For Torrey Pines grad Stubbs, baseball superstardom comes catch by catch

Only four short years ago, catcher Garrett Stubbs, then a star of Torrey Pines High School’s varsity baseball program, left North County behind to attend USC and lend his talents to the mighty Trojans.

Now Stubbs is making moves again by transitioning to the minor leagues; this after earning his degree from USC this past spring and putting Trojans baseball back on the map.

“It’s been going well so far,” said Stubbs on a recent Sunday afternoon about his career. “I think the key is that you can’t think too far ahead, and you can’t think about the successes or the failures.”

That seems to be working for him. Along with receiving his degree, Stubbs also recently won the Johnny Bench Award — a prize annually bestowed upon the country’s best catcher in college baseball.

“It was a huge honor just to be nominated,” Stubbs said of the award, in which he beat out a nation of young catchers, first making it to the top three. The announcement that he had come out on top was made at a ceremony in Kansas City.

“We had a huge year with USC and I was proud to win it for the school.”

Stubbs winning marked the first time in Johnny Bench Award history that the same school has won twice: USC catcher Jeff Clement last won top honors in 2005. It was well-deserved, considering Stubbs led the Trojans to their first play-off slot in 10 long seasons.

Stubbs’ talent on the field also caught the attention of MLB when the Houston Astros set their sights on him.

“Last year when I was a junior and became eligible for the draft, the Astros called up and asked me to sign, but I wanted to come back to USC for my senior year and get my degree. I think I had a chip on my shoulder, since we hadn’t gotten to the playoffs yet.”

His gamble of holding off to join the minors wound up paying off, and in June he was drafted again — but not before being voted the Pac-12 defensive player of the year while at USC, yet another coup for the 22-year-old player.

“I know my agent was in discussions” with the Astros, said Stubbs. “But it was a complete surprise watching the draft on TV and hearing my name. I hadn’t personally talked to them at all, so everything came together faster than you’d think.”

Now, Stubbs has begun the process of working his way through the minors and, he hopes, up to the majors — but not until participating in the grueling farm system that weeds out players until the cream of the crop enters the big leagues.

“I’m happy to be with the Astros, since they take a lot of pride in their younger players,” said Stubbs, who already worked his way up to the second level of the system and is in Davenport, Iowa, playing for the Quad Cities River Bandits. “I could play the rest of the season here, or they can move me to the next level, which is another team in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.”

Regardless of what happens from here on out, Stubbs has his many accomplishments to look back on. “I’d have to say that my entire senior season at a USC was a highlight,” he said. “I was most proud to get my degree from USC and continue their athletic tradition. Being a part of that was really special, and it’s nothing that anyone can take away from me.”

This coming season, another Stubbs will be found on the field playing for the Trojans — Garrett’s brother CJ. Also a graduate of Torrey Pines, CJ is following in his older brother’s footsteps (and their two grandfathers before them), taking part in the Trojan tradition.

“It just so happens that he’s also playing baseball for USC, but he’s making his own legacy and path,” said Stubbs. “I try to help him as much as possible, but he’s one of those people who works really hard and has the same kind of passion and competitiveness as I do.”

Despite all the attention he’s received (including recent stories in the Los Angeles Times and USA Today), Stubbs will continue to focus on the game at hand.

“It’s been a lot of fun so far,” he said, “and I hope to continue playing for a very long time.”