Note: This article only focuses on catchers who were invited to the Oakland A's recently completed minor league spring training camp. To view the A's minor league infielder depth chart, please click here.
The minor league regular season begins for the Oakland A's four full-season affiliates at the end of this week. Over the past month, the A's player development and personnel departments have evaluated their players at spring training. With the close of camp over the weekend, the A's completed the sometimes difficult task of creating rosters for all four of the organization's full-season affiliates.
A number of factors went into determining how those 24- (for Triple-A and Double-A) and 25- (for the Single A teams) man rosters were cobbled together. Players are assigned based both on their own development tracks and on the organization's overall developmental goals and needs. A player who put up good numbers at a level the year before isn't automatically granted a spot at the next level if there are more experienced prospects at his position who are blocking his path. Conversely, a player who struggled at a level might be promoted to the next step in his developmental path for a variety of reasons.
Below is a look at the A's minor league catchers who are on the Opening Day rosters for the Sacramento River Cats (Triple-A), Midland Rockhounds (Double-A), Stockton Ports (High-A) and Burlington Bees (Low-A), or who participated in the A's minor league spring training this March. I have broken down these players into three categories: priority prospects, Triple-A depth and other prospects. These are crude labels to describe some of the factors that go into how the roster assignments were made.
On every minor league roster there are certain players who are earmarked to play every day. The rest of the starting line-up is often built around these "line-up staples" and where other players are assigned is often determined by where these players end up. Some of them will be at the Triple-A level and will be among the first players tapped by the A's should they have an injury at the major league level, while others are still purely in the developmental stage of their careers.
Notes: Stassi is not only the A's top catcher prospect, he is also the youngest catcher on a full-season A's affiliate roster. The 20-year-old will start the season with High-A Stockton, where he will get the bulk of the starts behind the plate for the Ports. The A's fourth-round pick in 2009, Stassi signed a well-above slot deal with the A's and has been pushed aggressively since inking with the team. Stassi had an up-and-down first pro season with Low-A Kane County in 2010, batting only .229 with 141 strike-outs – but 13 homeruns – in 110 games. His receiving skills improved dramatically over the course of the 2010 season and he is now considered an advanced receiver defensively. Offensively, he still has work to do to cut down his swings-and-misses, but the power part of his game is significant, especially for a catcher. He should put up good power numbers in the hitter-friendly Cal League and should also feel right at home in Stockton, which isn't far from his hometown of Yuba City, California.
Notes: Donaldson made his major league debut with the A's last April when Kurt Suzuki was sidelined with an oblique strain. He hit only .156 with a homer and four RBIs in 32 big league at-bats last year, but the A's are still high on the Auburn alum. Donaldson battled Landon Powell for the A's back-up catcher role this spring and although he lost out to Powell for that spot, he showed enough in camp that the A's will feel comfortable turning to Donaldson should Powell or Suzuki go down with an injury. Donaldson will begin the year with Triple-A Sacramento, the team with which he spent the vast majority of the 2010 season. He struggled with minor injuries last year and hit a career-low .238, but still managed a solid 812 OPS and a career-high 18 homeruns. Donaldson has good power and a professional approach at the plate. He also has some positional versatility, having played third base in college and first base at various points during his professional career. Donaldson will get the majority of the time behind the plate with Sacramento, but he may see some innings at those corner infield spots to keep him fresh in those areas, as that flexibility will be a plus for him in the big leagues.
Notes: A shoulder injury is preventing Ortiz from starting the year on a full-season roster, but when he is healthy, he will be sent out to a team where he can get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate. The most likely destination for Ortiz is Double-A Midland, as he demonstrated he could handle the California League – at least from an offensive perspective – last season when he hit .277 with an 873 OPS for Stockton. The A's sixth-round pick in 2009 had a big spring at the plate, but he was limited to DHing as he attempted to strengthen his sore right shoulder. Ortiz's bat is ahead of his glove anyway, and his time away from catching thanks to the shoulder injury could make this split even wider. However, with the A's current catching situation, they have no reason to rush Ortiz, so he should see plenty of time behind the plate once he is healthy. If the shoulder injury continues to linger, however, the A's may move Ortiz to first base to take full advantage of his bat.
At catcher, the A's main Triple-A Depth lies with Donaldson, who is also one of the team's top prospects. However, should two of the group of Suzuki, Powell and Donaldson be injured, the A's have one advanced catcher prospect they could call on in a pinch if they weren't able to grab a major league catcher off of the waiver or trade wire.
Notes: In another organization, Recker might be opening the season on a big league roster as the back-up catcher or, at the very least, be considered option 1A. However, with the A's he has been stuck behind Suzuki, Powell and Donaldson on the depth chart for the past two seasons. Recker will return to Sacramento to start this season and will serve primarily as Donaldson's back-up, although he will likely get some at-bats at DH as well. He is hurt some by the fact that he doesn't play any other defensive positions than catcher. Recker has spent the majority of each of the past two seasons with the River Cats and has improved each season. In 2009, he had a 782 OPS in 78 games and in 2010, he upped that to an 837 OPS in 80 games. Recker has spent the past several spring trainings as a non-roster invitee to big league camp, so the A's pitching staff is familiar with him and how he calls a game. This could be Recker's last year in the A's organization if they don't add him to the 40-man roster, as the 18th-round pick in 2005 will be a six-year minor league free agent at season's end.
