Coming into this year, it appeared the Tampa Bay Rays had a big upgraded at catcher. They had traded for Ryan Hanigan to be the starter and re-signed pitch-framing wizard Jose Molina to serve as the backup. However they neglected a big part of having success at catcher- depth.
At the beginning of the year, the Rays two catchers at Triple-A were Ali Solis and Eddy Rodriguez. Both are good defenders, however Solis’ career .657 minor league OPS and Rodrigez’s .671 mark were not going to get the job done at the big league level. Neither were capable of filling in for an extended period of time without significantly costing the Rays on offense. That was especially tough to stomach with the fact that Molina is a light hitter himself. If Hanigan were to get hurt the Rays would get next to nothing on offense from their catchers, and the worst happened and Hanigan has gotten hurt not once, but twice. The first time Solis was called-up as his replacement, and true to his reputation he was a fairly mediocre player in the 8 games he played in.
The Rays also had Curt Casali in Double-A at the beginning of the year. He mashed at the level by hitting .314/.500/.429 before quickly being promoted after 22 games. In Triple-A, his bat has taken a step back, and he has hit just .237/.335/.359. Unlike Solis and Rodriguez, Casali has upside, and he could be a good backup catcher in the near future. However, his bat still needs work as his Triple-A numbers show, and he also has some refinement to do defensively. Yet when Hanigan went down to an injury the second time, the Rays were forced to call upon Casali. He has not performed well in a small sample size, hitting .111/.238/.111 while not throwing out any of 5 basestealers. Casali was rushed to big league action before he was ready, and that is because they lacked another capable catcher.
So what could the Rays have done differently? Admittedly good catchers are hard to come by, and those that are capable usually aren’t sitting in Triple-A as a team’s 3rd catcher. That said, the Rays could have done much better than Solis and Rodriguez, giving them a capable 3rd catcher while ensuring that Casali did not have to come up before he was ready. Whether it was via trade or minor league deal, the Rays should have done a better job of emphasizing catching depth.
Now the biggest key for the Rays is simply getting Hanigan back healthy. That doesn’t look good now, as he recently suffered a setback in his rehab. In the grand scheme of things the lack of a quality 3rd catcher probably is only the difference in a win or two. But as we know the Rays need all the help they can get this year.