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.
— Craig Albernaz (@CraigAlbernaz) April 14, 2012
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.