By Kevin Kernan
Yankees catching coordinator Josh Paul
TAMPA — Beware the Wolfpack.
That’s where catching leaders are formed and a team-first atmosphere is fostered. They even have their own flag — a combination wolf/dragon.
This is a big part of how the Yankees are moving forward as an organization with a strong group of young catchers, highlighted by Gary Sanchez.
The Wolfpack was created by Yankees catching coordinator Josh Paul, who caught nine years in the majors. He was a manager and scout in the Yankees system, and Gary Denbo, the Yankees vice president of player development, smartly named Paul to this position several years ago.
Over at the Yankees minor league complex, the Wolfpack has its own field (Field 4), their own catching drill area the players maintain themselves, their own gear bags with the insignia and even T-shirts.
There is a sense of pride and togetherness that is setting the tone for the coming generation of Yankees.
“Our motto is the lone wolf dies alone,’’ Paul told The Post on Thursday at Steinbrenner Field. “It’s not something you can just teach. It’s an idea that they have to live. In spring training we come out as a group. We do our work in groups. At the end of the day we sweep our dojo. And then we all walk in as a group.
“If you don’t live it, you don’t understand it. At first guys were like this is kind of corny, but by the end of spring training this is a really, really tight-knit group. We don’t let anybody who is not a catcher in the dojo.’’
The catchers’ Wolfpack flag designed by Josh Paul.
As you walk into the catching “dojo’’ there is this sign: Cuidado con los Lobos Locos!
“Beware of the crazy wolves,’’ Paul explained. “We have a lot of fun with it. We basically instill selflessness. When guys try to be separate, I don’t say anything, the coaches don’t say anything, but all the other catchers, they bring him back in. The bottom line is we are looking to raise catchers that are willing to endure a lot of stuff, physically, mentally, emotionally. At the end of the day they are putting their team first.
“The three guys we have in [major league] camp all came from there,’’ he said of Sanchez, Austin Romine and Kyle Higashioka.
“Josh makes you think,’’ Romine said. “There is a wealth of knowledge. I like the Wolfpack mentality, it sets you up to succeed. This is a great group of catchers.’’
“Josh polished my skills as a catcher. He was very helpful to me to tweak whatever I was missing at that time,’’ Sanchez said through an interpreter, also crediting Julio Mosquera, who is now the manager at the organization’s Single-A Staten Island affiliate.
In addition to his many duties, Paul, 41, is a big part of Joe Girardi’s spring training staff, especially with Tony Pena taking off soon to manage the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic.
“Over the last two years Josh has changed the way we develop catchers,’’ Denbo said. “He’s changed the way we evaluate catchers. He’s just done an outstanding job of building upon in what we had in the years past. Julio did a great job, and Julio moved on to manage.
“Josh has partnered up with Dan Greenlee, who is our player development analyst. Josh has had a big effect on not just our catching core program but on player development and scouting. You can see the results.’’
Yes, you can.
Said general manager Brian Cashman: “Josh is a tremendous coach, a great baseball mind, passionate energy with knowledge — a lethal combination, the combination you want for a coach. He learned under a lot of greats. He’s made every single one of our catchers significantly better with his program. He instills pride. And that flag projects: ‘We’re a special unit. There’s something different about us compared to everybody else in the game.’ ’’
Yankees catchers walk to the training area under a sign designed by Josh Paul.
“The fun part of my job is putting the right people in the right situations,’’ Paul said. “I establish the culture and introduce the concepts. Once the season starts I have an unbelievably talented group of coaches that do the work during the season.’’
Paul managed two years in the Yankees system, did pro scouting for four more and is into his third year as catching coordinator. He played for former catchers Mike Scioscia and Joe Maddon.
“My ultimate goal is to be a major league manager,’’ Paul said. “I think all the different hats that I’m wearing are going to add up to me having a background that is unique.’’
As for that flag, “Last year at this time I just went on Google images and sorted through about a million things,” he said. “I don’t even know what it is, but that one stood out.
“That flag encapsulates our whole culture. One wolf by himself can’t do anything. An entire pack of wolves can take down a grizzly bear. Beware the crazy wolves, you got to be nuts to be a catcher. We’re all crazy.
“If you’re not, it doesn’t work.’’
It works. Beware the Wolfpack.