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A Look at the Pirates Future: Part One Catchers

The Pirates, in what seems like a never-ending rebuilding effort, have actually placed their organization in a position where they now actually have a good deal of talent and depth at multiple positions – primarily at the corners, catcher, and consequently right or left field as a fall back for those players who can fit anywhere else.

They have also shown themselves willing and adept enough to move players, and perhaps more importantly their contracts, who no longer fit in their plans to make way for cheaper players, in most cases with higher upsides than the players they are replacing. Of course now that they have this depth, it will be interesting to see who they view as their true long-term options and how proactive and effective they can be in moving that other talent to fill other team needs.

Given all this, I thought it a worthwhile exercise to consider some of the Pirates options, both on the active roster and in the minors and figure what I think might occur. Today I'll take a peak at the catching situation.

When a team uses the fourth overall pick to draft a catcher it's a foregone conclusion that unless something goes horribly wrong, that player is going to pass over everyone else in the system.

Tony Sanchez signed quickly and has already progressed to the South Atlantic Leauge, so that has implications for Ryan Doumit, Jeff Clement, and lesser ones for Jason Jaramillo who is viewed as a back-up long-term. Sanchez is viewed as an above average receiver, something neither Doumit nor Clement have ever been able to claim. Also, over a a small sample size, Sanchez has already started to show his hitting skills too batting over .300 at both minor league stops while drawing walks nearly 13|PERCENT| of the time in his more extended stay (119 plate appearances) in A-ball while showing good power with 14 extra-base hits including four home runs. As one would expect of a power hitter he is not a low-strikeout type, but at just over 20|PERCENT| is not too high either. It is too early to get overly excited though as he needs to pass more significant tests.

 I tend to be very skeptical of right-handed power hitters as all too easily, if their strikeout rates are too high (I use 20|PERCENT| as a bench mark or the Jose Guillen rule as I sometimes tend to refer to it) they can become borderline major league platoon players. Players with some plate discipline get a bit more leeway, but players like Jose Guillen have to keep making consistent contact to maintain their overall batting average to keep them in the everyday lineup. The Reds (sorry Jeff!), for example, seem to like these types and have stockpiled both Laynce Nix and Wladimir Balentien on their roster, Balentien amusingly has been taking on a lot of the slumping Nix's playing time. This is fine if they actually bother to pair these guys with platoon partners, but they are truly overexposed when tried on an everyday basis.  But I digress. Anyway…fortunately, for the Pirates, Sanchez in the early goings appears to be a more substantive hitter than either of these guys, but I am certainly not going to be sold on him until he shows me more of the same at higher levels.

Getting back to the roster depth issues, part of this positional conundrum, as has been discussed previously in the Rotosynthesis blog, has already been solved by the Pirates who instantly shifted Clement to first base in AAA. This was easy to do with both Garrett Jones and Steve Pearce, both already promoted to the Majors , leaving a hole in the Indianapolis lineup that was there for Clement's taking, but more about those three when I  discuss first basemen.

So with Clement moved to first base, Jaramillo a back-up, and Sanchez on his way up the system that leaves us with Ryan Doumit to discuss. Given Sanchez's advancement, he who may have another full season to full season and a half to get healthy and reclaim his position on the club as one of its offensive leaders. Note that this is all about offense as while he may yet still qualify at catcher for fantasy players on opening day 2011, his future could still end up at first base or right field.

So it is with his offense or lack thereof that should be are only concern. Doumit has a fairly good excuse for his season – wrist surgery and Fantasy owners right now have to be patient with him Even though he was able to return in approximately two months, it can typically take at least another full 6 months before full strength has returned and a player's power has returned. Fortunately all it takes is time. History has shown that this type of injury is not career or long-term power threatening.

The real question about Doumit's offense is whether or not is the Doumit we saw in 2008 the real deal or whether it was an outlier in contrast to the rest of his professional career. He has always had pretty good power projecting mid to high teens per season home run power. He has also never been a particularly patient hitter, but last season he was able to more than make up for that lack of walk-drawing ability by combing his power with a sub 13|PERCENT| strikeout rate. That combination, if consistently maintained is one that generates .300 plus batting averages like Doumit managed last season.  The problem, however, is that during his minor league career and previous MLB experiences, his strikeout rates have been higher, sometimes well over 20|PERCENT|, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can repeat his performance by showing the same level of bat speed, contact making, and power. The good sign for this season is that he has maintained a 14.5|PERCENT| strikeout rate, which while higher, is still better than he has done for much of his career. Time will tell, if he fails Jaramillo can stop-gap and they can give Jeff Clement another shot behind the plate too if they prefer their other first base options.