The bulk of the organization fits into this "other" category. While these players may not be "priority prospects," their development is still important to the organization. It is not uncommon for a player from this "other" category to force his way onto the "priority" category with a good season. The trickiest part of the player development staff's job is to figure out how to spread these players out so that they can continue to develop while also allowing for the other playing time considerations for the "priority" and "Triple-A depth" players.
Notes: The A's third-round pick in 2008 will start the season with Midland as the team's primary catcher. This will be Paramore's second season with Midland. He appeared in 65 games for the Rockhounds in 2010. A switch-hitter, Paramore hasn't developed offensively as the A's hoped he would when they selected him out of Arizona State. Since being drafted, he has done an excellent job of getting on-base, but he hasn't hit for much power. Defensively, Paramore has been solid, however. With his glove and his on-base skills, Paramore could move onto the priority list if he could find the power that has eluded him since college.
Notes: Carter will be joining Paramore in Midland for his second season with the Rockhounds. Carter's first season with Midland was cut short by injury and he actually finished the 2010 season with Stockton, for whom he hit 13 homers in only 48 games. Carter has excellent power, but he is relatively new to catching, having been converted from the outfield in 2009 (he did do some catching as an amateur). Carter has a strong arm, but his receiving skills are still a work-in-progress. As one of three catchers on the Midland roster, Carter is likely to see time at different positions (first base and in the outfield), in addition to catcher, this season.
Notes: Canham was signed by the A's as a minor league free agent at the end of spring training after he was let-go by the San Diego Padres. A former College World Series hero for the Oregon State Beavers, Canham has more than 180 games under his belt at the Double-A level and has played a handful of games at Triple-A. Canham was considered an advanced hitter coming out of college, but after a solid 2008 campaign with Lake Elsinore, Canham has struggled offensively the past two seasons. He is the A's kind of hitter with excellent discipline at the plate. Canham will have to fight for playing time with Paramore and Carter also on the Midland roster, but he could stick with the organization if he gets off to a good start offensively. He is also known for being an excellent clubhouse presence and could go into coaching when he retires.
Notes: Lipkin will start the season at extended spring training thanks to an appendectomy he underwent during the regular spring camp. Before that surgery, he was considered an early standout performer in camp. Lipkin also impressed the A's coaches during the fall Instructional League and played well during the final few weeks of the 2010 campaign with short-season Vancouver. Before the surgery, Lipkin was slated to start the year with Low-A Burlington and he should find his way onto that roster when he regains full strength.
Notes: Nunez was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006 and he made his US debut in 2007. Since that time, he has played at all four of the A's A-ball levels. He spent all of the last two seasons with Low-A Kane County, serving as the back-up catcher. He was assigned to Stockton to start the season and he will back-up Stassi. Nunez isn't that advanced offensively, but he has good receiving skills and has worked with many of the pitchers on the Stockton staff.
Notes: Petitti was a 37th-round pick of the A's last season out of North Georgia College and State University. He hit only .123 in 73 at-bats with Vancouver last season, but he is a good defensive catcher. He has an excellent throwing arm and was a Gold Glove winner in college. Petitti will share catching duties with John Nester in Burlington at the outset of the season, although both he and Nester could be competing to stay on the roster when Lipkin recovers from his appendectomy.
Notes: Nester was the A's 39th-round pick out of Clemson last season. Like Petitti, Nester struggled at the plate in his pro debut with Vancouver last season, batting only .182. He showed decent power in college, however, and may find the Midwest League more to his liking. He is a Clemson alum.
Notes: Johnston was in camp this spring for the first time since 2008, when he was forced to leave the Kane County Cougars abruptly to fulfill his obligation to active service with the US Navy. Johnston has been out of baseball since that time, so he may need all of extended spring training to get back to where he was in 2008. If so, he may wind-up with short-season Vermont this year. Johnston is one of those rare catchers with above-average speed. He also has good on-base skills and was often the lead-off hitter with Kane County.
Notes: Affinito, an undrafted free agent signing in 2009, spent last season playing for the A's two short-season affiliates and for Kane County. He could be on a similar path this year, as he will begin his season at extended spring training. Affinito has hit very well at the short-season A ball levels, but he struggled in 108 at-bats with the Cougars last season. The burly Seton Hall alum can also play first base and he has DHed as well.
Notes: Lopez got a taste of full-season baseball last year when he spent a few days with the Stockton Ports. He appeared in one game for Stockton and went 2-for-3 with a walk. Lopez spent the rest of the season with the A's Rookie Ball team in Arizona and hit fairly well for the A's, batting .266 with a 754 OPS. Lopez, who is 22, is a candidate to catch for short-season Vermont this year and he could join the rosters of any of the A's four full-season affiliates for brief stints as the situation warrants throughout the year.
Notes: Galarraga, a former member of the Cuban national team, joined the A's before the 2009 season and impressed the coaching staff during that year's big league spring training. After some visa issues kept him off of Opening Day rosters, he was eventually sent out to Triple-A Sacramento. He got off to a great start with the River Cats, but then suffered a serious shoulder injury, which eventually required surgery. Galarraga has played sparingly since that surgery. He has lots of high-level experience, both with the Cuban national team and in the Mexican Summer League (a Triple-A equivalent), but he is already 29, so he needs to get healthy soon to have a shot at the big leagues. Galarraga could be assigned to any of the A's four full-season affiliates, depending on team need, when he is healthy enough to leave Arizona.