Triple-A Catching Options from Other Organizations

A few days ago I examined the Royals’ catchers and concluded that John Buck provides a better 2010 option than Miguel Olivo.  Since Buck is arbitration eligible, the Royals would need to sign him to a deal in the vicinity of $3.5 million, or less, for it to make sense for the team to bring him back.  Based on Buck’s 2009 season, my assumption is that he will be asking for more that $4 million.  In that case the Royals should decline to offer Buck arbitration.  If it all plays out as I think it will, Brayan Pena will stand alone as the only catching option on the current roster.  Since the FA class is so weak, I believe the Royals should look into acquiring someone from another organization who played in AAA last season.  Here is a look at some of the Triple-A catchers that might be worth a look.

I started off compiling my list with the single requirement that each player had to have a minimum of 200 Triple-A at bats in 2009.  This does potentially miss the boat on guys that missed part of, if not all of, the season due to injury.  It also potentially misses some of the guys who played part of their season in Double-A or the majors.  My initial criteria left me with 43 names, plus one exception I made for a total list of 44 names.

To pare down the list from 44 to a more manageable number, my second criteria was for the player to have at least equaled the career slash stats of John Buck and Miguel Olivo.  I split the difference between the two and came up with a required line of 0.240/.290/.415.  I did make exceptions when it came to the SLG.  It is worth mentioning that Buck and Olivo have turned in their stats at the ML level over multiple seasons, while those players who pass this second test will have bested those numbers in a single AAA season.  Anyway, thanks to my secondary criteria, the following players dropped from the list; Clint Sammons (ATL), Robby Hammock (BAL), Cole Armstrong (CWS), Craig Tatum (CIN), Sal Fasano (COL), Brett Hayes (FLA), Lou Santangelo (HOU), Ryan Budde (LAA), Drew Butera (MIN), Robinson Cancel (NYN), Rene Rivera (NYN), Matt Pagnozzi (STL), Emerson Frostad (TEX), Max Ramirez (TEX), Kevin Richardson (TEX), J.P. Arencibia (TOR), and Gustavo Molina (WAS).

The list dropped to 27 players, but I still needed to thin out the candidates a little more.  Since the 2009 Royals finished tied for 26th in OBP with a less than stellar 0.318 team mark, upgrading the overall OBP takes priority.  With that in mind, a minimum OBP of 0.340 in 2009 became the third criteria.  Based on this, the following players dropped out of consideration; Steve Clevenger (CHC), Wyatt Toregas (CLE), Edwin Bellorin (COL), J.R. House (KC), Bobby Wilson (LAA), Angel Salome (MIL), Anthony Recker (OAK), Paul Hoover (PHI), Erik Kratz (PIT), and Eliezer Alfonzo (SD).

17 names remained for closer inspection which brings us to the present.  I readily admit that this inspection does not factor in the defensive capabilities of any of these players.  It is a large assumption, but I’m also ignoring defense with the belief  that most of the below 17 players could probably fare better defensively than Pena, Buck, or Olivo anyway.  The age listed on the following players is based on their age on opening day.

Luke Carlin (29) is currently a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and hit 0.321/.430/.481 in 237 Triple-A at bats.  The last 2 seasons he has accumulated 112 ML at bats, but his 0.152/.246/.223 results in those ABs has been less than impressive.  2009 also sticks out as a career for Carlin who in 8 minor league seasons has hit 0.254/.362/.353.

John Hester (26) is also a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks organization and hit 0.328/.375/.535 in 329 AB.  Hester made his ML debut this season and hit 0.250/.300/.429 in 25 at bats.  2009 was a step forward for him statistically, but his numbers didn’t come completely out of nowhere.  He now has a career 0.285/.339/.481 line through 4 season in the minors.

Arizona looks like it has already found its C going forward thanks to a strong season by 25 year old Miguel Montero.  The Diamondbacks also have Chris Snyder (28) on the roster who has shown flashes of being an everday C in parts of 6 ML seasons.  Snyder is under contract through 2011 with a 2012 club option so he’s going to stay in the mix.  That means both Carlin and Hester could be had for a reasonable price.  Obviously, of the two, Hester is the guy I would target first.

