Unbelievable. (Image Credit roxaddict.mlblogs.com)

Craig Albernaz: Taking Super-Utility Player to a Whole New Level

There are utility players, then there is Craig Albernaz. Albernaz would be absolutely nothing special- if the Rays and their affiliates hadn’t used him the way they have thus far in 2012 and throughout his minor league career.

Albernaz, 5’8″ and 195 pounds, was a completely and totally unheralded and disregarded undrafted free agent who signed with the Rays for the 2006 minor league season. Albernaz, a catcher by trade, came out of Eckerd College in St. Pete and the then-Devil Rays decided to give him a go. Albernaz, then 23, hit just .180 with a .469 OPS between 31 games at Advanced Rookie Princeton and 2 emergency games at Double-A Montgomery. Ouch. But Albernaz did throw out 38% of attempted basestealers and the Rays signed him for 2007.

In 2007 at Low-A Columbus, Albernaz slipped to a .170 BA and a .463 OPS in 39 games. But he upped his caught stealing percentage behind the plate to 49% and only had 3 passed balls. In 2008, Albernaz started at High-A Vero Beach and appeared to have met his match (if he hadn’t already, which he did), hitting just .128 with a .403 OPS in 18 games, although he did smack his first pro home run and drive in 7, 1 more than he had the previous two pro seasons. But he threw out 64% of attempted basestealers and survived a game in left field, and the Rays liked his defense enough to promote him back to Montgomery. There, Albernaz somehow learned to hit, posting a .340/.392/.489 line with 2 doubles, 1 triple, 1 homer, and 9 RBI in 14 extremely fluky games while proving his defense was no fluke, throwing out 50% of attempted basestealers. By that point, the Rays decided to make Albernaz their “organizational catcher,” the reliable game-caller who would move up and down the levels while providing a stable presence behind the plate.

In 2009, Albernaz hit .173 with a .490 OPS in 4 games back at Montgomery and 49 at Triple-A Durham, posting a 39% CS%. He also got into a game as a pitcher, tossing a perfect frame. In 2010, Albernaz spent 54 games at Montgomery and just 1 at Durham, but he hit a good deal better, hitting .250 with a halfway decent .652 OPS, 5 doubles, 2 homers, and 15 RBI. He played 51 games at catcher, posting a nice 44% CS% with just 4 passed balls, but he also played 3 games at second base (although his fielding percentage was just .667), and even a second game at pitcher. In that game, he allowed a run in his inning, but he actually struck out two batters! This past season, Albernaz appeared in 39 games, 30 at Montgomery compared to 9 at Durham, hitting .209 with a .572 OPS (mostly thanks to 6 doubles), although his CS% dipped to 29%. He got into another game at second base, going 2 for 2 in his chances this time around, and 3 games at pitcher, getting slammed to a 13.50 ERA in 4 innings, striking out just 1. But all of that was just a warm-up for what has happened to begin 2012. This tweet by Albernaz himself says it all.

Are you kidding me? Albernaz appeared in two consecutive games for Durham as a pitcher, tossing 2 scoreless frames and allowing just 1 hit while striking out 1, and then he caught in a game the next day. What?

Craig Albernaz is nothing particularly special as a baseball player. But he’s an underdog who has overcome the odds to make Triple-A and he’s an excellent team player. I’m expecting Albernaz to get into at least 1 game for the Rays at some point this season, especially with Jose Lobaton currently on the DL. He’s the ultimate Ray in terms of his versatility and work ethic. Incredible.

Tags: Craig Albernaz

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