One of the most common (and accurate) sayings in baseball is, “you can never have too much pitching”.
While that’s entirely true, the most important positions are up the middle of the diamond. That includes who’s on the mound, but also who’s manning center field, shortstop and the other most important position on the diamond, catcher.
The Indians were lucky enough to stumble onto Yan Gomes’ talent last season after Lou Marson went down with a shoulder injury. He was kind of an extra or bonus player in the trade that brought in Mike Aviles.
So now that Gomes is entrenched as the starter for the time being and Carlos Santana is going to find a new place to lie his hat on the diamond, who are the Indians best options behind Gomes?
Every Major League team has roughly six or seven minor league affiliates. Each team needs at least two catchers.
Behind developing quality pitching, developing a bonafide All-Star catcher is one of the hardest things to do as an organization in baseball.
The Indians current challenge not only lies in developing them but sorting out playing time with a number of catchers right now.
Francisco Mejia, only 17 years old, might be the Indians top prospect at the position. He could be ticketed for Lake County to start the year or at least head to northeast Ohio sometime mids-summer. He hit .305 with four dingers in the Arizona Rookie League last year at a tender age.
Just behind him right now is Eric Haase. A laser-quick arm and clocked at times around a 1.7-1.9 ‘pop time’ last year in Lake County, the 19 year old backstop has all the defensive tools one would like in a catcher. His 14 home runs in his first full season as a pro were also a nice surprise. Haase showed a lot of maturity and leadership handling the staff with the Captains last year.
Despite being from just outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Haase committed to play his ball at The Ohio State University before the Indians nabbed him in the seventh round in 2011. So if nothing else, that makes him a pretty good guy.
Tony Wolters is also one of the Indians priorities at catcher this year. Plenty of scouts thought his transition from middle infielder to behind the plate went pretty well. A good athlete with soft hands, Wolters has taken to learning from a few good teachers in the organization such as Sandy Alomar Jr and Dave Wallace. One concern I had was how his offense might suffer while making a big position change. He still hit .277 last year in Carolina. He’s already spent two years in the Carolina league, so this will be a big year for Wolters developmentally.
Not forgotten is Alex Monsalve, who battled some injuries in 2013 and played in just 25 games. At 6’2, 225, he’s got all the physical attributes you want at the position. Already having played in the Arizona Fall League, the Indians thought highly of Monsalve’s skills and potential. With Wolters headed to Akron this year, Monsalve could feasibly split time with him for the Rubber Ducks. He needs playing time to keep developing. He was at one time considered the Indians top catching prospect and was rumored to be in a deal two years ago to bring Shane Victorino to Cleveland.
Jake Lowery spent 70 games in AA Akron last year. A former fourth round pick and a decorated college catcher, Lowery hasn’t quite progressed like some might have thought. He could be in Akron as a third catcher or be a roving backup a bit like he was in 2013. Still, Lowery has some pop in his bat, always attractive in a backstop. It will be interesting to see where he gets playing time this year.
Jeremy Lucas had some big hits for the Captains in 2013, hitting .274 in just his second full season out of college. He’s likely ticketed for Carolina to work with Haase once again.
The one big wild card in all this is local favorite, Alex Lavisky. After breaking a bone in his foot last year, Lavisky played just 45 games between Carolina and Akron. He also played a bit of a roving backup role as well when he was healthy. The Indians spent one million on Lavisky to lure him away from playing college baseball at Georgia Tech. He might have fallen back in the pecking order or might get lost in the wave of catchers the Indians are looking to find playing time for. He can still hit the ball a mile and has a pretty solid arm. If the Indians want to continue to try and develop him, putting him in Akron with Dave Wallace again might be a good idea.
There of course is Roberto Perez, the defensive specialist, who is just a phone call away at Columbus should the Indians need an extra catcher at some point this season.