ST. PETERSBURG - APRIL 24: Catcher John Jaso #28 of the Tampa Bay Rays takes a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Tropicana Field on April 24, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
There are several compelling story lines within the American League East this season. Carl Crawford is a Red Sox, Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon are Rays, the Yankees are determinated to build the perfect rotation for the year 2001, etc. However, the most interesting storyline to me will be watching and tracking the growth of the stable of young catchers inhabiting in this division.
Each of the five teams has one: Jaso, Wieters, Saltalamacchia, Montero, Arencibia. The amount of playing time they'll receive will obviously vary depending on the situation, but by season's end I'd expect at least four of the five to lead their team in starts behind the dish (the possible exception is Jesus Montero - we'll get to him in a minute). Using the CAIRO projection system, let's take a look at how the five stack up. We'll start with John Jaso.
John Jaso: 453PA, .249/.343/.355 wOBA: .318
After looking at all five projections, the thing that stands out to me the most is Jaso's .318 wOBA. Surprisingly, that ranks as the lowest of the five, with even Jarrod Saltalamacchia coming in at a .319. Jaso's career low wOBA at any level is .336 at Durham in 2009. Last year's .341 may be a tad on the high side, but I don't believe it's going to fall 23 points. Of course, it easily could and I'll look like an idiot. There are obvious concerns with Jaso: namely, he's a slow slap hitter who derives most of his value from his great patience. Those types of players are hard to pin down performance wise. Even if he has a high walk rate, if he can't hit then pitchers will pound him with strikes until he finally shows he can beat them. But as I've already stated I'm on the optimistic side, I don't see him posting a sub-.350 OBP.
Jarrod Saltalmacchia: 365PA: .247/.320/.403 wOBA: 319
With Victor Martinez now with the TIgers, Saltalmacchia gets another chance to prove he's starter material after a failed stint with Texas. A 68-year-old Jason Varitek is all that stands in his way, and if he can't beat him out...well...that's embarrassing for all involved. Even though he's seen action in parts of the last four seasons, "Salty" will turn just 26-years-old this season. That's younger than John Jaso, by the way. He's always hit relatively well in the minors for a catcher, but hasn't been able to put it all together for a full season (with injuries being a factor) at the MLB level. His career wOBA in 899 PAs at the MLB level is .307. Not good. As a Rays fan I hope he doesn't realize his potential this season, but at 26 he's still young enough to breakout.
Matt Wieters: 545PA, .268/.337/.413 wOBA: 331
Despite an increased walk rate and ISO, partnered with a lowered strike out rate, last season was a disappointment for Wieters compared to his rookie campaign. The culprit looks to be the .287 BABiP compared with the .356 he put up in 2009. The .303 wOBA he posted in 2010 is not what we expected to see from someone who has a whole Chuck Norris style facts page dedicated to him. He's a switch hitter and won't be platooned like Jaso will be, so he should easily reach the 545 PA's CAIRO projects for him. With another year of experience under his belt, and an improved Orioles' lineup around him, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the projected .331 wOBA was just right.
J.P. Arencibia: 545 PA.245/.305/.482 wOBA: .335
There will be no John Buck nor Mike Napoli in Toronto this season. That leaves the 25-year-old power filled Arencibia and Jose Molina to man the backstop for the Blue Jays. It's obvious who the better offensive player is out of the two, and it's not close. After a disappointing 2009 season at AAA (.728 OPS, nearly all SLG% aided), Arencibia had a great 2010 in Las Vegas. His triple slash line of .301/.359/.626 and 32 home runs helped earn him a promotion to the majors, where he proceeded to spit on James Shields' soul by hitting two home runs and a double in his first game. His CAIRO projected wOBA of .335 is nearly all due to his tremendous power; even if his OBP is below .305 he should still be a league average catcher. The Toronto motto seems to be "Swing hard and hope", which looks like a perfect fit for Arencibia's talents.
Jesus Montero: 508PA, .261/.326/.446 wOBA: .337
There's debate as to where Montero will accrue most of his at bats this season. The Yankees signed Russell Martin to catch and are moving Jorge Posada to full time DH duty. As such, it's likely that Montero will begin the season back in AAA - where he posted a .375 wOBA last season - until either he forces the Yankees' hand or a spot opens up organically. If Russell Martin is the same player we saw the last last two seasons when he had a wOBA's of .307 and .306, then we should see Montero by June at the latest. He could match those numbers in his sleep. While CAIRO isn't as high on Montero as ZIPS (another respected projection system) is, a projected .337 wOBA for a 21 year old rookie would be impressive nonetheless.
Young, cheap, talented catchers have never been a market inefficiency, but it seems like the American League East has a firm grasp on that market.