In an interesting, although not unforeseen development, the Diamondbacks moved highly touted catching prospect Stryker Trahan to the outfield over the winter. What was surprising, perhaps, is that we just caught wind of this move last week despite it being in the making for over a month. It has been speculated for some time that he might eventually see a position switch due to his raw catching abilities. Drafted for his bat, the athletic teen was put behind the plate to maximize his value. Unfortunately, the defensive aspects of his game never seemed to materialize.
Here’s his mlb.com write up from when he was drafted:
“Developing high school catchers hasn’t always been an easy task, with some not making it and others getting switched to another position.Trahan, though, does have the chance to be a very good all-around backstop. Strong and muscular, the ball jumps off his bat and he should have future home run power, even though his swing can get long at times. He even runs well for a catcher. He provides a good target behind the plate and has plenty of arm for the position. He’ll need to improve his footwork and keep himself from stabbing at pitches, but the tools are there to stay behind the plate.Trahan goes all out and competes and has the makings of a good leader, also important for the position. There’s enough there to make him the top high school backstop on most Draft boards.”
So why put the kid behind the plate to start with? As I discussed at Beyond the Box Score yesterday, catching is at an enhanced premium in the National League. In a league with no DH, it’s harder create a potent offense. There’s already one black hole in the lineup (pitcher) and it’s nearly suicide to have to have two of them. Therefore, catchers, who aren’t generally regarded as the best hitters, have an elevated value because the ones that can rake are already at a premium and play a bigger role in an NL lineup. Because of this, it was certainly worth a chance to try out Trahan behind the plate. Unfortunately, this is one of those experiments that didn’t take. His bat has always been the calling card and as a good athlete with a cannon arm, he should be able to survive in an outfield corner.
But what does this mean for the state of catching in the Diamondbacks organization?
It’s a big blow, there’s no other way to put it. The system as a whole lacks impact bats and to take one away from a premium spot definitely hurts the depth behind the plate. Let’s review what’s left in the organization now that Trahan will be running down fly balls.
The top overall catching prospect might Jose Herrera. He was signed as a 16-year old last July out of Venezuela for $1 million, roughly 45% of the Diamondbacks’ entire international signing budget. At that time, he was rated as the 10th best international prospect according Ben Badler of Baseball America, the top international prospect writer/scout. You can see him catch and hit baseballs really hard here. As a 17-year old this season, it’s safe to say that he’s at least five years from the majors (probably more like six or seven) and shouldn’t really factor into any kind of decision making for the organization at this point. His range of outcomes is far too wide to pencil him in as anything more than a high priced lottery ticket, albeit one with a comparatively good chance of paying off.
Michael Perez looked like the real deal when he hit .293/.358/.542 as a 19-year old in the Pioneer League for the Missoula Osprey. His stock was rising rapidly and there was thought that the lefty-swing Puerto Rican could rise quickly. The organization challenged Perez with an opening assignment to High-A Visalia at the age of 20 to begin the 2013 season, skipping Low-A altogether. He struggled mightily and was eventually sent to Low-A South Bend, where he probably, in hindsight, should have started. He was far better in 46 games there, but these events have drastically cooled his stock. It’s now a wait-and-see situation and I’m personally very curious where the organization starts him to begin the 2014 campaign. There’s still some promise there, but it’s questionable at this point in time.
Beyond these two, there’s a big drop-off in terms of impact. Raywilly Gomez has shown an ability to hit for average throughout his minor league career and looks destined for AAA at some point in 2014, but at 24, he’s not really anything more than a potential backup. Blake Lalli is in a battle for the backup catcher role right now, but is a backup at best and one with really no upside as he’s already 30. The same can be said for his main opponent, Tuffy Gosewich, who has only posted an OBP north of .300 five times in eleven minor league stops. Veteran Bobby Wilson was added for depth this spring but recently reassigned to AAA Reno after looking pretty poor at the plate in limited spring training at-bats. Looking way down the road, BJ Lopez was decent in the Arizona Rookie League as a 19-year old out of Puerto Rico. While his stats won’t wow you, after seeing him in person, I’m convinced that he’s a good athlete who has a chance to make it work.
(As a total aside, I noticed a strong trend with the bulk of this group: intriguing names. We have a Tuffy, a Lalli, a Raywilly and we used to have a Stryker. Does the front office have a thing for interesting names behind the plate? I kid, I kid… but really?)
And, if you haven’t noticed, Miguel Montero hasn’t been his former self at the plate recently. The jury is clearly out on 2014, but after the season he just had, blind optimism seems like a bad idea. What do the D-backs do if Miggy struggles mightily again or gets hurt? Four AB’s for Tuffy per game seems like a waste of four AB’s and those are opportunities that the team can’t afford to give away if they want to make the playoffs. Montero either needs to do another complete 180 and/or the team might need a better backup plan than they currently have. If only there was a way to get another catcher…
Enter recent rumors that the team is looking to flip one of it’s young, talented shortstops for a young, offensively capable catcher. Filling a need via a surplus seems like a dandy of an idea and I fully believe this is being explored. I wrote about the fact that the team doesn’t need three shortstops a while back and I fully expect someone to get moved before the season starts or shortly thereafter (perhaps between Australia and Giants series (see how I avoided saying the dirty word “Dodgers” right there?)).
One move that makes a lot of sense is a trade with Yankees. If you haven’t heard, they have an old and possibly brittle shortstop right now backed up by a old and can’t-hit-a-lick shortstop. What they also have is depth at catcher. A move for JR Murphy, the Yankees number three prospect according Baseball Prospectus, might be the ticket, but the Yankees are just one of the teams that are a potential match. The Pirates, Mets, Brewers and Braves might also make sense from a quick peek around the league.
Moving Trahan to the outfield is one thing, but the Diamondbacks have a potentially larger problem on their hands in a league that prioritizes catching. Admittedly, it’s not a great position to be in and I’d be surprised if they don’t do anything to address it at some point this season. They might wait to see if Montero can resort to his old ways before making a move, which is perhaps the right approach, but there’s a distant and potentially dismal crop in minors and it’s a situation that needs to be addressed one way or another.
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