With John Buck gone on to greener or less-green pastures, Jesus Sucre got a surprise promotion to the majors. And, naturally, a chain-reaction of minor-league moves followed, namely:
- John Hicks from AA Jackson to AAA Tacoma.
- Steve Baron from High-A High Desert to AA Jackson.
- Toby DeMello from Short Season-A Everett to High-A High Desert.
If you were hoping, as I was, that Tyler Marlette would advance to AA, and Marcus Littlewood to High-A, you were, as I was, disappointed.
All of which prompted us to re-visit the entire catching situation.
First, let’s take a look at the traditional stats for the catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, in order of level (with the understanding that the above list has since changed levels):
Now let’s zero in on our Spectometer, prospect evaluation stats. The four columns with blue highlights compare each hitter to benchmarks the we have found to be useful indicators of future MLB success (very few make it). The final three columns with red highlights are our ratings of non-random ability in “plate skills” (PSA+), “offensive production” (Conv+) and the composite of the two (Comp). Those are keyed to a “100” rating being roughly the benchmark for a hitter to have the ability to succeed in the majors as a hitter at a non-glove position.
So, for catchers with defensive ability, you don’t have to look for guys at 100 and above.
|Age||Lvl||HR%||BB%||XBH + BB%||ISO||K%||PSA+||Conv+||Comp|
|Slugger > 4%||Goal > 8.5%||Goal > 19%||Goal > .200||Goal < 20%||Strong Prospect > 100|
Sucre: What does it mean that he ranks so very low on our scale? It means he doesn’t really contribute any non-random value at the plate. His walk rate is disastrously low, which pulls his “plate skills” number way down. Nor does he hit the ball with authority on a regular basis (ISO below .100). He has, in the past, had a lower K-rate, but while 16% is good, it will not at all make up for the miniscule BB-rate and lack of power. So there’s really no reason to suspect that he’ll have any real value against MLB pitchers. [But — so you know! — John Buck didn’t either (in 2014 anyway).] He’s there for defense.
Hicks: His surface numbers look quite good, but don’t hold up so well under the microscope. He’s butressed by a sky-high .366 BABIP. Nevertheless, Hicks has made good progress after falling off in pretty much every category in 2013. The organization likes athleticism behind the plate, and Hicks brings that plus a strong arm (consistently has gunned down 40+% of baserunners). He’ll bring a better bat than Sucre, so I think it’s a good bet that when the time comes he’ll win the backup job.
Marlette: He’s finally putting up “buy-in” numbers for me, but they’re at High Desert and fueled in part by a homer binge, so I’m not sure how much weight to give them. Hicks had 15 homers in the desert and only 8 since, so you can see how it can distort. Still, the organization clearly moved him past Littlewood by promoting him to High-A and leaving Littlewood in Clinton. I still have them about even, but I can see why the scouts love Marlette. All the reports are that he’s made big strides on defense and is likely to stick it out as a catcher. If so, he may end up as ideal trade bait since Zunino is set for a long ride and Marlette may have more value than a backup.
Littlewood: The converted shortstop has always been one of our favorites because he’s what we call a “walks-and-doubles” guy and we always thought that was an interesting combination with switch-hitting catcher. His plate skills have always graded out indicating MLB potential, with enough pop to make it interesting. He split time with Marlette at Clinton in 2013, but the club obviously decided they wanted both to play every day in 2014, so Littlewood got left behind. I think that’s mostly indicative of who’s ahead of him, since the reports are he’s worked very hard to make himself a solid option behind the plate.
The guys from the foreign leagues show up, but I don’t put much value in those stats, so I kind of wish I’d left them off.
None of these guys is going to displace Zunino, but one of the above four is likely to be his eventual running mate. They will always love Sucre for defense, and it will be a question of how long he can hold on to the job without any meaningful offensive contribution.
Marlette and Hicks have earned their spots on the pecking order, but I like Marlette as a trade option just because I think other teams will be attracted to his numbers and skills. And I don’t think he’s a great fit as Zunino’s backup.
So I think eventually Hicks and Littlewood will battle for the backup job, and I continue to like Littlewood as a switch-hitter who can get on base. But that’s still quite a ways off.
Nevertheless, this is one part of the pipeline that is flowing quite well.