Breaking Down the Minor League Catcher Market: Part 4, The Ones That Already Signed
By Robbie Knopf
Over the past couple of weeks we have discussed minor league free agent catchers that the Rays could potentially target. One group of players that we left out is the players who already signed with other teams. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the notables among them right now.
Bryan Anderson, White Sox- Anderson, who turned 26 earlier this month, got into 25 with the Cardinals between 2010 and 2012, hitting .273 in 49 plate appearances, and was a solid hitter for years in the Cardinals system, managing a .285/.350/.405 line, before falling off to .225/.302/.317 in 2012. Anderson has been an interesting prospect for a while thanks to a fluid lefty swing and flashes of power to go along with solid defense behind the plate. However, Anderson’s power has never been something he’s been able to put into use on a consistent basis, hitting just 14 homers combined in the two years since he set a career-high with 12 homers in 2010. Anderson has featured a solid approach at the plate, maybe being a touch overaggressive, but he lost his groove in 2012 as he struck out 86 times versus just 36 walks, although frustration over not being at Triple-A for the fifth straight season was likely a factor. Anderson has struggled versus left-handed pitching the last two years, managing just a .190/.256/.260 line, and it’s clear that there’s risk with him offensively, but he has hit to a solid .260/.334/.387 line at Triple-A in over 1500 Triple-A plate appearances and has been agitating for a big league job for years. Defensively, Anderson’s arm is just average but he moves well behind the plate and looks to be an average defender. Anderson is coming off a tough year for the Cardinals, but he could be a player with the ability to be an above-average major league catcher or at least a platoon player if he’s given a chance. The White Sox have some uncertainty at the catcher position as they decide whether to re-sign A.J. Pierzynski or to give Tyler Flowers their starting job, and Anderson gives them a player who could potentially compete with Flowers and Josh Phegley for big league time if Pierzynski departs.
(Replacing Anderson in the Cardinals system is J.R. Towles, who we discussed in Part 1.)
Luke Montz, Athletics- Looking at his numbers, Montz immediately attracts your attention as a catcher who hit 29 homers at Triple-A New Orleans in the Marlins organization last year. However, even as he hit all those homers, his line was just .222/.310/.495. Montz, 29, is a Quad-A slugger type of player, having nice power but a swing that gets too long and a patient approach at the plate but sub-par pitch recognition. If Montz was a first baseman like that, he’d be overlooked, but as a catcher he’s a little interesting. Defensively, though, Montz has long been regarded as a poor defensive catcher and actually played more first base than catcher in 2012 so he’s going to have to work to get his defense passable before he can seriously think about a big league job given his skill-set. Montz is a relatively similar player as current Athletics catcher Derek Norris as a catcher with power from the right side but also strikeout problems that will limit his ability to hit for average. The major differences between them are that Montz is 5 years older and his plate discipline and defense are both worse. The Athletics finished 2012 with a platoon of Norris and George Kottaras and appear to be continuing that for next season. Montz will play at Triple-A behind that pairing with the opportunity present for him to receive big league time at some point.
Matt Pagnozzi, Braves- Pagnozzi is a former big leaguer from 2009 to 2011 with the Cardinals, Rockies, and Pirates, and the gist with him is that he’s a good defensive catcher who has thrown out 36% of attempted basestealers over the course of his minor league career and has solid receiving skills as well but he’s never really hit, managing just a .220/.300/.312 line in the minors. Pagnozzi may actually be more impressive as a pitcher. Pagnozzi has made just 3 appearances as a pitcher in his career, one each in 2004, 2008, and 2012 (every Leap Year?), and has been great, not allowing a single run in 4.1 innings and striking out 3 while walking none. Obviously this is an extremely small sample size, but Pagnozzi has a nice arm and his career as a catcher doesn’t appear to be going very far, so why not try him on the mound? The chances of that happening are pretty slim, but it’s hard to find a position player with 3 or more pitching appearances as good as Pagnozzi. Assuming he remains a catcher, Pagnozzi will provide depth behind Brian McCann and Gerald Laird for the Braves.
Manny Pina, Royals- Teams were bound to have interest in Pina, but the Royals quickly re-signed him back on November 6th. Pina, 25, has gotten into 5 games with the Royals the last two years and could make a bigger impact for the team next season. Pina suffered through a lost 2012 as he was out until late June after surgery on the meniscus in his right knee. Pina did get into one major league game by the time the season ended, but appeared in just 49 minor league games, not a single one at Triple-A as he spent most of his time at Double-A. Pina is regarded as a very good defensive catcher thanks to smooth actions and a strong arm. He has thrown at 36% of attempted basestealers in his minor league career and was all the way up 51% in 2012. Offensively is where Pina’s game is more questionable as he has a .252/.326/.363 career line. However, Pina has really improved his plate discipline the last three years, posting a 110-93 strikeout to walk ratio compared to 120-53 the previous three years. He does have very little experience at Triple-A, just 85 games and 319 plate appearances, so he could use one more year to polish his abilities. He’ll never be great offensively, but he has the ability to hit for a serviceable average and OBP given his defense, and maybe even hit 5 or 6 home runs. The Royals have to be looking at Pina as their backup of the future behind Salvador Perez, and he could be a nice complement to Perez’s abilities if he can stay healthy and prove that he can hit well enough at higher levels.
The bottom line on catchers is that if one shows any promise, their team will be hard-pressed to let them go. The minor league catcher market is almost never flush with talent, but sometimes players slip through the cracks and become productive players in other organizations. All these signings are nice for the teams that execute them because they’re low-risk gambles with the ability for considerable upside in some cases, and these teams hope to see to signees take the steps forward they need to contribute for them in the big leagues next season.