Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Baltimore Orioles: Ranking the AL East Catchers

On November 15, I decided I was going to rank the AL East by position, comparing the Baltimore Orioles to the rest of the toughest division in baseball.

But after several comments that it would make more sense to let free agency play out first (much like Dan Duquette), I decided to hold off on those rankings.

However, I did rank the catcher position, so as I start this series of posts, I will spend a little time going back and looking at my thoughts from four months ago as I rank the catchers.

1. New York Yankees

Brian McCann, Austin Romine, Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy

At the time, I ranked the Yankees fourth, and that was only because of volume over the Tampa Bay Rays.

But then, they went out and got Brian McCann, a major upgrade over Chris Stewart, who was pegged to be their starting catcher at the time. Romine is the one that everyone in the Yankees system is waiting to blossom, but hasn’t yet.  Rated as a top 100 prospect by Baseball America in 2010 and 2011, Romine has struggled to make it to the majors, and stay there and play well enough to be the everyday starter. In 2013, he played in 60 games for the Yankees, hitting .207 with only 1 HR.  Murphy saw some mop-up duty at catcher late in the season for New York, playing in 16 games.  Cervelli remains the intriguing name.  The Yankees played him all around the field in 2013, and he filled in admirably defensively.

2. Baltimore Orioles

Matt Wieters, Steve Clevenger, Johnny Monell

Previously ranked first, the Orioles fall to second behind the Yankees.  No, Wieters is never going to live up to the expectations that many had for him at the plate, but it is what he does behind it that sets him apart.  Other than McCann, Wieters has little competition in the division.  Despite not winning this year, Wieters has two Gold Gloves, and also is a two-time All-Star.  He played in the most games in his career in 2013, 140 of them coming behind the plate, posting a .243 batting average.  But Matt also led the AL in sacrifice flies, and rates as one of the top defensive catchers in almost every category.  The offense may not always be there, but Wieters continues to be a necessary cog for the Orioles team.

In Clevenger, the O’s have a local boy who did not have much of a chance to show what he can do.  He grades out better as a hitter than a fielder, and that may work against him due to Buck Showalter’s propensity to have good defensive catchers.  But, Clevenger is the backup, and some feel he will be a suitable one.  Monell was brought over from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for cash in the offseason.  He has less MLB experience than Clevenger, but the Orioles are looking for a backup catcher who can play defense AND offense, something they have not had for years.  Expect Clevenger and Monell to battle it out to see which one proves to Buck Showalter they can provide that.

3. Boston Red Sox

A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross, Ryan Lavarnway

I previously had the Red Sox at number two, but that was mainly due to the inadequacy at the position in the division.  They slide down a spot, because at this stage in his career, Pierzynski is not much help.  Together, his offense and defense make him better than Ross or Lavarnway, because Lavarnway is more of a defensive catcher, and Ross offensive.

Ross has not started more than 62 games since 2007, and is a career .237 average hitter.  He is much better behind the plate than in beside it, but still the numbers aren’t all that impressive.  Lavarnway is certainly intriguing compared to Ross, but the 24-year-old only has 88 plate appearances spread across three seasons, and the results at the plate have not been overly successful, with a career .209 average.

4. Tampa Bay Rays

Ryan Hanigan, Jose Molina

Molina was a free agent the Rays brought back, but he likely will be the backup this year to Ryan Hanigan, who the Rays acquired from the Cincinnati Reds.  Known as a good catcher both at the plate and behind it, Hanigan has never played more than 112 games in a season, which was in 2012.  He does carry a .262 average in just under 500 major league games, but 2012 is his only full season in the majors, as he even spent part of last year in AAA while only playing 75 games in the majors due to injury.  Molina, as is often quipped, is known for his ability to hit, but that is about all.  One of the slowest players in baseball, Molina also is a subpar defensive catcher, and will likely be used as a pinch hitter and to spell Hanigan.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

Dioner Navarro, Erik Kratz, Josh Thole, A.J. Jimenez

Former first-round draft choice J.P. Arencibia is gone, taking his .212 average over his three-year major league career with him. Navarro is going to be the starter, but let’s face it, that isn’t saying much.  Navarro has bounced around after being released by the Rays in 2010, playing in games for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds. Navarro did hit .300 in 2013 in 89 games for the Cubs, posting a career-high in home runs with 13.  He will likely be the main catcher for the Jays. Erik Kratz comes over from the Philadelphia Phillies, where he was the main backup to Carlos Ruiz.  Kratz has a decent bat, but is nothing more than a backup catcher/ Thole will try to push for a position in the majors while Jimenez has never played in the majors, but is on the Blue Jays 40-man roster.

Agree? Disagree?  Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Tags: Baltimore Orioles Brian McCann Matt Wieters Ryan Hanigan

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