Alvin Colina (28) played for Atlanta’s Triple-A affiliate in 2009 and hit 0.262/.344/.422 in 225 AB.  He has 5 ML at bats back in 2004 with the Colorado Rockies.  Whoever he plays for in 2010 will be his 4th organization.  He barely made the list as it is, and probably doesn’t merit the Royals’ consideration.

Dusty Brown (27) just finished his 9th season in the Boston Red Sox organization and hit 0.264/.345/.329 in 295 AB.  He had an impressive 2008, but his 2009 was more in line with his career averages.  He made his ML debut this season and hit a HR and drew a walk in his 4 plate appearances en route to a tidy line of 0.333/.500/1.333.  Like Colina above, he barely made the list.  Still he may be worth a look since he has posted better numbers in previous seasons at Triple-A.

Chris Robinson (25) has played a combined 5 seasons with the Tigers and the Cubs organizations.  He had a real nice season hitting 0.326/.345/.435 in 310 AB for Iowa in the PCL and has hit 0.279/.326/.366 over his career.  2009 was a nice step forward, but he has accumulated just 88 BB and 9 HR in his 5 seasons in the minors.  Averaging 17 BB and 2 HR a year does not exactly suggest future ML success.

Lou Marson (23) was sent from the Phillies to the Indians in the Cliff Lee trade.  His overall 2009 numbers of 0.277/.361/.360 in 314 AB are solid, and he saw ML action in both organizations during the season.  He now has 76 plate appearances in the majors with a slash line of 0.262/.355/.415.  He was the Phillies #3 prospect heading into the season, but the trade to Cleveland hurt his stock since the Indians #1 prospect is also a C.  23 year old Carlos Santana did nothing to hurt his prospect status in 2009 with Double-A Akron.  In fact, all he did was hit 0.290/.413/.530 with 90 BB and 83 SO.  It was also speculated that Santana would make his ML debut this season once the Tribe dealt Victor Martinez.  Because of Santana’s presence, Marson doesn’t figure to have a long run as the Indians starting catcher and by 2011 will probably be the backup.  Still, it would probably cost too much for the Royals to trade for a guy that profiles as a solid but unspectacular ML catcher.

Dusty Ryan (25) just completed his 6th minor league season with the Detroit Tigers by hitting 0.257/.359/.455 in 202 AB.  Compared to his 0.240/.331/.396 career stat line, it was a good year for Dusty.  The last 2 seasons he has picked up 80 ML plate appearances with very mixed results.  In 2008 he hit 0.318/.380/.500, but in 2009 hit just 0.154/.267/.192.  Alex Avila has clearly passed Ryan on the depth chart, so Ryan could be in play, but there are better options.

J.R. Towles (26) finished his 6th season in the Houston Astros organization, and is the one player I kept on my list even though he did not meet the 200 AB criteria.  He hit 0.276/.386/.455 in 145 minor league AB and 0.188/.250/.354 in 48 ML at bats this season.  Towles is a former top prospect of the Astros who has an excellent track record in the minors as his 0.299/.390/.473 slash line suggests, but he has struggled mightily in 234 ML at bats.  Towles is a guy that I would target, because he fits into my 2010 plan.  Right now he has the look of a AAAA player, but left in the majors for an entire season alongside Brayan Pena could do a world of good for his confidence and future.  I think the concept of Towles as a star has moved on, but I still think he could make it in the majors if given a shot.

A.J. Ellis (28) has spent 7 seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization.  He followed up a strong 2008 that saw him hit 0.321/.436/.456 by hitting 0.314/.438/.375 in 283 2009 at bats.  Ellis has a career 0.398 OBP and has more BB (273) than SO (248) on his record.  Thus far in his career he has only be given 13 at bats at the ML level and managed just 1 hit in that time.  He doesn’t have a lot of HR power and doesn’t have a lot of speed, but he gets on base, could be a nice piece for the Royals and is definitely on the radar.  A.J. was born in Missouri so he’s got that working in his favor as well.

J.D. Closser (30) looked like he was going to be a future star at the position for the Colorado Rockies back in 2004 when he hit 0.319/.364/.398 in 113 ML at bats.  He hasn’t been back to the majors since 2006.  He hit 0.295/.375/.386 in 220 AB this past season but his SLG has dipped well below his career mark of 0.441 the last two years.  At this point in his career, he doesn’t make much sense for the Royals and the diminishing SLG has to be a concern.  Personally, I hope he gets a chance with a team, other than the Royals, to recapture some of the ML magic for a little while at least.

