PORT CHARLOTTE — Every morning, catcher Jesus Sucre sits at his locker inside the Rays' spring training clubhouse and dodges pingpong balls.
"He's a very humble guy," centerfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "He's a guy who you try surrounding yourself with as much as possible."
Sucre, 28, was acquired Feb. 8 from the Mariners for future considerations. He's one of three — Curt Casali and Luke Maile are the others — vying for the second catching spot behind newly acquired Derek Norris.
Rays pitchers rave about how well Sucre calls a game. His arm, which has nabbed 35 percent of base stealers during his major-league career that spans parts of four seasons, is impressive.
Sucre's on a minor-league contract, so the Rays would have to clear a spot on the 40-man roster should he make the opening day squad. That would take a commitment the Rays don't have to make, but Sucre might be worth it.
KK with a mask
Triple-A Durham coach Ozzie Timmons coached Sucre during the Venezuelan winter league and was impressed with his skills behind the plate.
"He loves to catch," Timmons said. "It's almost like Kiermaier playing centerfield. He takes pride in it."
"From what we've seen so far this spring, the dude has an absolute cannon (for an arm), and he calls a great game," Kiermaier said. "He knows what he's doing back there. It's all about taking pride in your defense, and you can tell it means a lot to him, and I respect the guys who really cherish what they can do on that side of the game."
Sucre knows his value is his defense. The Venezuela native began studying big-league hitters in 2013, his first year in Seattle.
"I like to control the game," Sucre said. "I like to feel like I got this. I try to tell the pitchers, 'Hey, this is my plan. I know you have a plan, but this is my plan right here.' … I'm the kind of guy where all I worry about is taking care of the pitchers."
Sucre often caught Seattle's Felix Hernandez, not as easy as it sounds despite King Felix being one of baseball's top pitchers.
"Every pitch that he throws got a lot of movement," Sucre said. "It's like (Chris) Archer. When I got here, Archer was, wow. I wanted to catch him and see it. The first day I was like, 'Wow. This guy's amazing.' "
Hernandez throws a changeup with a lot of movement. Archer does the same, only with his slider. "Nasty," Sucre said.
Sucre got off to a slow start with the bat in Venezuela. The reason? He tapped his left toes three times as he waited for a pitch.
"We don't have video down in Venezuela," said Sucre, a .209 hitter in 90 big-league games. "Ozzie was telling me during the game, 'Dude, you're doing it three times.' He took a video (with his camera) and showed me. He got me doing a leg kick (instead). I started doing it, and it feels better now."
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The Sucre way
Timmons watched the way Sucre interacted with pitchers during winter ball.
"He's really confident in his catching skills," Timmons said. "He ain't afraid to jump on you if he has to. He did it down there. And they respect him, because when he says something, he knows what he's talking about."
"You can tell he is a team-first guy, which I'm all about," Kiermaier said. "I think that was a huge pickup for us."