Rockies offseason review: Catcher

January 24, 2011 | 8:30 am | 15  

As the spring training reporting date for pitchers and catchers nears, we take a look back at what we thought would happen this offseason and compare it to where the Colorado Rockies stand now. We start today with the catchers:

Oct. 6, 2010: One way or another the team is likely to bring back Miguel Olivo, either as the primary catcher or as a backup to someone like Victor Martinez. If Olivo returns, a trade of Chris Iannetta is increasingly likely unless he plays a larger utility role, backing up at first and third as well as catcher. Mike McKenry could be the backup catcher with a trade of Iannetta or a third catcher if Iannetta stays in an expanded role. Any move, however, will be made with full knowledge that the Rockies could have plenty of help on the way from the minor leagues in the next couple years.

What interest the Rockies may have had in Martinez fizzled quickly as he drew plenty of interest and became one of the first big free agents off the market when he signed with the Detroit Tigers in late November. Early indications that the Rockies were leaning toward keeping Olivo over Iannetta flipped when the team hired Carney Lansford, who worked with Iannetta in the minors, as its new hitting coach. The team has gone all in with Iannetta as the starting catcher for 2011. Rather than aggressively pursue another catcher like Bengie Molina or Yorvit Torrealba to share time with Iannetta, the team collected a handful of true backups like Jose Morales and Matt Pagnozzi to compete with McKenry for the job behind Iannetta.

With prospects Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco closing fast on the big leagues, it’s now or never for Iannetta to stake his claim for the Rockies’ catching job beyond this season. He will earn $2.55 million in the second year of a three-year contract and is coming off a season in which he hit .197 and was optioned to Triple-A for a month. His power has never been in question and he’s a good defensive catcher already familiar with the Rockies pitching staff. But he must make more contact to prove he’s an everyday major-league catcher. As noted at the beginning of the offseason, the primary duties for a Rockies catcher remain managing a staff in a tough ballpark for pitchers. If Iannetta could get close to his numbers in 2008, when he hit .264 with 18 home runs and an .895 OPS, it would be a huge improvement for the Rockies at the position.

As for the role of backup catcher, the job will likely come down to a competition between McKenry, Morales and Pagnozzi. Of the three, Morales, who was acquired from the Minnesota Twins for a minor-leaguer, has a slight advantage in that he is a switch-hitter and has the most major-league experience of the three. Morales as well as McKenry have another advantage of Pagnozzi in that they are already on the 40-man roster. So Morales probably has the early edge, but backup catcher is one of the few true open competitions going into spring training.

Rosario may start the season in extended spring training as he comes back from a season-ending knee injury and will likely go to Triple-A when he’s ready. He is still very young — just 22 on Feb. 23 — but is regarded as the best position player prospect in the Rockies system. He also was recently rated as the fourth-best catching prospect in the major leagues. He’s a potential future All-Star catcher and as long he continues to live up the Rockies’ expectations, Iannetta is probably just keeping the spot warm for him. With a strong 2011 season Rosario could be a September callup, but whether he sees the major leagues this season or not, 2012 is the target date for his arrival. It’s also the final year of Iannetta’s contract. Who enters spring training next season as the expected starter will depend a lot on how these two players perform in 2011. As for Pacheco, he will return to Double-A where he finished last season following Rosario’s injury. He remains in the mix as a future everyday catcher, but he’s also a former second baseman who played plenty of first base in the Arizona Fall League. His future may be as a utility player who ends up with 400+ at-bats bouncing around the diamond.


  • Matthew | January 24, 2011 | 12:50 pm

    If Iannetta cannot perform at a decent level this year, I do not know what to think. This is his final chance to prove he is a major league hitter. If he does perform similar to 2008, that will take some pressure of of Helton.

  • Rocky Mountain High | January 24, 2011 | 1:04 pm

    Sounds like Jordan Pacheco will have similar route to the majors as Pablo Sandoval. Didn’t Panda play C in the minors before being moved to 3B?

  • Matthew | January 24, 2011 | 1:21 pm

    @RMH Pablo Sandoval did play catcher in the minors, as well as 1B and 3B.

  • Jose | January 24, 2011 | 1:24 pm

    I’ll usually take solid defense over a hit-or-miss offense to win, but in Denver, we need both this year. My biggest worry is we don’t know what kind of offense we are going to get from 1st, 2nd, 3rd, catcher, center & right field. Pitching looks promising if Rogers & Chacin pitch up to there potential. But, is Street going to be healthy enough to close? My optimism is up, although this coming year feels like a game of Blackjack.

  • ian | January 24, 2011 | 1:36 pm

    what would be acceptable numbers from iannetta? .240 15-20 hr 50-65 rbis?

    I would be more than happy with that.

