March 7, 2012; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon (left) talks with catcher Jose Molina (28) between innings during spring training against the New York Yankees at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Ed Note: We would like to officially welcome Toby David to the writing staff. If you live in the Tampa Bay market, you already know him from the KingDavid Show that ran at 1010 AM over the last two years. We are happy to have Toby's insight as as someone who played collegiate baseball at Clemson and Furman and also pitched in the Marlins organization.
A frequent topic of conversation is how the Rays can improve at the catching position. Rays' catching has been so hideous, that the arrival of Jose Molina was hailed as a monumental acquisition this past offseason. While Molina brings excellent defense, it's a fair assumption his offense will continue to lack. Joe Maddon has gone on record saying that the Rays will use a true platoon at the catching position, with Molina catching 70-90 games. Molina hasn't shown any huge gaps as far as splits, so whoever wins the backup job can be strong versus lefties or righties.
As I scoured rosters all across baseball, I looked for teams with catching prospects at the upper levels of the minors. These prospects might allow for some of the MLB catchers to become available. We've heard the same names countless times on this site- Nick Hundley, Ryan Hanigan, etc. And those players would provide a substantial offensive upgrade. Sources say Andrew Friedman attempted to trade for Ryan Hanigan during the offseason, so it's not only the fans that see the need for a quality catcher.
One of the other areas I looked at was which players have dramatic splits over the past couple seasons but may be undervalued by their current team. Rays fans should be accustomed to a catcher with impressive splits versus pitchers of a specific ilk. Kelly Shoppachsays hello. One of my concerns with players that show strong splits versus LHP is their ability to maintain those splits playing sporadically. Shoppach was still solid vs LHP, but he didnt fair quite as well as previous seasons because he wasn't getting consistent at bats for much of his time in Tampa Bay. Every hitter I've ever met feels they hit better the more they see "live" pitching. Therefore, it would be nice to find a backup that has performed well given only modest playing time.
What if we found a catcher that has proven for the past 3 seasons that he is a capable backup, strong defender, and has hit RHP quite well? What if the team he currently plays for has one of the best catchers in baseball, making him more expendable? What if he's only makng $1.5M this season, and is a Free Agent after 2012? This player is UF alum, and current Atlanta Braves catcher, David Ross. Ross has been a part timer for the past 3 seasons, averaging 155 Plate appearances over that span. In that time he has posted an impressive .390 wOBA vs RHP, with a slash line of .275/.379/.519. His BABIP is a bit high at .333, but isn't outrageous considering his line drive percentage is a healthy is 22.2%, so there shouldn't be a substantial regression based on luck. He has struck out a good amount vs RHP the past 3 seasons (24.2%), but I don't mind my catcher striking out to avoid double plays. He counters the strikeouts with an excellent 13.4% walk rate vs RHP, so he's got that going for him, which is nice.
For the past three seasons, Ross has shown the ability to hit, hit for power, walk, and play good defense. He's inexpensive, played well as a part timer, and probably won't cost much on the trade market. I haven't even mentioned his most valuable trait. He's gritty. Very gritty. Yes, he was teammates with David Eckstein at University of Florida, so that's got to rub off. Maybe it will rub off on BJ. #Banned