Preview Capsules: Catchers

 Chris Iannetta
2015: 92 G, .188/.293/.335, .225 BABIP, .281 wOBA, 80 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR
Iannetta, 32, fell of the map at the plate last season, but maintained his sound defense while fighting some minor, nagging injuries. The Mariners are hoping he’ll bounce back, and despite 6774 innings behind the plate, that triple-slash is headed north in 2016. The question is: how far back does he get?

It’s reasonable to expect what STEAMER does — .215/.323/.353 — and probably not much more, though Iannetta’s career marks sit at .231/.351/.405. The innings in the crouch don’t scare me much — Russell Martin, Yadier Molina and Brian McCann all have over 10,000 innings and still are producing fairly close to career levels — but I do believe Iannetta’s workload in 2016 does. Not the raw number of starts or innings, but making sure he’s not run into the ground. This means his backup will have to be used consistently, almost regardless of how well or poorly he performs.

Iannetta, even in the down year, was very respectable against left-handed pitching at .230/.359/.405, and he’s an above-average pitch framer with a sound approach to game calling.

 Steve Clevenger
2015: 30 G, .287/.314/.426, .314 BABIP, .316 wOBA, 97 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR
Clevenger has just 148 big-league games to his record with just 30 of them coming in 2015. At 29, he may be ready to double that, despite fringy, though not awful, defense. The arm strength is fringe-average, as-is the accuracy, but he does block the ball well and is accurate on throws after fielding the ball, i.e., bunts.

Clevenger’s value comes mostly at the plate, both when he’s starting and when skipper Scott Servais calls for him in a pinch-hitting role. Clevenger batted .280/.309/.430 versus right-handed pitching a year ago, and the former 7th-round draft pick always has shown solid plate skills, making fairly consistent contact.

Mike Zunino
2015: 112 G, .174/.230/.300, .235 wOBA, 47 wRC+, -0.5 fWAR
Zunino, 25 in March, is in fix mode, likely to spend at least a good portion of 2016 in the minors somewhere, working on a better foundation at the plate to support a game plan of using more of the field while trusting his hands.

The defensive work already is solid, including well above-average pitch framing and a solid-average throwing arm with accuracy. He’s heady, a leader and a worker, and simply needs to return to his 2014 offensive rates to get back to the big leagues.

The new player development regime’s most critical task is to save Zunino, but he doesn’t have that far to go to become serviceable with the bat. He’s been there done that, even, but needs help making the adjustment to how clubs attacked him a year ago.

I’d be surprised to see Zunino in the majors before August, but I’d also be surprised if he didn’t make an appearance to help by September, barring injury. Where he starts the season, however, is anyone’s guess at this early stage of spring workouts.

Jesus Sucre
2015: 52 G, .157/.195/.228, .189 wOBA, 15 wRC+, -0.3 fWAR
Sucre is all-glove, but is a reliable receiver. The bad news includes Sucre likely missing the year after breaking a bone in his lower leg and tearing a tendon in his foot sliding into second base in a winter league game in Venezuela.

Steve Lerud
2015:
NO MLB STATS
Lerud is necessary for Seattle so if an injury occurs, they don’t have to either force a Zunino call-up or dig too deep into the organization for help. The 31-year-old has just nine big-league games and hasn’t seen the majors since 2013 with the Philadelphia Phillies, but he’s sound defensively with high strikeout rates and a patience game plan with the bat.

Lerud will start the year in Triple-A Tacoma, which now seems highly likely he stays around with the injury to Jesus Sucre.

Steve Baron
2015:
4G, 11 PA
Baron made his big-league debut last September, but isn’t ready to face big-league pitchers, even though his defense and baseball IQ are ready to handle a staff.

Baron has plus arm strength and his accuracy continues to improve. His progress at the plate includes a swing that produces from alley to alley, but he appears caught, still, between hitting for power — he does have good bat speed — and calming things down to make consistent contact.

Baron will start the year in Tacoma, and could combine with Lerud to allow the Mariners to place Zunino anywhere from extended spring training to Double-A Jackson to Tacoma (three catchers can work in the minors where development is most important) to start the season.

Marcus Littlewood
2015: NO MLB STATS
A converted shortstop, Littlewood continues to make progress behind the plate, but still has been inconsistent with the bat. Much of that is to be expected, however, as catcher — and even more so, converted versions — take more time to get the bat going. Littlewood, at some point, may be asked to give up switch hitting, but he continues to show more power from his overall-weaker side — right.

Keep an eye on Littlewood, 24 in March. He’ll likely start 2016 back at Double-A Jackson, but these kinds of converts have a history of clicking almost out of nowhere.

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Jason A. Churchill

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