Hawaiian native Kale Sumner was drafted in the 32nd round of the 2013 MLB Draft, so it's easy to understand if you don't immediately know who this is. In 2013, he hit a respectable .253/.360/.337 with three home runs in 46 games with the Staten Island Yankees. He was drafted as a catcher, but he mostly played third base and spent time at first and in the outfield, making it look like he had been permanently moved from out behind the plate.
Sumner wasn't immediately assigned to a level in 2014, making it easy to assume that he would be returning to Short Season. However, within three weeks of the minor league season, top catching prospect Luis Torrens was placed on the disabled list and Sumner was called up to Low-A Charleston to replace him. Since joining the RiverDogs, he has hit a solid .238/.431/.429 with two home runs in 58 plate appearances and has played almost exclusively as a catcher.
I was lucky enough to speak with Kale about his career, learning to catch, and being drafted:
You've played all over the diamond in the last two seasons. Are you back to being a catcher in 2014? Is that where you prefer to be?
Yes, right now they want me to focus on just catching. I came into spring training thinking I was going to be playing more corner infield. But when I showed up, they told me [I would be catching]. As a guy that played all over the field throughout college and high school I just love being in the lineup. Position dosnt bother me. As long as I'm in there. Being on the field is just a plus.
What was the scouting/drafting process like? Did you know you were being scouted or did it come to you as a surprise? Tell us how it all went down.
I knew I had some teams that were looking at me. Because I live in Hawaii, being so far away from other states, it's hard to get noticed [by] the scouts. I talked with the Yankees scout maybe once or twice before the draft. On draft day I talked with a scout from another team and thought they were going to take me. Then the Yankees scout texted me before their pick and told me I was on their board. It did come to me as a big surprise when they drafted me.
What would you say you do really well on the baseball diamond and what are you looking to work on this season?
I would say that the best thing I do on the baseball field is work hard. Being a guy not big in size and [without] the off-the-charts tools. I count on my hard work to pay off on the field. Also, because I can play multiple positions on the field, I have to work even harder because I can't just focus on one position. This season I plan on working to improve on my catching skill. I have only played there one year in high school and one year in college. I have a lot to catch up on and to work on, having so little time behind the plate. I also will work on my hitting because everyone knows as long as you hit you will play.
What has been your greatest learning experience after being drafted? Was it the up in competition, something your coaches or teammates taught you, or something else?
One would have to be having to deal with failure. Baseball is a game of failing and if you're not able to overcome that then all you will do is keep failing. As a player that is not an everyday starter, our hitting coach Gonzo told me to not take anything for granted. You maybe only play 2-3 times a week, don't give away any at-bats. I took that in the most, I think. Having to prove myself. I prepare myself to treat every game as if it were my last because I may never know when the next time I will play. This gives me the passion and desire to do good and perform on the field.
How was your first spring training? Did you get a chance to interact with any of the major league players?
First spring training was pretty rough, especially learning a new position. I had a rough time adjusting to how hard [they throw] and how much movement some of these pitchers have. But overall I was happy in how I ended by just trying to get better everyday. I only met a couple at a dinner we had that was hosted by Carlos Beltran. Other than that, it was still cool to meet some of the top prospects and the players at the higher levels.
I think Sumner has, so far, been relatively solid for a later-round draft pick. This is his age-23 season and he's still in Low-A, but he has shown an intriguing ability to get on base. I'd like to see how he adapts to being a full-time catcher and follow how he develops from here.