2015 AL East by Position: Catcher


May 8, 2014; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Baltimore Orioles catcher Matt Wieters (32) on deck to bat against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It is time for my 2015 edition of ranking the AL East by position, and we will start by looking at the catcher position.

Since my 2014 rankings, a lot has changed. The New York Yankees and Baltimore Orioles (ranked 1 and 2 respectively) kept their starting catchers, while the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays all changed theirs.  One player, Ryan Hanigan went from possible starter in 2014 for Tampa, to projected starter in 2015 for Boston.

Let’s get to the rankings.

1. Baltimore Orioles – Matt Wieters, Caleb Joseph, Steve Clevenger, J.P. Arencibia, Ryan Lavarnway

This is tough.  Do you go with the guy who had a career year going in 2014, or the guy who had to carry an injured lineup for most of the season? I’m going with the guy who is better behind the plate.

Wieters may not be healthy to start the year, but Caleb Joseph showed last year he is more than capable behind the plate.  And his hitting, which had always been his strong suit, cannot be much worse than last year.

Wieters will have to prove he is healthy, but his injury should not affect his hitting much.  That wasn’t the reason for the surgery, it was because he couldn’t throw.  Wieters, the 2014 All-Star at catcher, was off to a career year with a line of .308/.339/.500 before his injury. He is always excellent behind the plate and does a great job calling pitches.  In a contract year, as long as Wieters is able to play, I expect him to be the best catcher in the division.

2. New York Yankees – Brian McCann, Austin Romine, J.R. Murphy

If Wieters is 1, McCann is 1a. His first year in the AL East last year was the worst of his career.  That being said, McCann is still one of the best catchers in the game.  Defensively, he doesn’t compare to Wieters, and that is where the difference is.

McCann hit .232/.286/.406 last year, with 23 HRs and 75 RBIs. Not a bad year by any means.  The 7-time All-Star had to deal with a number of pitchers for the Yankees, and also was one of the main hitters in an injury-ravaged lineup.

Defense is where McCann is not as solid.  The veteran has allowed 691 stolen bases over his 10 seasons.  That is second of all active major league catchers, with only A.J. Pierzynski allowing more.  He also is one of the worst catchers as far as errors committed, although he has gotten much better over the past few years.

The Yankees saw the 30-year-old catch 108 games last year, a low number for McCann. However, playing in the AL, it affords the Yankees to put McCann at DH and also let him play some first base. Austin Romine will serve as the backup in 2015, with J.R. Murphy possibly playing as well. Murphy actually did quite well in his stint in the majors in 2014, and could supplant Romine as McCann’s backup. Both are considered valued prospects by the Yankees’ brass.

3. Toronto Blue Jays – Russell Martin, Dioner Navarro, Josh Thole

Let’s be honest, someone else may rank these top 3 completely different.  Some could argue Martin is the best catcher in the division.  And his stats last year certainly show that.  However, that was in the NL Central. Not the AL East.

Martin, you may remember, has played for the Yankees before. While in New York for two seasons, his slash line was .227/.317/.405. Not quite as good as his year for Pittsburgh last year, where it was a much better .290/.402/.430.  Could it be the competition in the division, or the pressure of New York? The Jays will hope it is the latter.

Martin’s backup is probably the best of the bunch in Navarro. Dioner hit well last year as the starter for Toronto, posting a .274/.317/.375 line with 12 home runs. Navarro brings some pop to the position, but his defense is what made the Jays go get another catcher this offseason.  Also, the Jays are in talks about trading Navarro to the Detroit Tigers, so he may not even be playing in Rogers Centre as a Blue Jay this year. Thole played in the majors last year for Toronto, but is little more than serviceable backup catcher.

4. Boston Red Sox – Ryan Hanigan, Christian Vasquez, Blake Swihart

I think Hanigan starts the year at catcher for the Red Sox, but I think Vasquez replaces him at some point before the All-Star break. Vasquez is considered a top prospect for the Sox, and Swihart is their second-best prospect, according to MLB.com, to boot.

Hanigan struggled to stay healthy, and struggled in general for Tampa last year.  So much so that the team let him go without having a replacement (more on that to come). A catcher known for being a good hitter has seen his batting average at .198 and .218 the last two years.  In some divisions that may work, but not in the AL East.

Vasquez and Swihart deserve all the attention, but I’m not sure either is seasoned enough to start behind the plate.  The Red Sox hope that Vasquez’s 500 games in the minors are enough, while Swihart has only played 18 games at the AAA level, and will likely need a little more time in the minors.

However, both of these young players are highly-touted, and will certainly see Fenway Park in 2015.

5. Tampa Bay Rays – Rene Rivera, John Jaso, Curt Casali

This lineup is weak, and when you consider that Jaso is supposed to be the Rays designated hitter, and won’t be the everyday catcher, it is weaker.  Rivera had a career year at the dish last year for the Padres, hitting .252/.319/.452. Good numbers for a guy who is primarily a defensive catcher.  But, to think that will happen in the AL East, you must be kidding yourself. This is a guy who has only played more than 50 games in his career once, and that was last season, despite first playing in the majors in 2004, and spending 2007-2010 out of the majors.

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Jaso also had a good year in 2014 for Oakland, but he is not good behind the plate.  So the Rays can either have the light-hitting catcher, or the subpar-defensive catcher, but they don’t have both. And when you look at the other teams in the division, that firmly puts them last in the ranks.

Disagree with me, feel free to tell me why.  I can guarantee that this position could easily be argued for other players.