September 4, 2011; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Jose Lobaton (31) throws the ball to first for an out in the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field. The Rays won 8-1. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Spring Training Preview: The Catchers

With the start of Spring Training a little more than a week away, it is time to take a look at the position battles that will be the talk of the spring for the Rays. One of the bigger battles will be the battle for the second catcher spot. Jose Molina is locked in to a spot on the final roster, but who will join him? As it stands now, Jose Lobaton or Robinson Chirinos will be starting the year in Tampa Bay.

We don’t quite know what to expect from either, as they both were injured when they got called up to the big club last season, limiting their offensive appearances. Both are also coming off injuries this offseason, so the spring will be make or break. This is one battle that will  be decided based solely on spring performance.

The Rays are still shopping Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis, so there is a chance Andrew Friedman could find a trade involving a catcher, like a Davis for Geovany Soto deal, which would solve all of the catching problems. Adding a veteran like Soto could sure up the shaky catcher position and fill the one big void in the Rays lineup.

If the Rays had their way, Jose Molina would take more of a back-up role, since he has never started in his career. Molina’s ideal range is probably 60 or so starts, since he is truly a defensive catcher. His offense showed hope last season, as he hit .281 in 55 games, but he has always been known as more of a defensive guy.

As it stands now, Molina would probably get the bigger share of the starts, unless Lobaton or Chirinos completely blow us away. It will still be an interesting battle this spring, as both could win the spot with an impressive spring.

As I mentioned earlier, both spent time at the big league level last season. Lobaton had 34 at bats, hitting a putrid .118. Chirinos had a bigger sample size, hitting .218 in 55 at bats. Both appear to be decent fielders, but Chirinos has only recently made the switch to catcher. He was a middle infielder until switching to catcher full time in 2009 when with the Cubs. He had good numbers behind the plate last year, but there could be some development that still needs to take place.

At this point, I would say Jose Lobaton will win the spot. It will truly come down who hits better, and while Lobaton struggled at the big league level last year, he has had more success at the plate in the minors. We will see who makes the team out of the spring, because it could truly be either.

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