Tampa Bay Rays: Who Will Be the Opening Day Catcher

By David Egbert
Sep 24, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Curt Casali (19) at bat against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 24, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays catcher Curt Casali (19) at bat against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Boston Red Sox defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 6-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

For the Tampa Bay Rays, throughout the majority of their history the catcher position has been the weakest position. This season looks no different despite all the competition.

If Wilson Ramos was healthy, the title of the piece would be different. However, since Ramos is recovering from his second torn ACL and won’t be available until late summer at the earliest, the Tampa Bay Rays are left with around 130 games in the hands of another catcher.

As usual, the choices are not ideal and feature a pair of receivers that we have seen before and a couple of new faces. Who will be behind the plate on opening day? Let’s take a look at the choices and speculate on who might be the winner.

Curt Casali. The 2017 season will be Casali’s fourth with the Rays. He has never caught more than 74 games in a season and has been regarded as a decent backup with occasional power. His defensive skills are adequate with no particular facet of his game standing out.

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His right handed power makes him valuable against left handed pitching. However, Casali has an overall .195/.280/.378 slash line with 18 home runs, 46 RBIs and 84 strikeouts in 399 major league at bats. He has one option left.

Luke Maile. Maile has been a marginal top thirty prospect for the past five years. He is a solid receiver whose defensive game is improving. Unfortunately, he does not bring much to the table offensively. Maile has a .214/.252/.361 slash line with 3 home runs, 17 RBIs and 44 strikeouts in 154 major league at bats.

He can also play first base and has options left. The question is whether Maile has reached his peak or would benefit from more work at AAA Durham.

Jesus Sucre. Sucre was obtained in an off-season trade with Seattle. The deal was cash and a player to be named later so it was obvious that Seattle did not think much of him. Sucre is a fine defensive catcher with a cannon for an arm.

However, once again, the offensive game is just not there. In 239 at bats over four seasons, he has a .209/.246/.276 slash line. He is not on the 40-man roster and does not have any options left.

Michael McKenry. Although rarely mentioned by the team or in the press, McKenry may be the sleeper in the group. He has played parts of seven major league seasons and caught 254 games. He’s a solid defender and when healthy a decent hitter with .238/.318/.406 major league slash line with 29 home runs and 83 RBIs in 839 at bats. His best season was 2014 when he had a slash line of .315/.398/.512 in a 168 at bats.

McKenry was injured for most of last year but appears to be healthy at this point. He is with the Tampa Bay Rays on a minor league contract.

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Unfortunately, this quartet may be the best it gets for awhile. Ramos is signed through 2018 but coming off his second serious ACL surgery and it is difficult to discern whether he can still play a position that requires a ball player to squat for some 130 games a year.

Looking beyond Wilson and four catchers competing in 2017, there is not a lot of hope in the farm system. Justin O’Conner, a former first round draft choice, has not advanced past AA. He was out all last year due to back surgery and has dropped out of the top 30 prospects.

Chris Betts and Nick Ciuffo are also first round choices but have not advanced past short season Hudson Valley and AA and their prospect rankings have dropped significantly since they were drafted.

So who is going to win this battle to be the opening day catcher? I’m going to go way out on a limb and say Michael McKenry.

He has the second best defensive skills, the best bat and is team controlled through 2018. Pair him with Sucre and the Rays have a good offensive/defensive combination. It also allows them to return Casali and Maile to Durham to improve their skills behind the plate and at the plate.

Next: Tim Beckham Taking to the Outfield

Of course, this assumes it is an open competition and that the Rays have not already given the job to Casali or Maile. Let’s hope that this not the case and the best man wins the competition.