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Tampa Bay Rays: Catching Situation Just Gets Worse

By David Egbert
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The Tampa Bay Rays catching situation continues to be the Achilles heel of this organization as the minor league development is slow in producing a keeper for the major league level.

When the Tampa Bay Rays Rays announced on Thursday they had optioned Curt Casali to Durham and claimed Bobby Wilson off waivers, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

With the acquisition of Wilson, the Tampa Bay Rays catching situation has gone full circle since opening day of the 2015 season and they have accomplished nothing.

At the beginning of the 2015 season, the Tampa Bay Rays Rays catching staff consisted of Rene Rivera and Bobby Wilson. Rivera was fresh off his only decent season in the big leagues but Wilson hadn’t played in the big leagues in 2012 and 2013 combined.

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The duo didn’t work out as Wilson was gone after playing in 24 games. Rivera finished the season with a .178/.213/.275 slash line and was released March 30, 2016.

Next up was the combination of Curt Casali and Hank Conger. Casali was a triple AAA catcher whose power caught the Tampa Bay Rays eye in 2015 and Conger was a former top prospect of the Los Angles Angels.

Conger turned out to be a total disaster and was gone by the All-Star break. He was replaced by a somewhat unknown marginal prospect by the name of Luke Maile.

Casali was sent to Durham and who else but Bobby Wilson was signed off waivers from the Texas Rangers.

So, a year and a half later, the Tampa Bay Rays are still limping along with two catchers who probably couldn’t play backup for most major league teams and it’s a sure bet that neither would hit above .200. It’s truly the curse of Buster Posey!

The issues don’t stop at the major league level. The Rays currently have their top three catching prospects playing in the Rookie Leagues.

Justin O’Connor was the teams No. 1 draft choice in 2010  has never advance beyond AA. He is currently rehabbing from back surgery.

Nick Ciuffo was the No. 1 choice in 2013 and is rehabbing from injuries, Chris Betts was the No. 2 choice in 2014 and has only played a total of 18 games in minor league baseball.

All three have consistently dropped in the prospect rankings.

The only two catchers making an impression are at Bowling Green where Brett Sullivan and David Rodriguez have been sharing the catching duties, DHing and playing first base for the Hot Rods.

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Sullivan has hit 11 homers and driven in 67 runs. Rodriguez has 8 homers and 52 RBIs. Sullivan is a converted infielder and Rodriguez was signed out of Latin America so they are raw defensively but both have upside and may be sleepers.

Again, they are a long ways from the majors.

All of this is not a rosy picture to say the least. If the Rays want to reach the playoffs in the next two or three years, they are going to have to find a decent catcher.

The catcher is the quarterback of the team in terms of guiding pitchers, framing pitches and blocking the growing number of breaking balls in the dirt. He is one of the keys to a quality pitching staff.

One has to wonder if the lack of a quality catcher is not one of the reasons for the lack of quality starts by the Rays starting pitchers. Finally, a team with as many offensive issues as the Rays cannot afford a slot in the lineup that is hitting under the Mendoza line.

As quality catchers are both valued and expensive, the Tampa Bay Rays will not find one in free agency. That leaves you with the necessity of making a trade.

Not an easy task either, but as a pointed out in an earlier piece, the Philadelphia Phillies might be the perfect match.

The Phillies current catcher is Cameron Rupp who is a talented receiver with at .278/.329/.502 slash line for the season. In their farm system, they have No. 4 prospect Jorge Alfaro at AA and No. 12 prospect Andrew Knapp at AAA.

Both are quality receivers with solid power bats and should be big league ready in the next one or two years.

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A trade of a Rays’ pitching prospect or two for any of the three Phillies catchers would make sense for both teams.

Both teams would be trading from strength to fill a weakness. The best trades are made that way.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays: A Chance to Find a Catcher

However, whether the Tampa Bay Rays Rays make a deal with the Phillies or some other team, obtaining a quality catcher that can hit has to be the number one priority going into 2017.

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