Monday, December 6, 2010

State of the Team - Catchers

Update, 6:43 PM - 
The Mets today signed C Dusty Ryan to a Minor League Deal (official press release here) - he'll likely play in Buffalo, or possibly even Binghamton. Not exactly too exciting of a sign, given his .199/.333/.349 line in AAA Portland last year (San Diego), although he does show a good eye for the strike zone with 50 walks in 89 games last year. He appears to be average defensively, as he threw out 26% last year for Portland.

Original Post, 6:41 PM -
So for my first positional analysis, I'll look at catchers. Currently, the Mets have 2 catchers on the 40-man roster - Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas. Nickeas went 2 for 10 in 5 games last year as a September call-up, with 5 strikeouts and 1 error in 4 games behind the plate while not throwing out any of the 3 basestealers who attempted to go on him. This was on top of a season spent mostly in  Binghamton with seven games in Buffalo, where he hit .276/.389/.382 and threw out a third of runners. Look for Nickeas to play in Buffalo this year to provide depth, but hopefully he won't be needed at the Major League level.

Thole, on the other hand, showed a lot more promise. Thole turned 24 in October, and in his second year in the Majors, played in 77 games and posted a line of .277/.357/.366 - not quite at his previous years line of .321/.356/.396, but still pretty good. Note the fact that even with a decline in average, his OBP stayed level - a good sign for a mature hitter that looks to be the Mets' everyday catcher going forward. Also impressive was the improvement in his defense - he threw out 44% of runners, and appeared better at controlling a staff. There's almost no reason that Thole shouldn't start as the everyday catcher.

This, of course, leaves open the question of who is going to be the backup. Names to consider as free agents include the switch-hitting Josh Bard, Russell Martin (who was non-tendered by the Dodgers and reportedly desires a move to the East Coast, Dioner Navarro or Wil Nieves. If they don't get one of those 4, they'll likely have to settle for either an older catcher, such as Henry Blanco, Jason LaRue, Chad Moeller, Matt Treanor or Gregg Zaun. Basically, it boils down to how much of the workload they think Thole can handle. If it's 4 days a week and you need a replacement for the other three, then they could spring for one of the more pricey catchers. If not, look for them to go for more of a mentor-type. Also look for them to bring in a minor-league free agent to provide additional depth, someone along the lines of a Robinzon Diaz, Michael Barrett, Steve Holm or Raul Chavez, as well as players such as Salomon Manriquez, Shawn Riggans, Omir Santos(signed by Detroit) or Luke Montz, all who spent last year in the Mets' system. Whoever they bring in/keep will almost definitely playing in Buffalo, though.

Beyond Thole, Kai Gronauer is likely the next highest prospect. After splitting .291/.359/.379 between Savannah and St. Lucie last year at 23, projects him to break camp as Binghamton's everyday starter. Also a name to consider is 20-year old Alberto Cordero, who split .282/.311/.469 between rookie and Low-A, and could be a sleeper in the SAL next year for Savannah, as well as 20 year old Juan Centeno, who split .320/.368/.424 in 44 games between Brooklyn, St. Lucie and Binghamton. The coolest names among catchers in the system has to be a toss-up between Jean Luc Blaquiere, Jeyckol De Leon, Alex Machillanada or Nelfi Zapata.

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