What Are They Doing With All These Catchers?

As most of you know the Pirates signed Rod Barajas today. In what is much smaller news the Pirates have also recently resigned Wyatt Toregas and Milver Reyes. Reyes is listed as a player merely because of a technicality and is actually a coach so he is not part of the discussion. However even taking him out of the equation the Pirates have 10 catchers who should either be playing next season at AA, AAA or in the majors. Simple math tells you that at 2 catchers per team something just isn’t right here. I will add it is fairly common for teams to have an extra catcher or two ready to go but having four for the top two minor league levels? That just seems a little excessive. Something is going to need to happen. Let’s take a look at the 10 catchers and see who we can place where.

Rod Barajas: Barajas was signed this offseason and is slated to be the team’s starting catcher. As I previewed earlier he isn’t the best catcher but he is certainly capable and should give the Pirates about 100 games behind the plate. There really isn’t much of a need to go farther here as his role is already known.

Michael McKenry: McKenry was acquired last season from the Boston Red Sox and did an admirable job filling in when the Pirates top 3 catchers were all injured. His style of play quickly made him a fan favorite and although he doesn’t have the skills to be a starting catcher it would appear he is the favorite to win the backup job. McKenry does have an option remaining though so the thought of starting in AAA is not out of the question.

Jason Jaramillo: Jaramillo was the Pirates third catcher last season and appears to have a little bit of talent. He hasn’t shown much outside of a few flashes but he appears capable of being at least an adequate backup. Jaramillo is out of options meaning he would have to make the major league roster or be released. Due to the number of options the Pirates have and the limited flexibility Jaramillo offers he is talked about a lot as a possibility to be released.

Matt Pagnozzi: Pagnozzi was acquired late last season and even at the time it seemed like a bit of an odd move. The original thought process was he would assume the Dusty Brown/Wyatt Toregas role but you have to ask did the Pirates really have to use a 40 man roster spot to fill that role and if that is his role why was Toregas resigned. Pagnozzi appears to be an outside candidate to be Barajas’s backup and also appears to be an outside candidate to be released. Most likely he will stay on the roster and serve as the backup catcher in AAA.

Wyatt Toregas: The signing of Toregas was a bit of a mystery to me. With the exception of a starting major league catcher the Pirates appeared relatively set with upper level catchers. However I have heard it mentioned that this is possibly for a coaching assignment rather than a player assignment. That would make some sense and since I really don’t have the slightest clue where the Pirates would place him I am going to assume this is the case.

Kris Watts: Watts is in the profile of one of those extra catchers I mentioned earlier. He has some ability with the bat but is at best only an average fielder. Watts will likely have the role of the catcher journeyman this year going from level to level, filling in when there is an injury, promotion or other action that leaves a team short on catchers.

Tony Sanchez: The top catching prospect in the Pirates organization. Sanchez had a decent baseball year in 2010 but the rest of it was rough, getting hit in the head twice and getting his jaw broke. This of course led to a weight loss which in turn may have contributed to his struggles in 2011. Sanchez showed very little that says he is worthy of being promoted to start off in AAA but with the injured jaw possibly being one reason for a set back and with two decent catching prospects having earned playing time in AA it appears possible the Pirates will push him to AAA. It is also very possible the Pirates keep in AA to begin the season because the development of other catching prospects is not going to interfere with Sanchez’s development.

Eric Fryer: Fryer has played for 3 organizations and has been blocked by a good catching prospect in every one of them. He is a little old for a prospect but he has some good tools including being a good defensive catcher and having shown good hitting ability in the minor leagues. He appears to be the Pirate catching prospect closest to being major league ready (as you will recall he even seen some playing time last season). However Fryer is not limited to catcher having played 1B and OF in the past and this winter he is learning 3B. This leaves me to believe the Pirates do not plan on using him as a traditional catcher this season. It is a near certainty that Fryer will be in AAA to start the season but it very well may not be as just a catcher.

Ramon Cabrera: Cabrera had a big year last season in A+ and is now the Pirates second best catching prospect. He won the league batting title last season and displayed good offensive and defensive ability. He has definitely earned a promotion to AA but due to the Sanchez situation playing time there might be limited. He is Rule V eligible after the season so it is vital the Pirate see what Cabrera cna do this season in the upper levels.

Carlos Paulino: Acquired last season for Jim Negrych, Paulino was viewed as not much more than an afterthought but he started the season backing up Cabrera in A+ and impressed. He showed strong offense although not on Cabrera’s level but his defensive ability was at a much better level than Cabrera’s. So he has certainly earned a promotion. This leaves the Pirates with two decent catching prospects deserving of being promoted to AA but with Sanchez’s status being uncertain it is possible someone might have to start back in A+ (and that would be a shame).

The way I see it there are two dominoes here and how they fall will determine how the rest will. They are Tony Sanchez and the Jaramillo/McKenry. Sanchez will either stay in AA or be promoted and one of Jaramillo or McKenry will be the MLB reserve catcher. Let’s look at the four scenarios.

Jaramillo as backup, Sanchez in AAA

MLB: Barajas, Jaramillo

AAA: Sanchez, McKenry

AA: Cabrera, Paulino

AAA Utility: Fryer

Released: Pagnozzi

Coach: Toregas

Organizational: Watts

Jaramillo as backup, Sanchez in AA

MLB: Barajas, Jaramillo

AAA: Fryer, McKenry

AA: Sanchez, Watts

AA C/DH: Cabrera

A+: Paulino

Released: Pagnozzi

Coach: Toregas

McKenry as backup, Sanchez in AAA

MLB: Barajas, McKenry

AAA: Sanchez, Pagnozzi

AAA Utility: Fryer

AA: Cabrera, Paulino

Released: Jaramillo

Coach: Toregas

Organizational: Watts

McKenry as backup, Sanchez in AA

MLB: Barajas, McKenry

AAA: Fryer, Pagnozzi

AA: Sanchez, Watts

AA C/DH: Cabrera

A+: Paulino

Released: Jaramillo

Coach: Toregas

There are a couple assumptions I am sure you seen I made. One somebody is going to be released that is almost necessary. Two McKenry is not going to be the player released. Three either Fryer or Cabrera is going to be forced into an unconventional role. Personally my favorite of these four scenarios is the first one Jaramillo winning the backup catching job and Sanchez going to AAA. It is not a perfect scenario but I believe that Pagnozzi is the worst of the McKenry/Jaramillo/Pagnozzi bunch and I believe that both Cabrera and Paulino should be in AA. Yes this would be giving Sanchez a big challenege but I think it is one worth taking. However the scenario I am expecting is the exact opposite, the last one I listed. It by no means would be a bad idea. Jaramillo would be no giant loss and letting Sanchez in AA should boost his confidence. Also on the plus side this allows Fryer to focus on catching (although I am not opposed to him playing elsewhere). However on the downside the development of Cabrera and Paulino would be moving at a slower pace than it should be. Quite a few decisions facing the Pirates should be interesting to see how they handle it.

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