Curt Casali has been playing out of his mind as of late. After putting up an insane .383/.438/.600 line in a 35 game cameo last season in Double-A, the Tampa Bay Rays elected to send Casali back to Double-A to start this season. Casali only responded by putting up a .313/.500/.429 line in the season’s first month before the Rays decided that a promotion to Triple-A was in order, where he has 6 hits and 3 walks in his first 16 plate appearances. Casali has defied all expectations since joining the Rays’ organization via trade prior to 2013. Can he defy all odds once again and overtake Jose Molina as the Rays’ backup catcher before the season is over?
Casali still has questions to answer, but all of those can be put to rest in short order if he continues to perform in Triple-A. He has excellent plate discipline, but that alone cannot get him into the big leagues. As he moves to Triple-A, pitchers are going to be throwing more strikes, and Casali has to prove that he can hit continue making hard contact against pitchers with better stuff. His defense still needs work as well. Casali has good receiving skills and works great with pitchers, but the biggest question that remains is his ability to throw out baserunners. His once solid arm took a hit because of Tommy John surgery in college, and it now is only average. His caught stealing percentages in the minors are decent, but nothing too inspiring, and he is going to have to improve his pop time to be able to throw out runners at the big league level. If there is any part of his skillset that the Rays will keep him in the minors for, his ability to throw out baserunners will be it. However, Casali’s total package is still impressive, and if he keeps hitting out of his mind and proving that he can handle a pitching staff like a veteran, the Rays are going to have a hard time keeping him in the minors for a whole lot longer.
The Rays are generally cautious with prospects, but with Jose Molina continuing to age and his numbers continue to decline, the Rays may decide Casali is a better option if he answers some of his questions. Molina remains one of the best pitch framers in the game, and that is why he still has a spot in the big leagues. However, he is hitting just .122/.163/.122 this year. Aside from that, his defense is losing its greatness. His caught stealing numbers continue to decline, and he his lack of mobility hurts his ability to block pitches. His pitch framing makes him a valuable backup, but with Casali having a more total package than Molina, he may soon find himself the better option. If Molina continually struggles to do anything other than frame pitches and Casali can translate his performance to Triple-A over the next couple of months, it is conceivable that Casali could become the Rays backup in July or August. The Rays are going to take their time with Casali, but you can only keep a player down so long when he is playing well, and Molina isn’t exactly doing anything special.
The biggest reason that the Rays would keep Casali down is depth. Behind him, the Rays have next to nothing in the upper minors that could be passable in the big leagues. If the Rays get rid of Molina, then if Casali or starter Ryan Hanigan get injured, the Rays will be in a big bind. However, you have to take risks to increase performance, and the upgrade that Casali could bring if he shows he can maintain performance in Triple-A might be worth this risk. You also have to consider the Rays conservative nature when promoting top prospects. But with Molina continuing to age and Casali continuing to mash any pitcher he faces, the Rays might be willing to accelerate his timeline.
We will likely see Curt Casali in a Tampa Bay Rays uniform at some point this season, but if it is as a September call-up or the backup catcher remains to be seen. Given that the Rays are always cautious with prospects and emphasize depth, Casali faces a tall task if he wants to take Molina’s backup spot before September rolls around. But, Casali has defied all odds ever since joining the Rays organization, and it is possible that he could do so once again.