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Can Nevin Ashley Make the Big Leagues on Defensive Reputation Alone?

Spring Training is winding down and writer's block is setting in. With little to write about, let's take a closer look at one of this year's Spring Training Heroes, Nevin Ashley. It's no secret that I am way more fascinated with a minor league catcher with little offensive track record than any normal person should be. Blame it on his association with Ben Zobrist's swing mechanic Jamie Cevallos, his roaring 2009 Arizona Fall League campaign or his 2009 Organizational Defensive Player of the Year Award, but Ashley-mania seems to be picking up steam.

Ashley was invited to Spring Training largely to the numbers game needed to handle the expanded pitching staff, and was promptly sent down to minor league camp in the first round of cuts. Ashley was recalled when Dioner Navarro injured his leg. There is an above-average chance Ashley was brought up due to his staff handling ability since the primary objective was getting the big league pitchers ready for the season. Surprisingly Ashley has continued to impress in other facets of the game such as hitting and base-running. Ashley has gone 8-15 with a home run, a double, a stolen base, and has thrown out the only two base runners who dared run on the Golden Gun, Dustin Pedroia and Denard Span. He also joins Michel Hernandez in the pantheon of Rays catchers to hit home runs off Josh Beckett. Spring stats don't matter, but as an extension of his AFL campaign, people are beginning to take notice. To read more about Nevin Ashley's career through his AFL campaign, please read The Rise in the Fall of Nevin Ashley.

For now put aside any offensive breakout from Ashley. R.J. Anderson and I got into a debate earlier this week about the prospects of Nevin Ashley making it to the big leagues. Specifically, the question was posed about the percent likelihood of Ashley achieving specific plate appearance milestones as follows:



















R.J. points to Nichols' Law of Catcher Defense which states:

a catcher's defensive reputation is inversely proportional to their offensive abilities. Therefore light-hitting catchers get good defensive reputations and top hitters like Ted Simmons wind up with lousy reputations. One can note that many catchers have lost a reputation for glovework once they began hitting better and that the opposite is also true, further reinforcing Nichols' Law.

Using the's Season Finder tool on their Play Index feature, I was able to come up with how many catchers qualified for each threshold since 1990 on defensive reputation alone (.625 OPS or less). The distribution is as follows:



There have been 22 catchers who have lasted 600 plate appearances in the big leagues with an OPS south of .625 since 1990. If Ashley's defense is as good as advertised he has pretty good chance to make the big leagues in a backup capacity. If (a big if) he continues to flash his offensive improvement, an MLB career will be a near-certainty. Ashley is slated to begin the season at AA Montgomery. So I turn to you DRB:

What do you project as Ashley's 2010 OPS in AA? Please answer in the comment section.