Juan Centeno brings World Series ring, experience behind plate for Sod Poodles

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Amarillo Sod Poodles catcher Juan Centeno is batting .294 with 10 home runs and 38 RBIs this season. [John Moore/ Press Pass Sports]

Amarillo Sod Poodles catcher Juan Centeno owns an actual World Series championship ring from his 22-game stint with the Houston Astros in 2017, but he doesn’t show it off to his Sod Poodles teammates, even if they want to see it.

That ring is the highlight of the 32-year old Centeno’s baseball journey, which started in 2007 when he was drafted by the New York Mets. He has appeared in the major leagues with the Mets, Astros, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox.

Centeno has also been with the Detroit Tigers organization and signed with the Sod Poodles parent organization Arizona Diamondbacks back in February. After seven games with Triple-A Reno, Centeno was sent to Amarillo, where in 49 games he’s hit .294 with10 home runs and 38 RBIs.

Considering his position as someone who’s easily the oldest player on the Double-A Sod Poodles roster, it’s easy to view Centeno as another Crash Davis, albeit one who wouldn’t show Nuke LaLoosh his World Series ring. Similarities kind of end there, though, as Centeno isn’t bitter about spending time in the minor leagues after getting a taste of major league glory any player would want.

“Just play hard,” said Centeno of his goals while in Amarillo. “Play the kind of baseball I always play and work with the young pitchers.”

For what he’s contributed as a player, Centeno’s role with the Sod Poodles has been far more as mentor, as a sounding board for the development of the pitchers and an example for his fellow hitters. Centeno’s in Amarillo for the Diamondbacks development purposes according to manager Shawn Roof.

“Juan’s been great,” Roof said. “His impact on this team is invaluable. You really can’t put a word on it or a number, but what he does for our young pitching staff, they don’t really have to focus on our game plan. He worries about that and helps them through it.

“Just to have a guy that’s played at the highest level and won a World Series is big.”

Centeno’s stats alone show a player with plenty of pro experience. He’s appeared in 118 major league games, and his best season came in 2016, when he appeared in 55 games and hit .261.

With 15 seasons of professional experience under his belt, Centeno knows all about preparation and studying opposing pitchers. He’s applied that to his at-bats in the Texas League.

“I’m just trying to stay simple and not do too much and it’s working so far,” Centeno said. “I’m just looking middle up. They throw a lot of off-speed and sliders down.”

Sod Poodles infielder-outfielder Tristin English, who was called up to Amarillo in late June, thinks patience is a lesson younger hitters can learn from Centeno.

“Just the ability to spray the ball the other way and he picks and chooses when he wants to turn on one is big, and he has the most professional at-bats I’ve seen in my minor league career,” English said of Centeno. “He has the ability to take pitches. Maybe they were strikes and good pitches to hit, but they weren’t what he was looking for. He’s watched the at-bats before him, and he has a good idea of what the pitcher’s going to throw.”

As a left-handed hitter, Centeno has had to resist the opportunity to try to go the other way at Hodgetown, since the prevailing winds blowing out of the south are more conducive to hitting the ball to left field. On the other hand, it’s a short porch to put one out on the right field grass berm.

Like just about everyone who’s hit at Hodgetown, Centeno finds it a favorable to hitters, and says it’s the best minor league home stadium where he’s ever played.

“It’s a really good hitting park and a really good field,” Centeno said. “We’re really lucky to play here. We have really good fans. You don’t see that in a lot of Triple-A stadiums.”

Moving up to a Triple A stadium is obviously the biggest immediate goal for players passing through Hodgetown. Centeno is a touchstone for the rest of the Sod Poodles in that regard.

Fortunately, Centeno says most of the team is receptive to any advice he can give.

“Some guys don’t care to ask but this team is pretty good about that,” Centeno said. “This is a good group of guys, and they ask good questions. With my experience I just tell them what I know so they can get better quickly and get to the big leagues.”

Roof says that following Centeno’s professional example is a wise path for the rest of the team.

“I think the biggest lesson is to not try to ride the roller coaster of emotions, just stay as even keel as you can and Juan is a very calming presence in the lineup, just the way he goes about his business,” Roof said. “He’s in the trainer’s room getting his body ready, he’s in the hot tub or he’s in the cage blocking balls. This is what it takes to be a big leaguer.”

Centeno’s age gives him a since of authority in the clubhouse similar to coaches and managers. It would seem like a logical path for Centeno to follow once he decides his playing days have ended.

He’s still a pro baseball player though and trying to make the best of his chance.

“I hope I have a chance to play in the big leagues again, but I’m having a good time with the kids,”

Centeno said. “I’m not thinking about (coaching) right now. I’m just thinking about getting back to the big leagues. My body feels good, and I want to keep playing. When my body says no, I’ll stop.”

 

 

 

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