Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A 2014 preseason outlook on the catchers for the Reds

By: Jon Davis
Staff Writer

Today we breakdown the Cincinnati Reds catchers going into the 2014 season and I have got three words for Reds Nation, The Punxatawny Punisher. Yeah the Reds heading into the 2014 season have finally decided it was time to turn the job over to Devin Mesoraco. That being the case the Reds decided to trade Ryan Hanigan and get the best value out of him. I like Hanigan as much as the next Reds fan but I believe trading him was the right move and the Reds did very well in the trade. He held much more value as a trade piece than he did as a backup catcher. Another thing is that if Hanigan stayed it would have just hung over Mesoraco's head, but now he is in the best scenario to succeed in 2014.

The clear plan here is for Mesoraco to be the starter and for the newly acquired Pena to serve as his backup. If Devin struggles they may opt for a platoon situation. Looking at last years splits that isn't such an unappealing option. Last year Mesoraco vs. LHP hit .321/.386/.487/.874 and Pena vs. RHP hit .325/.346/.455/.801. I know it may be wishful thinking but put those numbers together and you get about an .820 OPS. Last year only three teams got that kind of production out of their catcher spot. That just leaves one question who is number three? A question I am sure the Reds have not addressed and hope they don't have to address this year. If the time comes I am sure their play this year will help make that decision should the need arise. The choice is go with the ageless mustachioed wonder that is Corky Miller or the young excellent glove first, switch hitting prospect, Tucker Barnhart? Regular readers will be able to tell which way I am leaning when my prospects rankings come out.

And finally just a few interesting notes before we dive in. Barnhart was put on the 40 man roster this offseason, which gives the Reds now four catchers on the 40 man. Nope the fourth isn't Corky it is hard hitting prospect Neftali Soto. In an effort to expand his value Soto came to camp early to work on his catching. Lastly the Reds have two non roster Venezuelan catchers in camp, Rossmel Perez and Max Ramirez. It is safe to say the Reds have plenty of depth at the catcher position.

Key Loss: Ryan Hanigan (traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in three team deal)

Key Addition: Brayan Pena (Signed 2-year deal 11/12)

Devin Mesoraco - The question heading into the 2014 has got to be how good will he be. Given that his playing time up to now has been sporadic at best, I would say it is safe to assume we have not seen his best. This past year his number weren't great but they were an improvement over his 2012 numbers. He also had twice as many plate appearances. This makes perfect sense that the more he plays the more comfortable he is and the better his numbers. Another thing I noticed was in July, the month he had his most Plate appearances, he had his best month hitting .294/.329/.441/.770. This does not just apply to his offense, in 2012 he threw out 20% of base runners and last year he was at nearly 30%. The last time he was a full time starting catcher was in 2011 for Triple-A he hit .289/.371/.484/.855. Is this the year that he puts it all together and shows why the Reds drafted him the first round in 2007?

Brayan Pena - Pena has been a career backup but has done a good job in that role over the years. The switch hitter is a career .258 hitter with very solid numbers behind the plate, .994 fielding percentage and 29% caught stealing percentage. He is coming off a career year at the plate hitting .297/.315/.397/.713. No matter what happens I think Pena will prove to be a solid addition to the Reds. Whether he is the season long backup, platoons with Devin or is thrust into a starting role, he will be a solid contributor for the Reds this season.

Guys we could see later in the year: Tucker Barnhart, Corky Miller, Neftali Soto*

*Although Soto we probably won't see as a catcher, except in an emergency

Group Grade: B+

Final Word: With upgrades at both the starter and backup catcher spots, the Reds have taken a weaker position and made it respectable. At worst Mesoraco is a small downgrade defensively from Hanigan, but has the potential to be just as good if not better and at the plate is definitely an upgrade. Last year the Reds catchers combined to hit .221/.298/.317/.616. The combination of Mesoraco and Pena almost certainly will dwarf those numbers. Mesoraco finally being given regular playing time, should build on his numbers from last year at the plate. Overall the Reds catching tandem should be much better offensively this year. While defensively may be a downgrade it is not a given that it will be.

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