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Around the Horn: Catcher

     To quote your friend and mine, Bruce Buffer: "Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit's TIIIIIIiime!"

     The off-season, as far as Boston is concerned, is essentially over, and it is time to begin the usual flurry of pre-Spring Training looks at the team. Today's edition? Catcher.

     The team's catcher position is simpler than it has been since the days of Doug Mirabelli. There will be one starter, and one backup, the same as pretty much every team in the world, and instead of the question marks that have been around the past couple of Spring Trainings, here is your roster of catchers:

     Starter:

F06940a4-0969-493b-9ac3-62bbbf424823     
 Victor Martinez. In Victor we trust - for now, anyways. Victor is a perennial All-Star-type catcher

with plus tools pretty much across the board.

     As a hitter, you can't ask for anything more. Without being greedy, anyways. Victor has ridiculous career numbers. A .299 BA is impressive, but a stellar .372 OBP and .465 SLG% are even better.

     The thing with Martinez is the consistency. Every season, he's going to hit .300, hit about 25 HR's, draw 70 walks and hit a bunch of doubles. One concern was his strikeouts (used to whif an easy 70 times a year) but that has been a declining trend, and last year he finally walked more than struck out. Also, he had a career high 11.2 walk percentage last year. His developing patience should only make him better.

     On defense, Victor isn't dazzling. He's fairly athletic back there, and was almost an elite defensive catcher until he was derailed by an elbow injury in 2008. Since then, it appears he has lost a lot of 'uumph' when throwing out baserunners, nabbing just 12% (less than half of the league average) last season. Elbow injuries often take a couple seasons to heal after surgery, so we might see some bounce back here, though whether he can get up to his lofty 35-40% CS of a few years ago (absolutely great) remains to be seen.

     People in the know seem to believe that Victor will have no problem catching the Red Sox staff, which I hope is true. Notably, he was fine with Wakefield in his game last season.

     Another aspect of Victor's game is his ability to play first. He isn't really good at it, but he's passable, and it'll allow him to play 150 games, rest Youkilis and get Varitek into some AB's.

     Bench:

Varitek      Jason Varitek. it was kind of hard to write that. The Captain, following years of decline, finally hit the Mendoza Line - hard - last season, and will be relegated to bench duty in what may be his final season.

     Offensively, I don't know what to tell you. Move along, nothing to see here. Jason Varitek hit about .200 against righties last season, and don't look for that to get much better. Varitek did post a healthy .807 OPS against southpaws, though. For this reason, you can expect him to see a lot more time hitting situationally, or stepping in against lefties for Victor (who is 4% worse than his norm in terms of OPS).

     On defens, there isn't much to say, except that 2005 was a long time ago. Varitek has lost a lot of mobility through the years, but is not by any means a bad catcher just yet. 2009 was his first season in years of posting an rtot below 0 (by the numbers he cost the team 6 runs in 2009, after 'saving' nine over the previous three seasons). As far as range and blocking and catching in general goes, I think Varitek is still an average catcher.

     His game calling ability is the stuff of legend at this point, but his throwing arm is a joke. Last season Al runners stole - get ready - 108 bases off of him. A hundred and eight. Jorge Posada was second in the league, allowing 80 steals. And he even had an average arm (28%) snagging 30 runners. Varitek caught 16. Of a hundred and twenty-four. That's 13% for those of you keeping track at home.

     I'd say everything counted, Varitek is a perfectly average catcher, and a fine backup. His offense should bounce back a little from the rest (he almost always wore down and hit horribly in the second half), and be an asset off the bench.

     Depth:

     Boston has three catching prospects.

     Mark Wagner is a Minor League veteran, at 26. He seems to be a pretty good hitter, though notoriously streaky. Good discipline, and is apparently made for Fenway with a right-handed pull swing. On D he has the potential to be a great major league catcher. He will be playing AAA this season and first in line for a callup.

     Tim Federowicz will be playing in Salem at 23 years old. Appears to be the most naturally gifted of the three, but needs a lot of seasoning. Hit well in Greenville, but hasn't really been consistent in his pro career. Needs to develop plate discipline. Federowicz is toolsy and is presently an above average defensive catcher, with the ability to get much better. Has the talent but is a ways off.

30c4b_t300      Luis Exposito. Currently ranked as Boston's 11th overall prospect, Exposito is still only 23 and will be starting 2010 out at AA Portland. Exposito has all the tools. He projects to be a plus big-league hitter, consistently hitting around .300 so far in his pro career. His peripherals need time to develop, though. His eye is quite mediocre, and he hit just 10 HR's last season, despite hitting over 20 in '08 and drawing scouts' rave reviews for his slugging potential. On defense there is a lot to like tools-wise, but needs experience calling a pitching staff. A year with the Sea Dogs could do wonders for him and turn him into an elite catcher in waiting.

     So there's a keyhole look at the Red Sox' present and future catching position. Tomorrow should be the infield. Keep an eye out for that.

     Thanks for coming out,

    -Matt


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