Catcher is a position that could hold a key for the development of the roster in 2009. With four viable players all ready for major league duty, Texas has a lot of versatility and some apparent excess value in a very valuable and limited market. While we all watch with bated breath the pitching developments over the next season or so, the closely related catching position should provide multilevel enjoyment, with several exciting players in the majors and interesting talent behind them.
Texas (MLB) - Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Taylor Teagarden
Oklahoma (AAA) - Max Ramirez
Frisco (AA) - Manny Pina
Bakersfield (A+) - Chris Gradoville
Clinton (A) - Jose Felix, Carlos Dominguez
Spokane (A-) - Doug Hogan, Zach Zaneski
AZL (RK) - Leonel De Los Santos
DSL (RK) - Tomas Telis
Top C prospects:
1. Taylor Teagarden - rare guy who is a pleasure to watch run a game, off to fantastic MLB start
2. Max Ramirez - pure right handed hitter - a valuable commodity in baseball these days - and has improved his defense to respectable level
3. Cristian Santana - took a year off from behind the plate and struggled offensively...what will 2009 hold?
4. Manny Pina - excellent defender, strong finish gave him respectable AA numbers in 23 games
5. Tomas Telis - showing promise in DSL, has two-way potential
Top C prospects in baseball (loosely ordered):
Matt Wieters Bal, Buster Posey SF, Wilson Ramos MIN, Taylor Teagarden TEX, Carlos Santana CLE, Pablo Sandoval (1B) SF, Max Ramirez (1B/DH) TEX, Lou Marson PHI, Angel Salome MIL, Tyler Flowers ATL
Top C organizations:
1. Minnesota - Joe Mauer, Wilson Ramos, Jose Morales
2. Atlanta - Brian McCann, Tyler Flowers
3. Chicago Cubs - Geovany Soto, Balanced Henry Blanco, Welington Castillo
4. Cleveland - Victor Martinez, Kelly Shoppach, Carlos Santana
5. San Francisco - Benji Molina, Pablo Sandoval, Buster Posey
Where the Rangers fit:
The Rangers have as many potential starting caliber catchers as any team in baseball. What separates the top catching organizations from Texas is that one guy who stands above the others. At the least, the organization should be one of the few in baseball that can get quality play at the position for several years to come without dedicating a large portion of the payroll.
There are as many prevalent opinions on how the organization should proceed with the four catchers as there are permutations. Gerald Laird has had his retrenching year and should now be viewed widely as a solid-average two-way major league catcher. Jarrod Saltalamacchia has had a season to forget in 2008 but did finish by again showing a glimpse of his ability to contribute to a good team before an arm injury shut him down. Taylor Teagarden had a season not to forget, winning an Olympic medal and hitting for power in the major leagues after a slow start in the minors. Max Ramirez lit the world on fire in his AA debut, took up residence on early season Hot Sheets and lept into the major league picture, showing improved power and defensive skill.
Thousands and thousands of words have been spent on this blog predicting, discussing and hotly debating what should and what will happen next. Personally, I like all of these players. I'm not sure which will turn out the best, and they're quite hard to compare, given their varied abilities. My only caution is that this situation should not be treated like a curse, but a blessing. Jon Daniels and the Rangers have worked very hard to develop catching depth, and I think that they would be quite foolish to let it go away without getting full value - and without themselves having a good idea of which of these guys will turn out to be a quality catcher for years to come. If one or even two of these four can be used to substantially upgrade a spot on the pitching staff while hanging onto good enough players that the position is still a strength, terrific. If not, Gerald Laird can cool it and accept giving up some more playing time (besides, he has generally played his best when he has split time), and one or two of these young catchers can receive more developmental time in AAA.
Sneaking up behind this group is another promising defender in Manuel Pina. Pina will go back to Frisco next season and handle a very important group of pitchers, while trying to take another step forward offensively, after holding his own at two levels this season. Pina looks stronger, and if he can turn that into just a little more offense, he is another quality catching prospect. Cristian Santana could be at either A-ball level and, as far as I know, playing either catcher or outfield. After arm trouble contributed to a slow professional start for Santana, the decision was made to play him in the outfield this season. To my knowledge, the decision to keep him there has not been made, and he has much more value as a catcher if his arm can hold up. Max Ramirez's and Manuel Pina's countryman Tomas Telis was moved to catcher this season, reportedly after some added bulk made him a less than ideal fit at shortstop, and hit well in rookie ball in the DR. He should hit the States shortly and looks like someone to watch next summer once the short season clubs start up again.