Oakland A's Spring Training Battles: Catcher

The weather outside might still be frightful, but spring is just around the corner and that means only one thing: baseball! Every year, we preview the spring training roster battles that will take place during Oakland A's major league camp. While these battles may change based on last minute moves, most of these scenarios will still hold true. We begin our series with a look at the catchers.

A Look Back At 2007

Jason Kendall was dealt mid-season.
The 2007 season was a year of transition for the Oakland A's catching corps at the major league level. The year began with a veteran catching tandem and ended with the team featuring two young catchers who weren't even on the team's 40-man roster at the start of the season.

Jason Kendall began the 2007 campaign as the A's starting catcher for the third consecutive season. At the start of the year, the veteran did what he had done during his previous two campaigns with Oakland – start nearly every day. He appeared in 80 games for the A's before he was dealt to the Chicago Cubs on July 17th for reliever Jerry Blevins and catcher Rob Bowen.

Kendall was replaced in the starting line-up by rookie Kurt Suzuki, who had been promoted from Triple-A on June 10th when the A's traded long-time back-up catcher Adam Melhuse to the Texas Rangers for cash (Melhuse would later return to the A's in September, but did not appear in a game). Melhuse, who was the A's number two catcher on Opening Day, appeared in only 12 games for the A's in 2007.

Suzuki would appear in 68 games for the A's during his rookie season, and he hit .249 with seven homers and a 735 OPS. Bowen served as Suzuki's back-up after arriving from Chicago and he hit .279 with an 857 OPS in 21 games for the A's. Future Hall of Fame catcher Mike Piazza appeared in 83 games for the A's in 2007, but all of those games were as a DH or pinch-hitter.

Good-Bye And Hello

Adam Melhuse was released after the season.
The A's enter spring training with their main starting tandem for the second-half of the 2007 season intact: Suzuki and Bowen. Oakland has added only one catcher this off-season, minor league free agent Justin Knoedler, who was previously part of the San Francisco Giants organization.

Oakland said good-bye to Kendall at mid-season 2007, and, in doing so, bid adieu to the man who appeared in 373 games for the A's from April 2005 through mid-July 2007. Kendall played in 57 regular season games and in the post-season for the Cubs at the end of the 2007 season. He signed a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers this off-season. The A's designated Melhuse for assignment after the season was over and he signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers.

Catchers Invited To Camp

Rob Bowen*
Jeremy Brown
Justin Knoedler
Landon Powell*
Anthony Recker
Kurt Suzuki*

*Denotes member of the 40-man roster

Number Of Catchers Likely On Roster – 2

Lock To Make The Team

Kurt Suzuki made the jump from Triple-A to the bigs in 2007.
Kurt Suzuki: Suzuki had been pegged as the A's catcher of the future since he starred in major league camp back in 2005. The Hawaii native progressed steadily up the Oakland chain after being selected in the second round of the 2004 June draft. The 24-year-old began the 2007 season at Triple-A, where he hit .280 with a 716 OPS in 55 games for the Sacramento River Cats in his first taste at the Triple-A level. Suzuki was promoted to Oakland on June 10 and, after five weeks serving as Jason Kendall's understudy, Suzuki was given the A's full-time job behind the plate when Oakland dealt Kendall.

Suzuki began hot, collecting five hits and two homeruns in his first 13 at-bats. However, he struggled offensively for much of his rookie campaign as he got used to the rigors of catching a major league staff. Suzuki showed improvements defensively during his time in the big leagues and some power, hitting seven homeruns in only 213 at-bats. He had a handful of game-winning hits, including one on the season's last day.

Surprisingly, Suzuki's biggest struggles offensively with the A's came against left-handed pitchers, an issue that he didn't have in the minor leagues. Suzuki's totals against right-handed pitching were more in-line with his overall minor league production. Assuming that he can correct his flaw from last season against lefties, Suzuki should improve offensively in 2008. Defensively, he is likely to continue to get better as he gains more experience in the big leagues.

Favorite For The Final Spot

Rob Bowen hit well during his stint with Oakland.
Rob Bowen: Bowen had a whirlwind 2007 season, as he was traded three times and spent significant amounts of time on the rosters of the San Diego Padres, Chicago Cubs and Oakland A's. The switch-hitting catcher and Texas native appeared in 61 total games in 2007, batting .231 with four homers and a 716 OPS. For Oakland, Bowen hit .279 with two homers and 10 walks in 21 games.

Bowen has appeared in parts of four major league seasons. He began his career with the Minnesota Twins, and he made his major league debut with Minnesota in 2003. Bowen has always been inconsistent offensively, even in the minor leagues, where he would often alternate good offensive seasons with bad ones. He has a reputation for being a solid defensive back-stop, although he struggled with his throwing in 2007, nabbing only 13 percent of would-be base-stealers.

