By: Brian Frank
Stevie Berman was a mainstay behind the plate for the Bisons this season. He joined the team in mid-April and ended up playing in sixty-seven games, including fifty-four games behind the plate – making him the team’s most frequently used catcher.
Surprisingly, Berman didn’t become a full-time catcher until he was in high school.
“I played short and I pitched in high school,” he said in a recent interview with The Herd Chronicles. “Then I actually had elbow surgery my freshman year of high school. My father and I realized I needed to pick a position, so we chose catcher.”
“My dad played baseball. He played with the Phillies and got up to Triple-A with them. So he kind of knew the ropes and he was like, ‘If you can hit and catch, it’s a good way to get to the big leagues.’ I always had a bigger frame too, so that helps.”
Berman didn't begin catching full time until he was in high school. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
After graduating from Saratoga High School in Saratoga, California, Berman attended Santa Clara University. He slashed .319/.432/.472 in three seasons for the Broncos.
“It was awesome,” he said of his time at Santa Clara. “It was a great group of guys. I couldn’t really ask for a better experience. We had our ups and downs performance wise, but I had a lot of fun.”
Following his junior season, he was hoping to be selected in Major League Baseball’s 2016 June Amateur Draft.
“Draft day is actually crazy for a lot of people,” he explained. “You’re either really excited or bummed. There’s a lot of emotions. It’s kind of a rollercoaster – you expect to go a little earlier or a little later. When my name was called, I’d actually stopped watching the draft and somebody called me and was like, ‘Hey, you just got drafted.’ I was like, ‘No way!’ I was with my family so I couldn’t really ask for a better experience.”
Berman was selected by the Dodgers in the thirty-first round and was assigned to play in the Arizona League for the AZL Dodgers, before quickly being promoted to the Midwest League’s Great Lakes Loons.
“I think the biggest thing with pro ball is being ready every day,” he said. “We play every day, 150 days. You need to be at your best every single day, whenever your name is called. It doesn’t matter if you feel good or bad, you just need to be ready.”
He spent the rest of 2016 and the summer of 2017 with Great Lakes, playing alongside Dodgers prospects like Will Smith, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Oneil Cruz, Gavin Lux, Connor Wong, and Mitch White.
“We had a pretty good team growing up with 16-17 Great Lakes,” he said. “A lot of those guys are in the big leagues now. It’s fun to see them really excelling.”
Berman believes that coming up through an organization known for player development and developing young pitchers was beneficial for him as a catcher.
“The Dodgers are really good at player development and getting to know the pitchers and what they want to do with them,” he said. “So I feel like, as a young catcher getting drafted by them, I kind of learned those ropes, got those relationships, asked the right questions, and those kinds of things. So that definitely can help my process.”
Behind the plate at Sahlen Field. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
Berman advanced through the Dodgers system and had made it up to Double-A Tulsa when the 2020 minor-league season was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My fiancé and I never had a chance to move anywhere – so we actually moved to San Diego at that time,” he said of how he spent his summer in 2020. “We started renting out there. So it was kind of a blessing in disguise. I got a lot more time with my fiancé and with my family. Obviously I didn’t get to play baseball but we made the most of it for sure.”
“We had a baseball group and good facility at Core Performance in San Diego. I had a good group of guys keeping me ready to go.”
After spending most of 2021 playing at Tulsa, Berman was surprised when he was traded to the Minnesota Twins organization for pitcher Andrew Vasquez in late August.
“It was a surprise because the trade deadline had already passed,” he said, “but I didn’t realize non-forty-man guys could be traded still. I thought the trades were all over and then I went on the last possible day.”
After playing just one game with the Triple-A St. Paul Saints this season, Berman was released by the Twins.
“Good group of guys there, but I didn’t really necessarily fit,” he explained. “They had a lot of catchers over there at Triple-A this year. It didn’t really end up working out. So, I ended up asking for my release and coming here (to Buffalo) and it’s been awesome since I’ve been here.”
When Berman arrived in Buffalo, he quickly realized that the player the Dodgers had traded him for the previous season, Andrew Vasquez, was also on the Bisons.
“We actually had a couple mutual friends – because we’re both from California – so we had a couple mutual family friends that knew him already and they were like – ‘Oh my god, you would love him,’” he chuckled. “So then we ended up playing with each other and the first thing he said was, ‘Thanks for boosting my career.’ Because when he was traded for me, he went right to the big leagues. So that was pretty funny.”
Berman spent most of the season sharing time behind the plate with top prospect Gabriel Moreno. He said that even though they play the same position, he was rooting for Moreno's success.
“One coach always told me, ‘You’re not going to make it to the big leagues or not make it to the big leagues because of someone else. It’s always going to be based on yourself,’” Berman said. “For Gabby, it was awesome to see him grow as a catcher. He’s very talented. He’s an unbelievable hitter too. Watching him at such a young age do what he’s doing is really awesome.”
Interim pitching coach Brendan Kelly, pitcher Brandon Eisert, and Berman. Photo Credit: Brian M. Frank, The Herd Chronicles
The Bisons have only had one or two traditional starting pitchers for most of this season. Having so many bullpen games requires some extra preparation for Buffalo’s catchers.
“It’s a lot more game planning, I would say,” Berman said. “Just because when a starter usually goes five or six innings – like Casey Lawrence would always give us at least five quality innings – then you have that for five innings. But with relievers, now you have to plan for two innings, then one inning, then another one.”
The team has also used forty-six different pitchers this year, the second most hurlers used in a single season in the history of the team, dating back to 1877.
“I think as a catcher you need to be comfortable,” Berman said of getting familiar with so many pitchers. “Especially in Triple-A there’s a lot of movement up and down from the big leagues. So being able to actively get to know them and get to know their pitches and what they like to do, all that kind of stuff is challenging but I think as a baseball player you understand it’s very important. So I think it’s something we target here.”
Berman has enjoyed his time in the Queen City and is happy he decided to make the move to the Blue Jays organization.
“I’ve absolutely loved it,” he smiled. “I love the city and the fans are awesome to us. The players and the coaching staff here have been very welcoming. Especially because we have a lot of free agents here and they’ve always been welcoming towards us. It never felt like we were outsiders versus guys who came up with the Blue Jays. It was always that we were all together. I think that comes with good leadership up top and also from our veteran guys as well.”