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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Six Year Outlooks: Catcher

Welcome to the first edition of the Six Year Outlook feature.  I discussed earlier what this feature is, but I want to briefly note the layout I plan to use.
  • Players are ranked by proximity to the major leagues.  For players already in the majors they'll be sorted by expected playing time this season.  AAA veterans who may see time with the big club will be ranked in order of likelihood to be called up.
  • I will try to list all players with a decent shot at making the majors, even if they only project to be a backup.
  • For each player projected to start this season in Oakland I'll note the amount of service time they have (as of the end of the 2009 season) and how many years they have before reaching free agency.  These figures will be based on their not returning to the minors.
  • For each player projected to start the season in the minors I'll include my best guess at their major league ETA
Kurt Suzuki
Opening Day Age 26
ML Service: 2+
Arb Status: Eligible after 2010
FA Status: Eligible after 2013

This article over at Fangraphs explains Suzuki's value better than I ever could.  The bottom line is that a good defensive catcher who is league average offensively is worth about 3 wins and is a rare commodity.  Suzuki will be arb-eligible starting next season and as a unique player, its hard to judge how much he'll earn.  Mike Napoli, who is superior offensively, but much worse defensively, earned about $2 million last year in his first year of arbitration eligibility (as a Super-Two).  Recent deals for full time catchers in their second and third years of arb-eligibility have been for about $3 and $5 million.  There's also been talk of extending him through his arbitration years which would lock in price certainty.  If it were signed before next season I'd expect a three year deal worth about $11 million or so. 

Even at 26, no one really expects improvement from him going forward.  He is plenty valuable, though, so even if he merely repeats his performance of the past two years he'll be an asset even at $4 million a year.  The only thing I'd question about Suzuki is how he'll respond to the heavy workloads he's had so far in his career.  On the one hand, that he hasn't had any injuries at all and has been able to handle catching over 145 games for two years in a row might be a sign that he's super-durable.  On the other hand catching that frequently may mean that he's a candidate for future injuries or an early breakdown.  That being said, Suzuki gives the A's a quality option as a starting catcher through 2013.

Landon Powell
Opening Day Age 28
ML Service: 1
Arb Status: Eligible after 2011 (unless he becomes a Super-Two)
FA Status: Eligible after 2014

Powell was once an intriguing prospect, but frequent and severe knee injuries derailed any track to stardom he might have had.  That being said he very well may be the perfect backup catcher.  He can hit for power, has a good defensive reputation, is a switch hitter, and can fill in at first base.  His massive size (he's listed at 255 pounds, but looked at least that big at times last year) makes him fun to watch, but may increase his already high likelihood of injury. 

Powell is a bit old for a second year player.  He was drafted as a senior in college and spent much of his minor league career battling injuries.  Given that he'll be cheap for the same length of time he's likely to be useful he's a nice player to have around.  The A's wouldn't be in dire straits if he had to fill in for Suzuki because of an injury for short period of time, but if Powell has to catch every day for any stretch of time his knees may not hold up.  He's also not likely to be a good option at starting catcher in 2014 should Suzuki leave as a free agent.

Joel Galarraga
Opening Day Age 28
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Mid 2010

Last Winter the A's signed Galarraga who played the 2008 season in the Mexican League, which I believe has the talent level of somwhere between AA and AAA.  It's pretty hitter friendly and Galarraga hit .318/.416/.440 and threw out nearly 50% of baserunners trying to steal on him.  He was injured all of last year and doesn't project to be anything more than a backup.  That being said, he's an interesting player who could very well be a viable backup in Oakland.  He'll start the year in AAA.

Anthony Recker
Opening Day Age 26
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Mid to Late 2010

Curtis Thigpen
Opening Day Age 26
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Mid 2010

Recker's an interesting organizational player who may blossom into a decent backup.  He' s shown flashes of offensive potential in the past (in High-A in 2007 and AA last year).  There's little to indicate that he'll develop into a serviceable starter, but he's not horrible with the bat - so he's at least interesting.

Thigpen's another potentially interesting backup who missed last year because of injury.  He was the Blue Jays' second round pick in 2004 but has been pretty horrible offensively since reaching AAA in 2006. 

Both Recker and Thigpen will start the year in AAA and hopefully neither of these guys will see time in Oakland this year.  They're not bad guys to have in the organization and very well may be better than some major league backups (especially if they're named Brad Ausmus).

Josh Donaldson
Opening Day Age 24
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Mid to Late 2011

Donaldson's the A's last chance to get something useful out of the Rich Harden deal (at least directly).  There's hope that he can turn into a starting catcher, especially with his offensive improvement over the past two years.  While a member of the A's organization he's picked up his hitting, putting up a .330/.391/.564 line in 188 at-bats for Stockton in 2008 and then hit .270/.379/.415 for Midland last year.  He has an OK defensive reputation and he threw out 40% of would-be base stealers last season.  There's a chance that he'll develop into a decent option to be the A's starting backstop in 2012 or 2013, but all signs point to being a second stringer or palatable starter at best.  Donaldson will start 2010 at AA Midland.

Petey Paramore
Opening Day Age 23
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: Late 2012

The A's drafted Paramore out of Arizona State with their 3rd round pick in 2008.  He had a strong defensive reputation, but his bat needed to develop (a lot) in order for him to be anything more than a potential backup.  Well, his hitting has not improved and he'll start the year in Kane County where he'll be a year or two older than most of his competition.  Because of his glove there's still a chance that he'll have a major league career, but he's looking like a backup at best.

Max Stassi
Opening Day Age 19
ML Service: 0
ML ETA: 2014

Suzuki represents the present and the near-future for the A's behind the plate.  Stassi is the long term future.  He doesn't quite project as a superstar, but the A's considered taking him with their 1st pick last June and instead took him in the 4th and paid him 1st round money.  Scouts think he's average to above average in all aspects of the game with no real weaknesses (which make him sound a lot like Suzuki to me).  High school catchers are notoriously tough to project and I wouldn't bet the farm that Stassi will be ready to take over for Suzuki in 2014.  That being said, Stassi is about as good a plan as any team could have for the catcher position 5 years in the future.

6 Year Outlook
With Suzuki the A's should be set behind the plate through 2013.  The A's also have a number of players who should be able to be decent backups for that duration as well.  Powell looks to be a near-ideal backup for the foreseeable future, but should injuries sideline him or render him ineffective, the AAA trio should be able to handle backup duties until Donaldson is ready.  There's a chance that Donaldson pushes Suzuki aside a year early, but if he shows the potential to start, it'd likely be as a bridge between Suzuki and Stassi.

The A's don't really need to look specifically at acquiring catching prospects, ,especially those who would be playing at the AA or AAA levels.  But given the high attrition rate of young catchers there's no reason to go all-in on Stassi.  Should catchers who project to be major league starters 5-6 years from now come available (either via the draft or trade) there's no reason not to pull the trigger.

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