Going into camp, Bowen has a decided advantage over the other players competing to be the A's second catcher. He is the only catcher on the A's 40-man roster who is out of options and he has the most major league service time by quite a bit. Given the relative inexperience of Suzuki, the A's are likely to lean towards keeping Bowen, even if Bowen is out-played in camp. However, Bowen could be vulnerable, especially if he struggles defensively, as the A's will look for a reliable glove to be their second catcher.

Battling For The Final Spot

Jeremy Brown:
Jeremy Brown had a strong season for Sacramento.
Brown will arrive at his fifth major league camp with Oakland as a non-roster player for the first time since 2004. The 2002 first-round pick was removed from the A's 40-man roster during the 2007 season, but cleared waivers and remained with the organization. Brown will be a minor league free agent at the end of the 2008 season if he isn't re-added to the A's 40-man roster.

Despite being removed from the 40-man roster, Brown had an otherwise solid 2007 season. He spent the year with Triple-A Sacramento, where he hit .276 with 14 homers and an 833 OPS in 94 games. He also showed improvement defensively and was regarded as one of the leaders of the Sacramento clubhouse.

Brown had a successful cup of coffee with the A's in 2006, when he collected three hits (including two doubles) in 10 at-bats. He has shown throughout most of his minor league career that he can hit. The biggest question for Brown has been with his defense, which has kept him from being a serious candidate to serve as a back-up with Oakland. Brown showed improvement defensively in 2007 and if he can convince the A's coaching staff that he is reliable behind the plate, he could challenge Bowen for the back-up catcher's role with a solid offensive spring.

Justin Knoedler:
Justin Knoedler joins the A's from SF.
Knoedler signed a minor league deal with the A's after spending seven seasons in the San Francisco Giants chain. The Illinois native was considered one of the most sought-after minor league free agents on the market after he hit .288 with an 816 OPS in 89 games with Triple-A Fresno in 2007.

Knoedler comes to the A's with a 747 OPS in 572 career minor league games. He has also appeared in 14 major league games, all with the Giants, and he has two hits in 18 major league at-bats. Knoedler began his minor league career as a pitcher and he has a reputation for having an above-average arm behind the plate. His defense has always been ahead of his offense and he could challenge for the back-up job if the A's decide to go "defense-first" with their number two catching spot.

Looking To Make An Impression

Landon Powell:
Landon Powell is coming off of an injury.
Powell, the A's top pick in 2004, could be the surprise of camp for Oakland if he shows that he is completely recovered from the ACL tear he suffered last July. The switch-hitting catcher was in the midst of a breakthrough season when he suffered the injury. It was Powell's second ACL tear in a little more than three years.

Absent the injury, Powell would be one of the strongest contenders for the A's second catching spot. He is arguably the A's best defensive catcher in the major or minor leagues and he demonstrated last season that he has an above-average bat, as well. Powell spent most of his 2007 season with Double-A Midland, where he hit .292 with an 893 OPS and 11 homers in 60 games. He homered three times in four games with Triple-A Sacramento before suffering the knee injury.

Since being drafted, Powell has had the reputation of being one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He regularly catches more than half of all would-be base-stealers and teams often stop running on him, an oddity in the minor leagues. Powell has developed a good feel for blocking pitches in the dirt, as well. The switch-hitter has power from both sides of the plate and a good eye. His health is a major concern, however. He told OaklandClubhouse.com earlier this month that he is feeling healthy and ready to go full-bore in camp. The A's may move more cautiously with Powell, however, which could significantly impact his chances of making the team out of spring training. If he remains healthy, he could be a factor for Oakland during the season even if he doesn't make the team out of camp.

Here For The Future

Anthony Recker:
Anthony Recker was a Cal League All-Star.
For the first half of the 2007 season, Recker was arguably the best hitting prospect in the A's organization. The big right-hander hit .319 with 13 homers and a 1011 OPS in 56 games for High-A Stockton. He was promoted to Double-A at the mid-point of the season and struggled with the Rockhounds, batting only .204 with four homers in 58 games. He was swinging better at the end of the season before his season ended a little early with a broken hamate bone.

The broken hamate bone cost Recker a chance to play in the Arizona Fall League, however, he is recovered from the injury and shouldn't be restricted in camp. Recker is one of the A's better right-handed power prospects and offers above-average offensive skills for a catcher. He needs to improve defensively and will likely use his time in camp working with the A's big league coaching staff on his defense. He will enter the 2008 season as one of the A's top catching prospects.

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