning pinstripes. The two would practice together, and Joe would imagine Trevino stepping up to the plate for big moments at Yankee Stadium.

On May 24, Trevino hit a walk-off single on what would have been Joe’s 69th birthday. Trevino added a second walk-off on June 10, his own son’s birthday.

Now Trevino is heading to Los Angeles, alongside the Yankees stars Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole, as well as fellow surprises Nestor Cortes and Clay Holmes.

Trevino is thrilled to be part of the experience. “The kid in me is definitely excited,” he said. But Trevino also has his sights set on catching even bigger games for the Yankees down the road.

“I mean, the All-Star Game is great,” he said. “Like, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for being an All-Star, but that’s not what I’m here for. I want to win a championship. I want to win.”

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