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Catch you later

Posted by Maureen Mullen November 27, 2008 05:57 AM

Regardless of Jason Varitek’s fate in free agency, the Red Sox must begin the process of finding their starting catcherof the future.

Several names have surfaced in trade rumors, including the Rangers’ Gerald Laird, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Taylor Teagarden, and the Royals’ Miguel Olivo. The Sox may look within their system, but that’s not as easy at it may sound.

“It’s the most difficult position to scout, draft, and develop,” said one major league source. “There’s the mental aspect, the physical aspect, the offense, the defense. And then you’re trying to project how these guys will be three or four or more years down the road.”

Added Sox director of player development Mike Hazen, “I think that minor league catchers, more than anybody else, get more things placed in front of them. …Where position players can spend X many hours in the cage during the course of the day working on their offense, catchers don’t have that luxury. … They also have to be involved with all the pitching meetings, and all the pitching aspects, catching bullpens, working with pitchers, those types of things, and I do think that takes a toll. And until they really know how to balance all those things, I think it really does become much more of a significant challenge earlier in their careers, and I do think it takes them a little while longer to figure it out.”

For that reason, the Sox are more patient with catchers and slower to promote them.

“We look for more prior to being called up,” Hazen said. “You’re looking for obviously an offensive proficiency, because every catcher in the minor leagues hits, regardless of what happens at the major league level. … You’re looking for defensive proficiency, a general ability to be able to catch, receiving, blocking, throwing, all those things. And then you’re also looking for that proficiency of running a pitching staff, and that becomes more and more intricate as they move up the ladder.”

The Sox currently have four catchers on the 40-man roster: Kevin Cash, Dusty Brown, George Kottaras, and Mark Wagner. David Ross, who appeared in eight games for the Sox last season, is a free agent.

“I don’t see any of them as being in the future Hall of Fame,” said one scout. “They’re OK, but they have a way to go. Dusty Brown is not a bad hitter. He’s a steady guy, works hard, but he doesn’t stir me, really. Kottaras is a nice little catcher. Does OK with the knuckleball. Dusty Brown does, too. [Regarding] Mark Wagner, they seem to have a lot of affection for him, but more than I do.”

Added another scout, “I don’t think any of them are going to be front-line guys. Brown, they’re really high on, and what I saw of him, I just thought he was an OK catcher. Brown looked to me like possibly a backup guy. To me they’re all backups at best.”

Brown, 26, spent last season with Triple-A Pawtucket, where he hit .290 with 12 homers and 55 RBI, throwing out 27 of 100 potential base stealers. Kottaras, 25, hit .243 with 22 homers and 65 RBI while throwing out 18 percent of baserunners for the PawSox.

“The first two or three games I saw [Brown in,] he was an automatic out,” said a scout of Brown’s performance in the Dominican. “He looked bad striking out. But then he swung it pretty good a couple of games. Behind the plate he looked all right. I don’t think he had many opportunities to throw anybody out. And the time or two that I saw, his throws weren’t accurate.”
Wagner, 24, spent last season at Double-A Portland. He hit .219 with 10 homers and 48 RBI, throwing out 41 percent of attempted base stealers. He hit .288 in 18 games in the Arizona Fall League.

“He’s not a real polished guy,” said a scout who observed him in Arizona. “He has power and good arm strength, but he definitely needs to refine his mechanics. He has a presence about him. He’s athletic enough that he’ll probably be a piece of the puzzle. I can’t say yet whether he’s a No. 1.”

Beyond that 40-man roster group, the Sox had Juan Apodaca and John Otness at Double-A Portland last season, and Jon Still and Luis Exposito at high Single-A. Some observers believe Wagner and Exposito, who turns 22 in January and just completed his third professional season, may have the most upside at the position in the organization.

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

1 comments so far...
  1. Bring up Dusty Brown. He had good numbers of .290/.377/.471/.849(BA/OBP/SLG/OPS) last year at Pawtucket. He hit those 12 HRs in 265 at bats. He's solid defensively, the most polished defensive catcher in the Sox minors. He needs a challenge in order to keep improving, and the Sox need him in Boston. Bring him up at the start of the season and let him fight it out with Tek for the starting line-up. He's better than Cash (when did Cash ever hit .290?), and Cash was better than Veritek last year. As far as the Dominican League goes, why would anyone ever expect an American catcher to look good there?

    Posted by Rick November 28, 08 12:11 PM
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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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