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We’re inching ever closer to Opening Day as games have begun in Spring Training! As our ranking series goes on, this week focuses on catchers. The Yankees’ acquisition received a lot of love, but there are some other impact catchers in the AL East as well.
1. Brian McCann, New York Yankees: He has hit at least 20 home runs in sixth straight seasons. He is one of three catchers in history the others are Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench. McCann is an impact bat behind the plate and for a team that struggled scoring runs last year, his addition should help the Yankees. Expect the short porch in right field boost McCann’s power numbers making 30 home runs and outside possibility.
2. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles: Matt Wieters has two All-Star appearances under his belt, as well as two Gold Gloves and yet it feels like he still has much improving to do. His defense is spectacular, but his bat has not caught up yet. Last year was his worst in the Majors as Wieters posted a career low .287 OBP, though he did surpass 20 home runs. Wieters is still only 27 years old and as catchers typically bloom late, this may be the year he puts it all together.
3. A.J. Pierzynski/David Ross, Boston Red Sox: This veteran duo (both 37) are expected to share duties behind the plate for Boston. Pierzynki is expected to get the bulk of the at-bats versus righthanders and Ross is expected to play around 60 games primarily against lefties. While this duo will not put up huge offensive numbers, they will bring a gutsy work ethic and solid defense behind the plate.
4. Ryan Hanigan, Tampa Bay Rays: Ryan Hanigan fits the Tampa Bay mold perfectly. He is a light-hitting catcher having never hit more than 6 home runs in a season, but he carries a career .359 OBP. In fact, excluding a 5-game stint in 2007, Hanigan has always walked more than he has struck out in a year, holding a career mark of 189 walks and 159 strikeouts. Another plus to Hanigan’s game is his ability to stop the run game, including a league leading 48% caught stealing in 2012.
5. Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays: Navarro had a bounce back season last year hitting a career high .300/.365/.492 with 13 home runs. Unfortunately, this seems to be more of a blip on a radar than Navarro becoming a solid catching option. The switch hitter has a career .251 average and struggles to get on base. Navarro is solid defensively so that is helpful, but do not expect much impact from him.
1. Brian McCann, New York Yankees: The Yankees got themselves one of the top offensive catchers in the game. The only thing preventing me from being convinced that they have made a solid long term investment is his steady decline in at-bats over the past six seasons. However, many of his offensive statistics have remained consistent in spite of fewer at-bats so this could mean McCann is even more productive now than he was six seasons ago. He gets on base exceptionally well for a catcher and will definitely contribute a lot when he is on the field for the Yankees.
2. AJ Pierzynski, Boston Red Sox: This will be the final season that Pierzynski enters the season ahead of Wieters in my rankings. Both catchers had very comparable seasons in 2013, so AJ gets my vote of confidence because he has been doing it for so much longer. Unlike McCann, AJ doesn’t have any trouble staying on the field throughout the course of a season. The 16-year veteran hasn’t had fewer than 460 at-bats since 2002. While his numbers aren’t quite as impressive, they are all but guaranteed. While we haven’t seen Wieters full potential, I’d go with AJ at this season, and likely for the last time.
3. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles: Wieters has a ton of pop and has proven he can get on base a whole lot more effectively than he did last season. However, the 27-year-old has struggled in the consistency department. In 2013, Wieters walked at his lowest rate since his rookie season and logged the second highest single season strikeout total of his career. Still, an area that he has been consistent is in his power numbers. The South Carolina native hit 22, 23, and 22 home runs, respectively, in each of his past 3 seasons and logged 28, 27, and 29, respectively, in the doubles category. He probably won’t hit .300 this season, but he has the potential to contribute in a big way none the less.
4. Ryan Hanigan, Tampa Bay Rays: There’s one thing that Hanigan has specialized in throughout his career and that is exactly the reason he is the opening day starter for the Rays. The guy can get on base. A career OBP of .359 speaks for itself. After spending the past seven seasons with the Reds, the sample size is convincing, However, there’s really not that much else that Hanigan is bringing to the table here. The most at-bats he’s ever had in a season is 317 and has never cracked more than six home runs in a season. The Rays may be challenged with depth issues at the catcher between Hanigan and an aging Jose Molina.
5. Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays:Navarro could have a fantastic season, but he hasn’t given me much evidence to believe that will be the case. Over the past four seasons, the Venezuela native has averaged less than 153 at-bats. However, he did see his most at-bats come in 2013, a season where he also clubbed a career high 13 home runs and got on base at a .365 clip. Navarro could be a dark horse for a big season, but another injury plagued flash in the pan is looking more likely at this point.
What are your rankings? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to check out next week’s rankings on the outfield. Remember, we’re only 28 days away from Opening Day.