Rockies offseason review: Catcher
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:
WHAT WE SAID THEN
Oct. 6, 2010: One way or another the team is likely to bring back , either as the primary catcher or as a backup to someone like Victor Martinez. If Olivo returns, a trade of is increasingly likely unless he plays a larger utility role, backing up at first and third as well as catcher. 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 and to compete with McKenry for the job behind Iannetta.
WHAT WE SAY NOW
With prospects and 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.
SPRING TRAINING, 2012
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.