BILLINGS — It was the bottom of the 10th inning, and Bennett Hostetler strode to the plate with the bases loaded and his team trailing by a run.
This was his moment.
Up until that July 29 evening — and after it — the 2022 Minor League Baseball campaign was one of acclimation for Hostetler, his first full season in High-A as a member of the Miami Marlins organization.
First, the Bozeman native moved from his more natural environs in the infield to catcher. It was a positional about-face he hadn’t anticipated. Hostetler was also trying to find his rhythm with the bat and was hitting just .210.
This, though, served as a breakthrough. On the first pitch he saw, Hostetler swung at an offering low in the strike zone and crushed the ball over the left field wall for a grand slam, sending the Beloit Sky Carp to a 6-3 victory over Midwest League opponent Quad Cities at ABC Supply Stadium in Beloit, Wisconsin.
Aside from the fun of rounding the bases and the joy of being mobbed by his teammates at home plate, Hostetler saw it as a shot in the arm of his season.
“It was one of those things that it seemed like I needed,” Hostetler told MTN Sports during a phone conversation from Minnesota. “I had been struggling at the plate. And to be able to hit a home run to win a game was especially cool for me.”
Hostetler had family in the ballpark that night, too, which made it that much more special.
Though the home run was his personal highlight, Hostetler hopes to one day look back at the entire 2022 season as a seminal moment in his career.
Up until then, Hostetler had played primarily as a shortstop and third baseman, including his time with the Bozeman Bucks American Legion program and then at North Dakota State, when he won a Summit League MVP and was picked in the 18th round of the 2021 MLB first-year player draft by the Marlins.
Hostetler said he hadn’t really played catcher since he was 7 or 8 years old, and transitioning to that position at this stage of his baseball life was not really what he had in mind.
But the Marlins have invested in some young organizational cornerstones like infielders Jose Salas, Yiddi Cappe, Nasim Nunez, Jordan McCants and Khalil Watson, who are all 22 or younger. Yet they like the 24-year-old Hostetler’s bat enough to see if they can morph him into a catcher with an offensive flair.
Was he reluctant or eager to make the switch?
“It was a little bit of both,” Hostetler said. “It was me being stubborn and thinking to myself that, you know, I want to prove to everybody that I could play infield at a high level. I think I'm capable of it.
“But on the other hand it was a little bit of me having to be realistic knowing that the Marlins have put a substantial amount of money into young middle infielders. And in professional baseball, if you get paid a bunch of money you’re going to be given a bunch of opportunities.
“I just tried to think about it, like, if the only way for me to play professional baseball was to play catcher I would have said, ‘All right, it's a deal.’ So I just tried to stay positive about it and tried to help the team in any way I could.”
The most trying adjustments of playing catcher, Hostetler said, had to do with muscle memory, fatigue and commanding a pitching staff.
He knows shortstop like the back of his hand. The thought process seems second nature. As a catcher, it took him time to reset. He had to almost retrain himself on what to with the baseball.
He also had to take control of Beloit’s pitchers, learn their ins and outs and become aware of how to call a game.
“Catching is a spot where you can go up through the organization a little bit quicker,” Hostetler said. “They told me that they thought that I had the right body type, quick feet, good hands — everything that they look for with someone that they're trying to transition to a catcher. They said that I checked off all the boxes.
“A lot went into it. As soon as I bought in I was just trying to do everything I could to be ready. And now I'm doing the same for next season.”
The fatigue he felt in his legs became an issue. And that affected his offense. Hostetler was plugged into the lineup as designated hitter at times, but it wasn’t until he was able to take a few days off during Major League Baseball’s All-Star break in July that he felt like he got over the hump.
Hostetler caught 68 games. He committed 11 errors and had 14 passed balls. He threw out 29 would-be base-stealers on 110 tries.
“A lot of trial and error,” he said.
Offensively, Hostetler finished the season with a .232 average, nine home runs, 53 RBIs and 49 runs scored in 101 games. He struck out 90 times, walked 31 times and had an OPS of .674.
His second half was better than his first.
“The second half of the season, something clicked and started hitting better and a little bit of power came back,” Hostetler said. “I was never worried about it. I understood going into it that this first season as a catcher might not be my best offensive season, and it's going to be full of struggles.
“But I was just doing my best to not think about that. In the second half, you know, I kind of started to figure stuff out and felt a little bit more like myself at the plate.”
Hostetler said he will spend time this offseason in Fargo, North Dakota — home of his alma mater NDSU — where he will begin training for the 2023 season. He said he plans to resume baseball activities in November.
The goal for next season is to continue to move up the chain. The hope, he said, is to begin next year with the Marlins’ Double-A club in Pensacola, Florida, in the Southern League.
“The thing about baseball and minor league baseball especially is you won't know until next spring training,” Hostetler said. “But that's my mindset going into it, is hopefully that I'll be able to be in Double-A next year and be able to keep advancing myself through the organization.
“But I'm not really too worried about it. I'm just going to do my best to keep getting better and work on the things that maybe I wasn't very good at and continue to do things that I did well. That’s the goal.”