Catcher Alternatives from the Left Side

With the departure of Gregg Zaun, it appears the Rays are ready to have Kelly Shoppach catch 120 games or so in 2010.While Shoppach qualifies as serviceable vs right-handed pitching, he excels versus lefties. This should leave the Rays looking for a catcher who can hit from the left side of the dish or at least one has shown the ability to hit either hand adequately. What options are out there? Let's break them down into two categories: internal and external options.

Internal Options

Jose Lobaton

 

Lobaton is a switch-hitting catcher who was claimed off waivers from the Padres when he was designated for assignment upon acquiring Sean Gallagher from Oakland. The Rays thought enough of Lobaton to keep five catchers on the 40 man roster. The 25 year-old Venezuelan was initially signed as an amateur free agent by the Padres in 2002. Prior to being claimed by the Rays, Lobaton was named the best defensive catcher in the Padres farm system consecutive years. We can probably assume he would at least not be a liability behind the plate.

As for the stick, Lobaton had a brief hiccup at AAA in 2008 with the Padres with a slash of .241/.292/.353 in 148 PA. At all previous levels Lobaton displayed good on-base skills consistently walking comfortably over 10% of the time. Upon being claimed by the Rays he was sent to AA Montgomery where he had a nice line of .262/.376/.452. The previous year in AA he OPSed  .760.

The key with Lobaton is he shows much better from the left side of the plate. If we isolate his LHB vs RHP appearances his numbers look like this over the past three years.

Year

Level

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

BB%

K%

2007

A+

314

0.269

0.354

0.432

0.163

11.5%

22.6%

2008

AA

287

0.271

0.347

0.457

0.186

11.2%

22.7%

2009

AA

87

0.280

0.360

0.493

0.213

10.3%

19.5%

2009

AAA

107

0.284

0.352

0.432

0.148

9.4%

20.6%

John Jaso

Jaso is a 26 year-old left-handed hitting catcher who was rapidly on the rise through the Rays farm system after being selected in the 12th round of the draft in 2003 by the Rays out of high school. He was added to the 40 man roster prior the the 2007 rule five draft. The biggest roadblock for Jaso has been his defense. However, he did have his worst offensive year at the plate in 2009. If there is to be a time for Jaso, in the organization, there probably won't be a better opportunity than now.  Jaso has displayed decent power and excellent on-base skills throughout the minors with his BB:K ratio floating around one, always excellent for a double digit walker.  He also does not find himself crippled by the sight of a lefty on the mound with a career OBP of .360 vs LHP.  Jaso's #'s vs RHP splits can be found below:

 

Year

Level

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

BB%

K%

2007

AA

317

0.311

0.408

0.489

0.178

13.9%

11.7%

2008

AA

280

0.267

0.398

0.409

0.142

17.5%

9.6%

2008

AAA

78

0.278

0.333

0.514

0.236

7.7%

9.0%

2009

AAA

307

0.261

0.358

0.364

0.103

11.7%

12.4%

 

External Options from the Minors

Luke Carlin

Carlin has had a long and winding road in professional baseball that has resulted in a couple cups of coffee in the bigs the past two seasons totaling about 100 PA. Originally drafted by the Tigers in the 10th round out  of Northeastern in 2002, he was granteda quick release in 2003. He caught on with the Padres immediately and played in their organization for 6 years. He signed with Arizona in 2009 as a minor league free agent. Carlin did very little with the bat until 2008, essentially his 3rd full season in AAA. However in back to back years he has now posted OPSes of .828 and .911. Carlin is another switch-hitter who has fared better from the left.

As for the defensive book, the consensus say defense is his bread and butter. Scout.com had this to say in 2007:

2006 Defense (Triple-A Portland): .991 Fielding Percentage was second among all catchers in the Pacific Coast League. He caught 36% of runners attempting to steal (24 of 66). Carlin is like a brick wall behind the plate. His part-time catching role in Portland was sometimes staggered however Carlin performed with unwavering consistency. The 26 year-old calls a good game and challenges hitters and pitchers alike by calling for pitches on the inside portion of the plate. Carlin's pick-off move to first has seen a lot of improvement.

Carlin is either rule five eligible or a minor league free agent  after being outrighted to AAA on December 3rd, depending on whether he accepts the assignment.  I'm sure the consensus is he is a  AAAA player based on his age of 29 years, but given the relative lack of an opportunity cost, he could be worth a ST look to an open-minded organization. Below are his splits over the past 3 years vs. RHP. At the least, he is a good defensive, poor hitting catcher who is willing to draw walks when given the chance.

Year

Level

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

BB%

K%

2007

AAA

239

0.243

0.357

0.337

0.094

15.1%

24.3%

2008

AAA

90

0.296

0.433

0.507

0.211

17.8%

23.3%

2009

AAA

202

0.345

0.448

0.53

0.185

15.4%

19.8%


Kyle Phillips

Phillips was drafted out of high school by the Twins in the 10th round of the 2002 draft. After spending 4 years with the Twins, he would spend 1 with the Brewers before finding a home in the Blue Jays organization in 2007. Like Jaso, the big question on Phillips is his defense. What the left-handed hitter has done consistently with the Blue Jays is murder right-handed pitching. Phillips is just 25, if his defense is better than subjectively advertised, he will have a future in the bigs. He was outrighted to AAA, and will be exposed in the Rule Five draft. His numbers vs. RHP are below.

Year

Level

PA

BA

OBP

SLG

ISO

BB%

K%

2007

A+

342

0.329

0.372

0.453

0.124

7.0%

9.9%

2008

AA

246

0.326

0.398

0.472

0.146

10.2%

12.2%

2009

AAA

239

0.346

0.413

0.49

0.144

8.8%

13.0%

The Rays are in pretty good hands with Shoppach behind the dish, it is not worth giving up a key trading chip for a catcher who will play 40-50 games when there are freely available players within and outside of the system who have yet to be given a shot, and who would be less expensive than a veteran. Let's get three of these guys into camp and let the strong man survive.

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