No matter what the Rays do, they just can’t find a quality starting catcher. Aside from Dioner Navarro‘s All-Star season in 2008, the catching position has been the bane of the Rays’ existence year after year, and the current pairing of Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton is pretty pathetic. The Rays keep drafting and acquiring catchers, but at this point, none of them have panned out. All the Rays can do is keep trying. Micah Gibbs could be the next example of that.
It’s pretty rare that you find a third round pick from just three years ago already released, but that is what has happened for Gibbs. Gibbs entered the 2010 MLB Draft being widely regarded as the second best catcher available behind Yasmani Grandal. He was never going to be a great hitter, but he was a great defender and had shown flashes of good power and discipline as a switch-hitter and the ability to be an above-average major league starting catcher. Gibbs was expected to be selected in the first round of the draft, not quite in the top 15 where Grandal would be selected, but not too far behind either. When draft day came along, though, Gibbs went into a free-fall. It wasn’t until the 3rd round, 97th overall that he was finally selected as the sixth catcher taken in the draft (including the Rays’ own Justin O’Conner). How did that possibly happen? Probably because teams were not sold that he would hit at all. The way that Gibbs’ career has turned out so far, the naysayers have to be feeling awfully good about themselves.
In 815 minor league plate appearances the last four years, Gibbs, 24, has managed just a .217/.329/.293 line in 208 games. His strikeout to walk ratio has been a good 186-105, but he isn’t hitting the ball with any authority whatsoever and even though he’s walking, he’s also striking out at a 22.8% clip, way too high for a player that’s not hitting for any power. He’s still looking good defensively, but the Cubs had seen enough and released him. But is there enough promise here that Gibbs will get another chance? It’s hard to think that he won’t and the Rays could very well be that team.
The biggest issue with Micah Gibbs is that he doesn’t really have a plus tool. His bat speed is average and maybe even a tick-below average, and even though he’s strong and has some raw power, he hasn’t been able to make it materialize in games. He has shown good patience but not so great pitch recognition, preventing his discipline from helping him to make better contact. Defensively, he’s a good receiver and moves well behind the plate, but his arm strength is only average and he depends much more on his throwing mechanics to throw runners out. Gibbs was only impressive because he was solid all-around, not because he really stood out in any regard accept perhaps his receiving and game-calling. At the same time, though, there is still something here. Even as Gibbs has struggled mightily, he has mashed left-handed pitching from his natural right side to a .253/.401/.433 line. Maybe you tinker with his hitting mechanics and try to shorten his swing or even try converting him to solely a right-handed hitter. Gibbs has some ability and even if he’s not going to blow you out of the park, he still has a chance to be a starting catcher in the major leagues someday. And now he’s out on the market desperate for an opportunity. If you’re the Rays and you believe that Gibbs has any talent left at all, why not give him a chance?
You can go through the Rays’ minor league catching corps as many times as you want–there’s nothing going on. The best player by miles and miles is Chris Gimenez, but he’s not a prospect and it’s only a matter of time before he’s back in the major leagues. Mark Thomas entered the year as some sort of prospect, but right now he’s hitting just 129 in 102 plate appearances. Lucas Bailey has been hurt and Justin O’Conner is going nowhere. Aside from Gimenez, there are only two players you can legitimately say are having a good year, and that’s Curt Casali at High-A and David Rodriguez way down in the Venezuelan Summer League. You have multiple players who have done nothing to warrant a professional job at their level–Juan Apodaca, Geoff Rowan, and Ryan McChesney–and guys like Jake DePew, Mayo Acosta, and Craig Albernaz who are also organizational guys. Why not give an opportunity to a player who can certainly live up to the low standards of the Rays’ current catching corps but actually have some talent as well?
In this year’s draft, the Rays will heavily consider selecting a catcher early on. But the Rays have seen the past several years that having just one or two good prospects and banking on them to succeed is not a good strategy at all and they need as many options as they can possibly get. Micah Gibbs could be signed at no risk at all and become one of those options if things break right. Sign him, take him to extended spring training and try to see if you can reform his swing, and see if this is anything here. Maybe Gibbs’ talent was overstated from the start and he will never amount to anything. But after he was so highly regarded just a couple of years ago, he’s worth one more look, and the Rays especially have to be a team heavily considering making that happen.