We’ve written a lot this week about the catcher position, with a few articles on Elias Diaz having a breakout season in Altoona, along with some focus on a few lower level players who are having good seasons. The Pittsburgh Pirates have collected a lot of catching prospects, especially in the lower levels. The result is that they’re looking at a lot of tough roster decisions in Bradenton and West Virginia next year. They could also be looking at a different kind of difficult decision in the majors if Russell Martin doesn’t sign. Here is an early look at the catching position, all the way through the system, for the 2015 season.
The Pirates have Russell Martin and Chris Stewart as their catchers this year, with Tony Sanchez serving as the number three option. The big priority for them this off-season should be extending Martin, as I’ve written before. Stewart had all-around good defensive numbers prior to joining the Pirates, but has really fallen off this year in every way, whether it’s stolen bases, pitch framing, or blocking. Based on how he has played, I could see them non-tendering him.
Next year’s catching position really depends on whether they bring Martin back. There’s really nothing else available on the free agent market. Tony Sanchez would be the top option to start, but he doesn’t look like a starting option at this point. He would make a good backup in 2015, giving him the chance to show improvements with his throwing issues. If Martin isn’t brought back, the Pirates are in trouble in the short-term.
If Sanchez is in the majors, and I think he will be in some form, then that clears the way for Elias Diaz to move up to Triple-A. Diaz would take over the Sanchez role in 2015, serving as the number three catcher. Beyond the 2015 season, he would be the top option to be the backup in Pittsburgh. He could also be a sleeper option to start if he keeps hitting, although he would need some success in Triple-A for that to happen. For next year, this is pretty straight forward.
This is one of the few problem areas for the Pirates. Diaz should move on next year, but they really don’t have anyone to take over in Altoona. Jacob Stallings would be the top candidate. He’s great defensively, and does great work handling a pitching staff. However, he lacks the bat to make it to the majors. My guess is that he will be getting the bulk of the playing time in Altoona next year.
Bradenton will be crowded, and the decision process here will determine how West Virginia plays out. Jin-De Jhang has struggled in his jump from Jamestown to Bradenton this year. He has a .569 OPS in 228 at-bats, and that hasn’t improved as the season has gone on. Jhang has been splitting time with Stallings, who also doesn’t have good offensive numbers. I could see Stallings moving up, simply because that’s a better alternative to him sticking around in Bradenton for a third season. I think Jhang will stay in Bradenton for another year.
Reese McGuire would be the top candidate to move up to Bradenton and split playing time with Jhang. McGuire doesn’t have the best numbers in West Virginia, but such a move to challenge his bat wouldn’t be uncommon. The Pirates have pushed several prospects up to Bradenton after sub-par numbers in a full season at West Virginia. Whether McGuire reaches Altoona in 2016 with similar poor numbers is another topic, but I could see him moving up.
If McGuire doesn’t move up, then one of the 2014 draft picks would be the top option to jump over West Virginia and move up to Bradenton. That could be 4th round pick Taylor Gushue or ninth round pick Kevin Krause. Both players are hitting well in Jamestown, and both come from the college ranks. If the Pirates want to give McGuire more time in West Virginia, then one of these two would be the best option to move up. My guess would be Krause, with the younger Gushue taking a slower path.
Whatever happens in Bradenton will determine how West Virginia shakes out. If McGuire is the starter in Bradenton, then the catching combo of Gushue and Krause would just move up from Jamestown.
The x-factor here is 2014 competitive balance pick Connor Joe. The Pirates have been thinking about trying him out at catcher during instructs. As I reported a few weeks ago, he has been out with back tightness this year. Joe will probably start his career with West Virginia, although there is a possibility that he takes an aggressive path to Bradenton. The Pirates drafted him as a right fielder, and also talked about getting him time at first base. His best value is at catcher, although there’s obviously a lot of options in Bradenton or West Virginia.
The Pirates had this same situation last year with Jin-De Jhang, Reese McGuire, and Wyatt Mathisen. They moved Mathisen to third base, and jumped Jhang over West Virginia. This time around they’ve got more options. They could move on from Jhang as a prospect with a very aggressive push to Altoona, which would be a sink or swim development approach. They could switch positions for someone, with the top candidate being Kevin Krause moving to outfield. Or they could just scrap the plan of Joe catching, thus avoiding the situation. We probably won’t know how this will all play out until the end of Spring Training, just like how it happened last year.
It’s pretty much impossible to get a feel for who the short-season teams will have. This year’s teams feature Gushue, Krause, Danny Arribas, and Yoel Gonzalez as their top options. Two of those guys weren’t in the organization last year at this time, and one (Gonzalez) was in the DSL. The fourth, Arribas, hardly played at catcher last year because of McGuire and Jhang.
A lot of the short-season placements will depend on the 2015 draft, along with the performances in Spring Training. I could see Arribas moving up to Jamestown. He’d probably be a candidate for West Virginia if there wasn’t a logjam. Gonzalez has hit well in the GCL, and should continue getting a lot of time behind the plate, especially since the Pirates paid him a $350,000 bonus. The conservative estimate would be that Arribas goes to Jamestown, Gonzalez goes to Bristol, and Mikell Granberry moves up from the DSL to be the top catcher in the GCL.
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