Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Black Hole Behind The Plate

Coming into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, one of the Minnesota Twins most glaring weaknesses comes in the form of their big league catcher. Kurt Suzuki is a free agent, and has mentioned wanting to play for a winner. That leaves Derek Falvey and the Twins with some really serious question marks.

The only other catcher that got significant big league time with the Twins in 2016 was Juan Centeno. A 26 year old non-prospect, Centeno was a 32nd round pick by the New York Mets in 2007. He played just 14 games for New York at the big league level, before spending just 10 games with the Brewers in 2015. With the Twins, he played 55 games in 2016 and turned in a .704 OPS. It was his only season of any realistic significance, and while the production at the plate wasn't terrible, the results behind it were.

Centeno often looked incapable of reigning in big league pitches, and his 14% caught stealing rate was less than half of the big league average. While behind the dish, he was involved in 33 wild pitches and five passed balls. In general, his blocking and plate coverage ability left a significant amount to be desired. He's not known as a strong pitch framer, and unfortunately, Centeno amounts to a warm body in front of the umpire for Minnesota.

That leaves just three other realistic options in the Twins system. John Ryan Murphy was acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for Aaron Hicks. The hope was that he'd come in, spell Suzuki, and eventually take over. Instead, he put up a .413 OPS in 26 games and spent the bulk of the season struggling at Triple-A Rochester.

Mitch Garver and Stuart Turner both represent options drafted by the Twins. Garver was deserving of a September promotion, and not being on the 40 man was likely the only reason he was passed over. He owns a .764 OPS across Double and Triple-A this season, and actually improved in his 22 games at the higher level. He threw out a ridiculous 48% of would be base stealers, and a case could be made to put him ahead of Murphy at this point.

The guy the Twins probably hoped would be ready at this point is Turner. Known as a glove first player, Turner has just a .677 OPS across his four professional seasons. He's yet to play about Double-A, and he didn't do anything to suggest he's more than ready for a promotion yet. If Minnesota is able to commit to Turner being a defensive backup, then he could be an option sooner rather than later. At any rate, they'll need to make a decision on him to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this offseason.

Looking at the landscape behind the plate, it's pretty apparent the Twins need an external option. I was a big fan of the idea that the club could bring back Wilson Ramos. Unfortunately, he got hurt again, and isn't going to be ready until at least half way through the year. Giving out a big money deal to a guy that might not be able to catch much longer is also not a good idea. There will be other options on the market, maybe a Jason Castro type, but Minnesota will need to get creative.

Right now, the hope has to be that one of Murphy, Turner, or Garver blossoms, but the club can't punt on the position until that point happens. The Twins aren't going to be significantly better in 2017, but shoring up the position with more than a band-aid is something that seems advisable. If Minnesota has had a revolving door at shortstop since Cristian Guzman, they've had a black hole behind the plate since Joe Mauer.