Thursday, March 8, 2012

Camp battle: Extra catcher

Drew Butera had
the most time behind
the plate for the
2011 Twins.
The Twins have nine catchers in camp: Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, Drew Butera, Rene Rivera, J.R. Towles, Danny Lehmann, Chris Herrmann, Dan Rohlfing and Danny Rams.

The first two are assured spots on the 25-man roster. The second three are duking it out for a likely roster spot, with the two losers going to Rochester to await a call. The other four are around to catch bullpens, fill in at the end of exhibitions and try to leave a positive impression on Ron Gardenhire and Co.

Of those four, Herrmann is the one with the brightest future, but he remains a bit raw behind the plate. For this spring, he's not in the running; by next year, he might be the frontrunner to the backup catcher job.

For now, it's Butera, Rivera and Towles. A quick summary:

The Twins outrighted
Rene Rivera after the
2011 season, but
he opted to return on
a minor-league deal.
Butera has the advantage of being on the 40-man roster. He still has an option. A good defensive catcher (which Doumit emphatically is not) but no hitter.

Rivera is somewhat like Butera, except slower and not on the 40-man roster. Rivera put up even worse numbers in 2011 than Butera.

Butera's OPS+ -- a figure that adjusts On-base Plus Slugging for park effects and league -- was 24, which means he was 24 percent of league average at the plate. Rivera's OPS+ was 13. It is astoundingly difficult to hit that poorly and remain in the majors.

Which brings us to Towles, a thus-far failed prospect signed as a minor-league free agent after years in the Houston organization. He burst through the Astros system in a rush, but was unable to hang on to the job there in three opportunities.

While his minor league numbers generally look good, it should be remembered that the Texas League (Double-A) and Pacific Coast League (Triple A) are generally better for hitters than the Eastern and International Leagues, where the Twins have their affiliates.

J.R. Towles signed
in mid-December as
a minor-league free
I will take it for granted that Towles is a better hitter than Butera or Rivera; he can hardly be worse. And I will also take it for granted that Towles is a better receiver than Doumit; again, he can hardly be worse.

This may come down to how much the Twins really want Doumit to catch. He's supposed to do the bulk of the DHing, but the Twins under even the most optimistic scenario need someone other than Mauer to catch 30 to 40 games. If they are willing to live with Doumit's defense in most of those games, a defensive specialist might make sense; Butera or Rivera would be around to serve as a defensive sub for Doumit or a caddy for Mauer (taking the final few innings in blowouts).

But if Doumit is to be more tightly limited than that, the No. 3 guy might wind up with 200 or so plate appearances, and the Twins may well prefer Towles for that job.

1 comment:

  1. Butera gets the job, if there is a 3rd catcher. To get 200 AB's he would need to start 50 games, at which point he isn't a 3rd catcher. Towles will start at AAA, if something happens to Mauer or Doumit he could become the 2nd catcher. I expect the 3rd catcher to get about 10 AB's a month. Butera can handle that.