Typically, Spring Training statistics have as much value as a four dollar bill. After all, last year Munenori Kawasaki led all of baseball in batting average during Spring Training with a .455 batting average, then hit only .192 in 104 at bats for the Seattle Mariners. Matt Hague tied for the lead in home runs during the spring with seven – he has seven in his major league career. However, for lack of anything better to assess the performance of a player during the preseason, these statistics need to be treated as though they have some degree of merit.
With the opening for the Tampa Bay Rays backup catcher expected to be a three way battle between Chris Gimenez, Robinson Chirinos and Jose Lobaton, the performance from each during Spring Training may go a long way to determining which option opens the season with Tampa. As Chirinos was likely a long shot after missing all of last season due to a concussion suffered in March, the battle is likely between Gimenez and Lobaton.
As the Rays are closing in on the halfway point of their preseason schedule, it appears that Gimenez is doing everything in his power to seize the opportunity to claim the backup catcher spot for his own. In his 19 spring at bats, Gimenez has put together a .526/.524/.789 slash line, with a home run, two double and three RBIs. Meanwhile, Lobaton is batting at a .214/.313/.214 rate, with two RBIs and two walks. The difference in production also likely cannot be explained away by a difference in the level of competition, as according to the baseball-reference.com opponent quality rater, both players have faced the exact same level of pitching thus far in the spring.
Gimenez may have already had an advantage heading into the competition, as he has spent time in the outfield and at first base, while aside from an inning at second base in 2009, Lobaton has been strictly a catcher. Had both players produced at roughly the same level, that versatility may have been the deciding factor. However, as it stands at this point, such a tiebreaker may not be needed.
While it is highly unlikely that Chris Gimenez produces at this rate going forward, any glimpse of offense at the catcher spot would be a welcome change for the Rays. Hopefully Gimenez will be able to continue his momentum going forward, and provide adequate offense during the 2013 season.