March 14, 2017

CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) Cameron Rupp is a fan favorite in Philadelphia until football season starts.

Rupp had a breakout year for the Phillies in 2016, smacking 43 extra-base hits as he replaced Carlos Ruiz as the starting catcher.

But Rupp grew up in Dallas and loves the Cowboys . That doesn't sit well in Philly where Eagles fans are obsessed with hating America's Team. Rupp enjoys posting about the Cowboys on Twitter, especially after they win, so he had plenty of opportunities because Dallas was 13-3.

You can imagine the comments he received in Philadelphia.

''I can't betray the team I grew up rooting for because of where my job takes me,'' Rupp said. ''I get grief for it. It's all in good fun. Their (replies), I'm sure are not in good fun and that's fine. I got thick skin. I try to have as much fun as I can and throw some sarcasm in there.''

When he's wearing red pinstripes, Rupp is the type of player Phillies fan have always admired. He plays hard and he's tough. Rupp proved that last May when he held on for a catch and tag despite a collision at the plate for the final out in a win against the Reds.

Rupp batted .252 with 26 doubles, 16 homers and 54 RBIs in 389 at-bats. His average exit velocity of 92.2 mph off the bat was tied for 30th in the majors among players with at least 150 batted balls, according to Major League Baseball's Statcast.

''I just want to have a better year, improve in all aspects of the game, defensively, offensively,'' Rupp said. ''There's something you can improve on every day.''

Rupp is focusing on defense this spring training, knowing he enters the season as the primary catcher following Ruiz's departure. He is working on framing pitches and calling games.

''You have new pitchers coming in every year, whether it's out of the bullpen or new starters,'' he said. ''You have to learn them, learn how they pitch.''

Ruiz, the starter for the 2008 World Series championship team, was known for his excellent defense. He was an ideal mentor for younger catchers, though Rupp joked that Ruiz benefited from catching several aces.

''I learned a lot from Chooch. He had it pretty easy with Doc (Roy Halladay) and Cliff (Lee) and Cole (Hamels),'' Rupp said. ''He got to experience a lot of veteran pitchers and come up with them and they were on the same page every day, and that's what I'm trying to do with (Aaron) Nola, (Jerad) Eickhoff and the guys I've been around and have that rapport and that relationship with them and that trust factor.''

The rebuilding Phillies are stocked with talent in the minors. They have several players waiting to get the call and two of their top prospects are catchers Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp.

Alfaro showcased his talent in the World Baseball Classic on Sunday. He hit a game-tying home run off Fernando Rodney in the eighth inning, but Colombia eventually lost 10-3 to the Dominican Republic in the 11th inning. Alfaro also threw out a base stealer.

Alfaro is slated to start the season at Triple-A while Knapp is competing for a backup job with the Phillies. Rupp isn't feeling the pressure.

''It doesn't matter who is behind you,'' Rupp said. ''They always want your job whether I have one year or 10 years in the big leagues. It's me competing for my job every year and not taking it for granted because it can be taken away from you just like that.''

---

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AP-RobMaaddi

You May Like