Spring countdown discussion: Catcher
One of the few positions that created some drama for the Colorado Rockies this offseason has been talked about at length here on the site. But it’s as good a place to start daily discussions about what the Rockies are going to look like when spring training opens later this month.
Who’s starting:, for better or worse. Iannetta was benched for the Rockies’ September run, making only one dramatic appearance with a game-winning pinch-hit home run in the 11th inning against the Brewers on Sept. 29. His batting average in 2009 was never anything to brag about, but he was the Rockies’ top home-run threat for much of the early part of the season before landing on the disabled list. When he returned, his season was pretty much downhill until he finally lost his job to Yorvit Torrealba. Whether this is the year Iannetta finally emerges as the catcher the Rockies have long thought he could be has been the subject of much debate here already. The Rockies believe it his time, and gave Iannetta a three-year extension. The good news: the contract is reasonable money for a backup if that is what Iannetta again becomes.
Who’s backing up: The Rockies made a serious offer to retain Torrealba but refused to budge on the reported $400,000 difference between what they were willing to pay Torrealba and what he wanted. So the Rockies let their former starting catcher, whose greatest month as a Rockie was likely his last, walk and turned toon a one-year deal with an option for 2011. Olivo gives the Rockies more power from their backup, a slight upgrade defensively (at least throwing the ball) and a downgrade in getting on base. Even if Iannetta struggles again, the difference between Torrealba and Olivo probably won’t be felt offensively. Olivo is not really better or worse than Torrealba, just different. The greater impact would come in handling pitchers.
Who’s in the picture: The Rockies have a pair of Pauls — Phillips and LoDuca — signed to minor-league contracts as insurance and possibly mentors to some young catchers coming up through the system. Phillips filled in admirably first for Torrealba, when he left the team in May, and later Iannetta, who went on the disabled list around the same time. Neither Phillips nor LoDuca is someone the Rockies would particularly want to see in their starting lineup this season.
Who’s in the future:is on the 40-man roster and is the prospect closest to the majors. Whether he can be an everyday catcher in the major leagues is still an open question, but he could be a solid backup with his defense. He started 2009 slowly at Double-A Tulsa before coming on and having a solid season. He likely isn’t in the picture for 2010 beyond a potential September callup or a rash of injuries. Behind McKenry are , who should move up to Double-A at 21 years old, and , a converted infielder who had a great season in low Single-A Asheville and will move up a level to Modesto.
Discuss: We’ve debated the relative merits of Iannetta vs. Torrealba or Torrealba vs. Olivo or Iannetta vs. Olivo all winter. Some believe Iannetta has been given a chance and failed. Some believe he showed promise last season and is about to blossom. Rather than debate whether Iannetta should be the starting catcher — it’s his job to lose, anyway — let’s consider another angle. Assume more of the same from Iannetta this season: sub.-240 batting average, 15-20 home runs, 55-65 RBI while batting somewhere between the sixth and eighth spots in the batting order. Can the Rockies remain competitive in the NL West without noticeable offensive improvement from Iannetta or will the Rockies’ season depend largely on Iannetta improving his game? And what does an improved Iannetta look like anyway? Is .260+, 20-25 home runs, 75-85 RBI enough?
Coming Wednesday: First base.