Jose Morales (27)  backed up Joe Mauer in Minnesota for part of the year and hit 0.311/.381/.361 in 119 ML at bats.  Those numbers are not a fluke as Morales hit 0.336/.413/.436 in 211 Triple-A at bats.  He is an excellent player who has shown the steady progression throughout his 9 year career.  Jose probably doesn’t have much of a future with the Twins since he has Joe Mauer in front of him and 22 year old stud prospect, Wilson Ramos, pushing for time behind him.  If the Twins can lock up Mauer to another long-term contract this offseason, Morales could be had but the “prospect price” figures to be too steep for the Royals to make a move on him.  Look for Morales to be Mauer’s very capable backup when the Twins open Target Field next season.

Chris Stewart (28) hit 0.280/.375/.341 in 232 AB for the New York Yankees Triple-A affiliate in 2009.  In 8 seasons in the minors he has compiled a career slash line of 0.259/.328/.360.  He has also had brief ML stints with the White Sox in 2006, the Rangers in 2007, and the Yankees in 2008.  The end result?  48 ML at bats to go with a line of 0.188/.235/.229.  Not worth the time, and I am biased against former Yankees anyway.

Eric Munson (32) hit 0.265/.362/.450 in 351 AB for the Oakland Athletics Triple-A team this past season.  In 2000 he was the #1 ranked prospect of the Detroit Tigers organization but after spending 9 seasons in the minors that seems like a distant memory.  Munson has had his share of ML chances having accumulated 1,056 big league at bats despite hitting only 0.214/.289/.394.  He’s hanging on as a AAA catcher at this point and is not worth a look.

Jeff Clement (26) opened the season in the Seattle Mariners organization and ended it in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.  All told he hit 0.274/.354/.496 in 470 minor league AB.  Clement was ranked as the Mariners #1 prospect in 2006 and 2008, but has not yet lived up to the hype in his first 219 ML at bats.  He spent more time at DH and 1B than C in 2009 and his future doesn’t look like it will include donning the tools of ignorance.

Adam Moore (25) hit 0.294/.346/.429 in 340 AB for the Mariners Triple-A club.  In 4 seasons he has hit 0.301/.369/.483 in the minors and was rewarded this season with 23 ML at bats at the big league level.  Moore entered the year as Seattle’s #6 prospect and while his 2009 numbers were off compared to his career averages it was his 1st taste of AAA.  It seems doubtful that the Mariners would have any interest in dealing him at this point.

John Jaso (26) has been a part of the Tampa Bay Rays organization for 7 seasons now.  In 2009 he hit 0.266/.362/.366 in 331 AB.  All of his numbers were down from his career averages of 0.290/.379/.438 and he spent part of the 2008 season in AAA with better results as well.  One has to wonder if has hit the wall at Triple-A.  He’s an acquisition option, but he’s not at the top of the list.

Kyle Phillips (26) has 8 minor league seasons under his belt and played 2009 in the Toronto Blue Jays system.  It was a good year for Phillips who hit 0.300/.372/.422 in 277 AB.  His slash stats were all well above his career line of 0.265/.334/.383, but he posted similar slash stats in High-A and Double-A the previous two seasons.  Phillips has the look of a late bloomer and is someone who should be considered.

Of the 17 above, Lou Marson and Jose Morales are at the top of the short list of guys to target, but the Royals would have to pay a much steeper price to acquire either of them compared to some of the other options.  Taking those two out of the conversation, my top 5 of the 15 would be:
1) Andrew Ellis
2) John Hester
3) Kyle Phillips
4) J.R. Towles
5) John Jaso

Topics: A.J. Ellis, Adam Moore, AL Central, Alvin Colina, Baseball, Chris Robinson, Chris Stewart, Dusty Brown, Dusty Ryan, Eric Munson, J.D. Closser, J.R. Towles, Jeff Clement, John Hester, John Jaso, Jose Morales, Kansas City Royals, KC, Kyle Phillips, Lou Marson, Luke Carlin, MLB, Royals

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