Back Stopped: A Look at the Tampa Bay Rays Lack of Catching Depth

Is Luke Bailey the Rays catcher of the future? via a.espncdn.com

The Rays struggles at the catcher position have been well, if not over, documented on this site. With the news that Luke Bailey may be signed, sealed, and delivered by Monday signing deadline, the Rays could finally have a big time catching prospect in the organization. Although Bailey was drafted in the 4th round of this year's draft, he was considered by many as the top prep catching prospect before his Tommy John surgery. Of course taking a high school catcher is a risk in itself, and one coming off a major injury is an even bigger risk, but most scouts predict that Bailey is worth the gamble. He can hit for average and power. He has a great arm and enough athleticism that some project he could play second or third base, however, he shows the skills needed to stick at catcher. On top of all that, the kid can run a little bit too.

We know what we have at the major leagues. Even if Dioner Navarro rebounds to have a decent season (not likely) he is still in his arbitration years. Gregg Zaun is our savior this year, but is what he is and that's an old catcher, who really should be a backup. I guess we can throw Michel Hernandez in the same group with Zaun except Hernandez should be the backup's backup. Shawn Riggans has played one game for the Rays this year and recently suffered yet another injury after returning to the Durham Bulls. I like Riggans, and I'm sure the seams from Fernando Rodney's fastball are still imprinted on his chest, but if he's still on the 40-man roster next year I'll be shocked.

This leaves us with the minor leaguers...

 Player

Age

Level

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

ISO

Jaso

25

AAA

0.248

0.342

0.350

0.320

0.101

Albernaz

26

AAA

0.188

0.264

0.256

0.245

0.068

Ashley

25

AA

0.212

0.331

0.314

0.311

0.102

 

 

A+

0.236

0.311

0.340

0.306

0.104

Spring

24

AA

0.190

0.264

0.351

0.285

0.161

Lobaton

24

MLB

0.176

0.176

0.176

0.158

0.000

 

 

AAA

0.241

0.292

0.353

0.29

0.113

 

 

AA

0.423

0.484

0.769

0.532

0.346

Lopez

24

A+

0.174

0.236

0.243

0.222

0.070

Jefferies

21

A

0.282

0.349

0.389

0.345

0.107

McCormick

22

A+

0.224

0.297

0.448

0.336

0.224

 

 

A

0.165

0.272

0.252

0.259

0.232

You'll notice I left of Hudson Valley and Princeton. Both are not full season squads and neither have any real prospects at the position. Besides, I think the names above show how desperate this organization is in the need for a catcher. Offensively, what has plagued the Rays major league team at the backstop position is an organization wide epidemic. Unfortunately, defensive metrics for the most part are unavailable in the minors so we're relying on reputation.

I thought John Jaso might challenge the backup spot this year, and possibly contend for a starting job in 2010, but his 2009 has been lack luster. The power saw from him last year has not been there this year and his defense is suspect to say the least. He has increased his walk total, but that's more of a moral victory than anything to be excited over. Behind him for most of the season has been Craig Albernaz, who is organization filler as is the case with a few other names on the list.

Nevin Ashley has the most at-bats in AA for a catcher, but again the production has been terrible. The 6th round pick in 2006, has dropped off each season since his impressive 2006 campaign and at age at 25 he finds himself back in single-A. The reason he is there, other than his production, is the addition of Jose Labaton.

Labaton had a brief stint with the Padres big league club after a below average start in Triple-A. However, since joining the Rays, Labaton has been on fire. He has five extra base hits in eight games after hitting just nine in 39 games for the Padres Triple-A affiliate. Labaton is 24, and since he is on the 40 man roster, there is a chance we could see him in September. He reminds me a lot of Dioner Navarro which doesn't mean much for his future. Matt Spring is his backup in Montgomery and again...organization filler.

The catcher position for class A+ Charlotte has been a revolving door. As mentioned above, Nevin Ashley has gotten his fair share of playing time there as well as Christian Lopez. Lopez, 24, is more filler. Mike McCormick has played for the stone crabs, but is currently with class A Bowling Green. Even though he's just 22 he's looking like filler of the future.

The lone bright spot on the list is Jake Jefferies, the starter for the Hot Rods. At age 21, Jefferies is the best thing going behind the plate in the Rays system. He's more of a contact/gaps hitter than a home-run threat at this point with 14 doubles and eight home runs. His plate discipline has been impressive and he has more walks (34) than strikeouts (32). His defense is still a work in progress; however, his footwork is decent. His arm behind the plate remains a question mark. He's not a top prospect by any means, but he's the best we've got; that is until Luke Bailey officially signs.

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