McCann close to returning for ATL
This week, we'll look at some interesting catching situations from around the league. Two prominent catchers started the year with suspensions, and several backstops of various ilk have suffered injuries recently.
The story for the first few weeks of the season has been "When Brian McCann returns from the disabled list, where will the Braves put Evan Gattis' bat?" The question maybe become "When Brian McCann returns, will the Braves still care about Evan Gattis' bat?" Gattis has cooled considerably the past two weeks after a roaring start to the season that found him hitting cleanup for the Braves. El Oso Blanco, as Gattis is endearingly referred to, is hitting a so-so .158/.200/.395 with a 12:1 K:BB since April 16 (38 at-bats), and he has slid from the fourth spot in the lineup to sixth. He still flashes some pop, but it may not be as imperative for manager Fredi Gonzalez to keep him in the everyday lineup. That being said, Gonzalez indicated he plans to keep all three catchers on the 25-man roster when McCann returns from the disabled list next week.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the clear starting catcher for the Red Sox, and David Ross is the clear backup catcher for the Red Sox, but the latter has a much larger role than many of the other Nos. 2 discussed on this page. Ross has started nine of the Red Sox's first 25 games (36 percent), and he has been able to scrape out three solo home runs over his 30 at-bats. Saltalamacchia continues to do what he has done for the past few seasons - strike out in roughly a third of his plate appearances and notch extra-base hits in roughly 10 percent of them. That should set him up for yet another 20-home run, low-average campaign. Mike Napoli has yet to don a catcher's mitt since joining the organization, and it looks like he may be off the position for good. Ryan Lavarnway has yet to establish a foothold at the major league level since hitting 32 minor league home runs in 2011.
Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart entered the season supposed to platoon behind the plate, but Cervelli's (relatively) hot start to the season quickly forced Stewart into the No. 2 role. Stewart will jump into the No. 1 spot after Cervelli broke his hand Friday, and the job should be Stewart's for the next six weeks. Stewart hit a home run last weekend, but he has little track record of successfully hitting at the major league level, and he should bat ninth most nights. Former top prospect Austin Romine joined the Yankees over the weekend, but manager Joe Girardi does not sound sold on giving him the keys quite yet. He had a good start at Triple-A Scranton/Willkes-Barre (.333/.391/.405 in 14 games), but he should only make two starts per week for the Yankees.
Ryan Hanigan's oblique and thumb injuries opened the door for Devin Mesoraco to run away with the Reds' starting catcher role, but the former top-20 pick has yet to seize the opportunity. He has gone 6-for-23 (.261) with one RBI and zero extra-base hits in seven games since Hanigan hit the DL. Other teams have respected Mesoraco's arm though. Opposing runners have only attempted eight steals against him, of which five were successful. That 38 percent caught stealing rate ranks fifth among NL catchers. Hanigan will likely return within the next week or two, and the platoon should return with him.
In the mix: Kelly Shoppach, Jesus Montero
Lurking: Mike Zunino
Jesus Montero's slow start to the season has resulted in manager Eric Wedge gradually moving away from him and toward using Kelly Shoppach on a regular basis. Over the most recent Sunday-to-Sunday week, Shoppach started five games for the M's to Montero's three. The reason? Montero is only hitting .217 through Monday, while making weak contact and seeing a below-average 3.4 pitches per plate appearance. He also has caught zero runners on 10 steals. Shoppach's out-of-character .846 OPS may be unsustainable, but it is playable for the moment, and he has kept opposing runners honest (three CS's in nine attempts). Mike Zunino may only have a .234 average at Triple-A Tacoma, but he threatens to disrupt the status quo with five home runs and a .917 OPS.
Starter: Nick Hundley
Next: John Baker
Suspended: Yasmani Grandal Yasmani Grandal is roughly midway through his 50-game suspension for using PED's last season, but his absence at the plate has not been felt all that much thanks to a surprising effort out of Nick Hundley. Hundley owns a .365/.393/.538 slash line over the past two-ish weeks (52 at-bats), although a BABIP over .400 suggests that line may come tumbling down in the not-so-distant future. He will also have a difficult time fending off Grandal when the Padres' second-year player returns in a month or so. Baker has three hits, three walks, and three strikeouts in 22 plate appearances, and he is likely DFA fodder.
In the mix: Kurt Suzuki, Wilson Ramos, Jhonatan Solano Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos started the year in a 50/50 timeshare behind the plate, with it looking like Ramos would eventually pull away to earn the better half of the platoon. Ramos' mid-April pulled hamstring derailed those plans, but he should return this week and resume his quest to conquer the position. Suzuki had a few multi-hit games and a home run in the days immediately after Ramos' injury, but in total, he has gone 10-for-41 (.244) over his two-week stretch as starter. His 8:5 K:BB in those 13 games is admirable, but it is not enough to warrant keeping the starting job all to himself, or even claiming more than a 50 percent share in the platoon. Jhonatan Solano made a few starts while Ramos was on the DL, but he should head back to Triple-A Syracuse this week.
Carlos Santana entered the year a career .247 hitter. So of course he enters Monday leading all qualified batters with a .388 batting average. While that average is not clearly not sustainable, it looks like Santana is seeing the ball better this year (.83 contact rate versus .77 for his career). Santana has never caught more than 100 games in a season, and the Indians may be tempted to get him into the lineup even more frequently as a first baseman, left fielder, or DH as the season wears on. Yan Gomes was recalled from Triple-A Columbus to replace the DL'd Lou Marson on Saturday, and he has enough power in his bat to make for an intriguing fantasy play if Santana gets hurt or moves away from the position. Gomes is likely headed back to Triple-A once Marson is healthy, but he could supersede Marson if something happened to Santana.
The Orioles lost Taylor Teagarden over the weekend to a dislocated thumb, and they responded by acquiring Chris Snyder from the Angels on Sunday. That is not exactly a vote of confidence for Luis Exposito, who should get ready for the trip back to Triple-A Norfolk. Whoever the backup is will still take a major backseat to Matt Wieters. Wieters' bat has yet to take off in his age-27 season, but he has nailed an AL-high eight runners, and he has hit eat least 22 home runs in each of the past two seasons.
Starter: Jonathan Lucroy
Next: Martin Maldonado, Blake Lalli
Jonathan Lucroy may be hitting .233/.278/.397 through his first 20 games, but he has proven to be perfectly capable with the bat. He achieved a .881 OPS in 2012 and hit 12 home runs in each of his first two full seasons. So then why are the Brewers carrying three catchers? Because Martin Maldonado and Blake Lalli frequently play off-position to cover other spots in the Brewers' banged up infield. Of the two backups, Maldonado is moderately more interesting with a few starts per week at first and nine home runs over his last 271 at-bats.
Carlos Ruiz returned from his 25-game suspension Sunday, which should put an end to the Erik Kratz era in Philadelphia. Kratz started 18 of the Phils' first 25 games, but he probably will not start 18 games over the next two months (assuming Ruiz remains healthy). Ruiz only had two hits in four minor league games prior to his activation, but he figures to be an above-average option, even in his age-34 season. Assuming Humberto Quintero makes it through waivers, then he will probably be the team's third option in case something happens to Ruiz or Kratz. Tommy Joseph, who the Phillies picked up from the Giants last season, owns a .259 OBP at Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
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