  • Steve Foster | January 24, 2011 | 1:45 pm

    Lots of questions with the offense, certainly. Rockies need to see significantly more output from some of these positions: C, 1B, 2B, 3B and LF (or RF, depending on what one is not occupied by Carlos Gonzalez). It’s not out of the question that it happens but the Rockies are certainly asking a lot of Carney Lansford. We’ll take a closer look at pitching later in the week or next week, but quick thought is that Street will be fine.

    Sandoval split time between catcher, first and third in the minors (176 games at C, 155 at 1B and 91 at 3B, for what it’s worth) and did the same when he first came up to the majors before settling in at mostly third. Could be a similar path for Pacheco, although unlike Sandoval, who hasn’t played catcher since May 2009, I think Pacheco will continue to play a fair amount of games at the position. I could see Pacheco settling into a role like that which the Rockies were using Iannetta in at the end of the season, backing up at catcher and getting time at the corners.

  • Steve Foster | January 24, 2011 | 1:49 pm

    If Iannetta could get to around .250, 15 home runs and 50-60 RBI, I would be content with that. If he’s hitting eighth, it would be nice if he could push his OBP up to near the .390 he put up in 2008 — that would mean he was seeing a lot of pitches and turning the lineup over more often than the Rockies managed to do in 2010. Would like to see much better, but those numbers would be pretty good for a catcher compared to others are going to put up.

  • Rockpile | January 24, 2011 | 7:04 pm

    Of the three veteran catchers we have, it looks like Ianetta has the best chance of producing offensively. I looked up the stats for Morales and Pagnozzi. They’re not exactly Johnny Bench. Of course, If we get more from Fowler, Lopez, Smith and Spilborghs, we wouldn’t have to ask as much of Ianetta at the plate.

  • Dylan M. | January 24, 2011 | 10:58 pm

    I’ll say this – If Iannetta OBP’s .390, Rox win the division.

    A .390 OBP is awfully high.

  • Steve Foster | January 24, 2011 | 11:13 pm

    It is high and not predicting he will do it, but he’s done it before. Would be a big help to the bottom half of the order if he could do it again.

  • Jon S | January 25, 2011 | 9:21 am

    Assuming Iannetta rebounds and has a good-but-not-great year, what does that mean for Rosario?


  • Steve Foster | January 25, 2011 | 9:38 am

    Good question, Jon. If it’s as you describe — good but not great — that probably slows Rosario a bit and buys him a little more time in the minors. He is just 22 so a 2012 arrival would still be very early. If Iannetta had a great year — say, .280, 28 home runs, 80 RBI — that could potentially change things in organization a bit. I still believe, though, that Rosario is the Rockies’ catcher of the future.

  • Bill | January 25, 2011 | 1:03 pm

    I’ve always been high on Iannetta because even when his average is down he does work the count and I think his OBP is decent, especially considering he hit below the Mendoza line. I’m sure someone out there has those stats handy.

    And I think if he’s given a chance to play he will hit but last year Tracy started using Olivo early and often which hurt Iannetta’s play and eventually I think wore down Olivo.

    I understand the minor leagues are different but for those of you who were Denver Bear fans some 30 years ago you might remember the season Tim Wallich had. I don’t have the exact state memorized but for the first month or so of the season he was batting well below .200 (maybe even around .100) but the Expos wanted him to play everyday. By the end of the season (which was about a month shorter than the big leagues) he hit close to .300 with lots of power. Of course in the minor leagues the job is to develop a player. Those teams were great fun to watch. Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Wallich, Ellis Valentine and others. I still remember one game when the ump called Raines out trying to steal 2nd. He was clearly safe by 10 feet but the ump was out of position (only 3 umps). Raines put up a big-league argument and was finally tossed. Tim then picked up 2nd base (it was his, he stole it clear and fair) and took it with him as he exited the field under the old center field bleachers in Mile High Stadium.

  • TJ | February 2, 2011 | 11:03 am

    I’m curious about Rox’ views on McHenry. Do they still see him as enough of a prospect that they consider it best that he sees more time as the starter in AAA (at least until Rosario is healthy), rather than giving him a chance to backup Ianetta? With Rosario & Pacheco behind him, starting wouldn’t seem to be an option anywhere for much longer.

  • Steve Foster | February 2, 2011 | 11:36 am

    McKenry’s in a tough spot. He might be good enough that he could be a starter one day, somewhat along the lines of Iannetta with less power. But with Iannetta signed for two more years and Rosario and Pacheco coming along, McKenry’s role with the Rockies is probably as a backup. I don’t think the Rockies will send him to the minors simply to get him more playing time — if he’s the best backup, he will win that job regardless of what it means to his playing time. Rosario’s likely on his way to Triple-A anyway, so even if McKenry were sent to the minors to see more time, there’s no guarantee he would find much more there once Rosario returns.