Monday, January 12, 2015

The Twins by position: Catcher

Kurt Suzuki had a career
year hitting last season and
parlayed that into a two-year
contract extension.
I saw an item this weekend about the Arizona Diamondbacks' catching situation. Miguel Montero had been their No. 1 catcher since 2009, but his offense has been down the past two seasons, he has a sizable contract and he'll turn 32 this summer; the Snakes traded him earlier this winter to the Cubs for a couple of minor leaguers.

Now they're looking for catching help, and not getting anywhere. They have two on their 40-man roster: last's year's backup Tuffy Goeswisch, a 31-year-old with all of 55 games on his major league resume, and Oscar Hernandez, a Rule 5 draftee out of the Tampa Bay organization who was left off the Rays' 40 after repeating Low A ball.

It's not a promising duo. Yet when the Twins outrighted Eric Fryer -- their primary backup catcher for most of 2014 -- last month, Arizona didn't claim him. Presumably they didn't see Fryer as any sort of upgrade over Goeswisch or Hernandez, and certainly not as a guy they could start 125 games behind the plate.

Catcher is a unique position, the most supremely specialized of the non-pitching positions. Kurt Suzuki, the Twins No.1 catcher these days, doesn't do any one thing superbly, but he does everything well enough. If Suzuki stays healthy, the Twins are OK behind the plate.

Behind him ... well, there's Josmil Pinto, who hits better than Suzuki but is regarded as a poor receiver, and there's Chris Herrmann, who hits left-handed and has some positional versatility. In fact, the Twins list Herrmann on their 40-man roster as an outfielder.

Paul Molitor should already know this, but Herrmann doesn't hit well enough to merit sustained playing time in the outfield. If he makes the team, it's as a backup to Suzuki. Pinto hits well enough to merit sustained time at designated hitter, but Ron Gardenhire was reluctant to play him there without a third catcher on the roster, and now Kennys Vargas appears to have the first crack at the DH job.

And Fryer, while not on the 40, remains in the organization and remains the superior defensive option as Suzuki's caddy.

Were Gardenhire still the manager, I would assume Fryer will be the backup catcher. Who makes the roster figures to tell us something about Molitor's priorities -- how he balances hitting potential and defensive skills, and how he views the importance of the platoon advantage.

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