The State of the Catchers (2003 Minor League C)

The first position we will address is catcher. Currently, Jason Varitek is our captain behind the plate. Quite frankly, I don’t want anyone else behind the plate for the Red Sox…not even Ivan Rodriguez. Before I get into Tek’s qualities, let’s list the other catchers that the Red Sox have.
ML Backup:Doug Mirabelli
AAA:Andy Dominique
AAA:Frank Charles
AA:Kelly Shoppach
AA:Brian Loyd
AA:John Nathans
A:Alberto Concepcion
A:Edgar Martinez
A:Eladio Rodriguez
Starting from the bottom up…
Eladio Rodriguez is pretty much a non-factor. in 172 AB, he hit .227 with 15 BB, giving him a .314 OBP. He has 2 HR and 12 2B…if he maintains his level of play and continues up the ladder, he would be a good backup catcher. He had 17 games as a catcher and 25 as an outfielder. He’s pretty much a nonfactor.
Edgar Martinez, in 66 games for the Sarasota Red Sox, hit .201 with an OBP of .263 – ouch! However, for Occidente Pastora, in 59 AB, he hit .301 with a .379 OBP. He is a bona fide catcher. Since the Sarasota Red Sox was an upgrade in playing level, we can pretty much safely assume he will never be a star player. However, if you factor in the upgrade, and his (more than likely) immaturity, this season could prove a fluke. I would keep an eye on him, even though his nonexistent power is worrisome.
In 56 games, Concepcion hit .218 with a .309 OBP as a catcher. He showed zero power. He won’t be with them at the end of 2004, if even at the beginning.
Moving up to AA, John Nathans hit .194 with a .237 OBP in 72 games. I can’t even discuss Nathans…those stats have me in a state of stupor.
Brian Loyd is a brighter story. He did hit .200 with a .200 OBP in 20 AB for Sarasota, but that was good enough to earn him a promotion, I guess. Boy, did he deliver. Catching 26 games with 1 error and 100 ABs, he hit .290 with a .343 OBP. Fluke? Maybe, because with the Cerveza Panama Canaleros, he hit .203 with .276 OBP in 69 AB. He’s far from a success story, but he has a brighter future than anyone else I’ve mentioned so far. Power is non-existent.
Speaking of ‘future’, look at Kelly Shoppach. In 340 AB for Portland, he hit .282 with a .353 OBP and had 12 HR to go along with 30 2B. Wow! In 82 games, he has 11 errors, but has earned rave reviews for his solid defense and game-calling. He draws a lot of comparisions to Jason Varitek…which is awesome! He’ll see time at AAA and should make the majors as a backup if all goes well in 2005. He should be starting by 06 or 07, and will turn out an all-star career. He had a solid showing for the Mesa Dirt Dogs too.
Frank Charles, in 172 AB, hit .194 for the PawSox, drawing 1 walk for an OBP of .213. That OBP immediately rules him out of the Sox’s plans. However, a strong showing for the North Shore Spirit with a .300/.339 in 283 ABs means he’ll be given another year. His .361 SLG for the PawSox helps matters, too.
The major-league ready Andy Dominique, whose age already is working against him, hit .304/.364 with a .502 SLG (which includes 13 HR in 289 AB). In 51 games as a catcher, he drew 3 errors. He should battle Mirabelli for the backup role for the majors. He’ll definitely lose the battle, but will be the one to be called up when (let’s actually change that to IF) injuries strike. He can also serve as a DH and as a 1B. I could see him backing up in 2005 if the Sox want to give Shoppach another year. However, I see him eventually making the majors as a backup and fill-in, if not full-time, DH for another team if all goes well. He’s a great AAA player, but is he major league material or only AAAA?
Doug Mirabelli has outstanding defense and was Tim Wakefield’s personal catcher. He had a good year hitting-wise, hitting .258 with a .307 OBP in 162 AB (62 games), and chipping in 6 HR for a SLG of .448. It seemed like everytime I saw him, he’d pop one in the Green Monster. There’s no question he can hit for power, but his OBP works against him. He actually hit 23 points higher than his career average, but has never seen more than 230 ABs a season despite wanting to start. He realized he had a good thing going with the Red Sox, though, which made him sign a one-year deal with the Red Sox. Could he start? Yes. Could he start for a World-Series team? It’s possible. The only way he’d start, though, is if a team went into rebuilding mode and needed to plug catcher for a year or two. Belli would be a great addition, giving you thump and working with the young pitchers. I’ll miss Belli. He is one of my favorite Sox players.
Jason Varitek is a wonderful player both at and behind the plate. Behind the plate for this year, he had a Fielding Pct. of .990, with a Range Factor of 7.51 and a Zone Rating of 1.000. Since Range Factor is valued the most, we’ll evaluate him at that. The leader was Jorge Posada (gag) at 7.70, and then Miguel Olivo. ‘Tek placed third out of fourteen. When he became a starter for the Red Sox in 1998 at age 26, he hit .253/.309 with a .407 SLG. His hitting started getting better and better and was headed for an All-Stear season in 2001, until he broke his elbow going all out for a foul ball. That’s Tek. 110% all the time. His hitting suffered in 02, hitting .266/.332 after hitting .293/.371 in 01 in 179 AB. His slugging percentage in 1999 was .482 with 20 HR. He had an off year in 2000 by his standards, then was slugging .489 before the injuring. Stumbling through a SLG of .392 last year, he slugged .512 this year with a career best 25 HR and a .273/.351 line, chipping in 85 RBI to the most vaunted offense in baseball history. He’s fully recovered and will be 32 in 2004. Will have as good a season as he did in 2003? Bet on it. But in 2005, he’ll be 33, the age where most catcher’s legs give out. However, he’s Jason Varitek, dammit. I think he’ll give out at 34, where he could then switch to DH or 1B. He’s a good hitter, a good fielder, a GREAT game-caller who works with pitchers so well, and a good clubhouse man.
So what would I do with all these catchers? I’d promote Shoppach to AAA for 2004 (which will be done). I’d sign ‘Tek through 2006 to a two-year contract. I’d let Belli walk after 2004 and have Shoppach train under Tek for two years. Then I’d regretfully start Shoppach and explore options for Tek at first. If nothing could come from that, I’d regretfully allow Tek to explore other options on the market.