Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pirate Catching

We all know the street talk - Ryan Doumit is winter trade bait, Chris Snyder will hold the fort for a season or two, and then Tony Sanchez takes over.

It may play out just that way, but it's not the only scenario in town. Dewey and Snyder put together are the package the Pirates want; individually, they're both lacking.

Snyder came as advertised: low average, decent OBP, good power (.207/15/48), and capable defensively (except for the maddening inability to catch throws to the plate.) Doumit actually looked good as a twice-a-week catcher, though his bat (.251/13/45) was disappointing.

The team has a lot of bucks tied up in these two guys: Dewey makes $5.1M and Snyder $5.75M in 2011, with hefty options for both in 2012 (Doumit - $7.25M; Snyder $6.75M) that are quite unlikely to be exercised.

The Pirates, contrary to popular belief, can certainly afford to carry both of them in 2011. There is no guarantee that the FO can move Doumit without eating a good portion of his 2011 contract. The smarter play may be to try and rebuild his value somewhat and keep him in his hybrid role - backup catcher, occasional right fielder, and switch-hitting pinch hitter - for the short term. Snyder is a lock to start in 2011.

Whether Dewey stays or goes, though, the Pirates are faced with coming up with another catcher in the bigs. If Doumit remains on the roster, they may opt to use Neil Walker as an emergency catcher; he has the pedigree. If not, there are internal options, though none that are particularly rosy; they may have to go hunting for bench guy.

Tony Sanchez, 22, the 2009 first rounder, was ticketed to start in High A, go to Altoona, and be at Indy in 2011. But a beaning and broken jaw put him at least a half-season behind in those plans. It was a tough year anyway; he had shoulder problems early on, so a break may have been in his best long-term interest. He's in the Arizona Fall league now, trying to make up for lost time.

But his arrival in Pittsburgh is now pushed back to 2012 at the earliest; if he has any more injury problems or hits a roadblock at the upper levels, the Pirates' catching plans in 2012 are problematic.

And putting all the eggs in one basket does carry a risk: Ronny Paulino was the catcher of the future in 2006, then Ryan Doumit in 2008...

Jason Jaramillo has the glove to stick in the show, but a .149 BA isn't going to cut it. He still has an option remaining, so is likely to start out at Indy in 2011.

Erik Kratz was one of 2010s feel-good stories; he hit .118 and looked overmatched at the plate in the show. He was removed from the 40-man roster and is a minor-league free agent; the odds of him returning to the organization are fairly slim.

There are three interesting players in the system, Hector Gimenez, Eric Fryer and Kris Watts, that may play into the Pirate plans. Gimenez, 28, is a journeyman that raked (.305/16/72) for Altoona in 2010. He's a minor-league free agent, but the Bucs, given the catching situation in the upper levels, might be wise to get him inked and assigned to Indy, where he can provide a Raul Chavez type insurance policy.

Fryer, 25, was part of the return for Eric Hinske, and had a good, if shortened (he was another minor leaguer beaned in 2010, losing considerable playing time) season at Bradenton (.300/8/48). He's old for his level, but athletic with a good arm, and may have a future. We'll see shortly; he's Rule 5 eligible in 2011.

2006 draft pick Watts, 26, is a lefty with a little pop, so-so defensive skills, and a great eye; he's got a .360 OBP and generally walks as often as he whiffs. He's been a backup the past couple of seasons. Watts is Rule 5 eligible, and if he makes it through (which he should) will form the catching tandem with Fryer at Altoona.

The other guys are young: Ramon Cabrera (20), Dylan Child (19), Elias Diaz (19), Jairo Marquez (22), Joey Schoenfeld (19), and Matt Skirving (20). None are ready for prime time players yet.

Overall, this isn't a position of strength throughout the organization, from top to bottom. The future of the position pretty much depends on the development of Tony Sanchez. But, like the bullpen, it's a spot that can be bolstered through the market; every year unleashes a flood of good glove, so-so hit receivers to hold the fort.

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