Saturday, October 22, 2011


Well, ya can't say the Bucs didn't give everyone a look - Chris Snyder, Jason Jaramillo, Ryan Doumit, Dusty Brown, Wyatt Toregas, Eric Fryer, Mike McKenry, Matt Pagnozzi...heck, everyone caught except for the anointed one, Tony Sanchez. Go figure.

Anyway, you're all aware of the travails of the Pittsburgh catching corps. You're also probably aware that both Dewey and Snyder are in costly option years - $7.25/$8.25 in the next two years for Doumit and $6.75M for Snyder in 2012. Both will be bought out, and it's possible if unlikely that the FO will try to sign one or the other to a more team-friendly contract.

The Pirates template is for a defense-first receiver who can call a game. Neither of those attributes are generally associated with Dewey. While his stick is welcome (.271/67/266 in 611 games), he can't seem to stay in one piece very long. In fact, he's started behind the plate 100 times in a season just once, and had over 300 at-bats twice.

Chris Snyder, while a well respected glove man, came to the Pirates with a rep for a bad back and sure enough, a herniated disc in early June ended his 2011 season after just 34 games and 119 at-bats. He started the year on the 15-day DL because of a lower back injury. It's too bad he's so fragile, because he was the perfect candidate for the spot.

Of the other guys, Brown and Toregas have left the team, Fryer will start in the higher minors, and Jaramillo, McKenry and Pagnozzi are returning. There are a few catchers out on the free market, but they are the usual second-line suspects. To hold the fort a couple of seasons until the next wave hits Pittsburgh, the Bucs could go for 36 year olds Ramon Hernandez or Rod Barajas.

It's an interesting position that Jaramillo, McKenry & Pagnozzi are in. If the Bucs don't make a move, two of the three will be catching quite a bit in Pittsburgh. And that's not real good news.

Jaramillo, 29, is probably the best two-way guy of the trio, even with a lifetime BA of .235. The switchhitter  is a good glove, and has started 90 games the past three seasons for the Bucs. But when the two big league catchers went down, JJ was out with what became a lengthy elbow injury caused when he was caught flush by a foul ball and it opened the door for the catcher derby.

That gave Scooby Doo McKenry, 26, a chance, after Brown and Toregas auditions in the show fizzled. He was a good receiver and game-caller, but not so hot at throwing out runners, making plays at the plate or hitting a baseball.

Eric Fryer, 26, got a shot, too, and looked OK if very green. Jaramillo came back eventually, but Pagnozzi, 29, a late-season waiver claim taken from Colorado is widely seen as a challenger to JJ as a Pirate insurance policy. Pagnozzi is reputedly another good glove, bad hit backstop.

The trio can't hit a lick - Jaramillo's lifetime BA is .235, Scooby-Doo's is .213, and Pagnozzi's has a .276 MLB average, but in just 76 at-bats; his minor league BA is .220 in 625 games, a little better indicator, we think, of his stick. To make it a little more interesting, JJ is out of the options, while the other pair each have one remaining.

And it looks like that's the trio that will remain in the 2012 mix from the last season's catcher posse, with Fryer still in the organization but learning his craft. It's possible that two of the three will split catching duties, although the main scenario involves a three-way fight for the back-up role.

It's more likely the Pirates will bring someone aboard to catch in the 110-game range like Barajas or  Hernandez. We know Chris Iannetta is available, and the Bucs were asking about Geovany Soto.

The Pirate future is invested in Tony Sanchez and Eric Fryer. Sanchez looked like he had it all going at Bradenton in 2010 before a broken jaw limited his season to just 59 games. The lack of reps showed at Altoona, when he hit just .241 although his defensive skills looked sharp. The reports we've seen say he needs to shorten his swing. The more he goes for the fence, the less solid contact he makes, a familiar conundrum for young hitters.

But now it looks like he'll start 2012 with the Curve, and that means he's at least a year behind the schedule the Pirates had him on as the number one pick in 2009.

Fryer came to Pittsburgh as part of the 2009 Yankee deal for Eric Hinske. He began 2011 with Altoona, where he hit .345/5/16 in 37 games. In 38 Indy games, he put up a line of .269/2/11. He needs time behind the dish; he's only caught 225 games in the minors. That's partially due to being fairly athletic, as he's spent considerable time playing the outfield, and also because he's been Sanchez's caddy, backing him up rather than starting.

While he's no sure thing, he does have some potential, and we'll see if the Pirates give him some time to develop his skills. Fryer is penciled in to start out at Indy, but whether he'll be the man or continue as a jack-of-all-trades player will tell us a lot about how he's considered by the FO.

There are some intriguing prospects at the A level like Ramon Cabrera who won the Florida State batting crown with a .343 average, but all are works in progress and don't appear to be fast-track candidates.

Catching is a position in flux, and the Pirates have several routes they can take in 2012 to fill the spot, going internal, signing a FA, or swinging a trade. Add it to your checklist of hot stove items that need addressed.

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