Oakland A's Depth Chart: Catcher

One of the Oakland A's deepest positions is at catcher, with two young catchers at the major league level and a strong trio of experienced backstops in the upper levels of the minor leagues. We take a closer look at the A's major league and Triple-A level depth chart at catcher inside...

Incumbent Starter: Kurt Suzuki

Suzuki took over the A's starting catcher job in July 2007 and he has quickly become arguably the team's most valuable player. One of the AL's top defensive catchers, Suzuki had his best offensive season in the major leagues in 2009, batting .274 with a career-best 15 homers and 88 RBIs. He also stole a career-high eight bases.

Perhaps most important was his games played total: 147. Throughout his career, Suzuki has been a remarkably durable player, a rarity on an A's roster rife with players who have long injury histories. Since being drafted in 2004, Suzuki has appeared in more than 100 games every season (in 2006 he played in 99 games with Double-A Midland, but he also spent August that season playing for Team USA in the Pan-Am Games), and he has played in more than 140 games in each of the past two seasons.

Suzuki's durability has been an important factor in the success of the A's pitching staff the past three seasons, especially the development of the team's younger hurlers. Suzuki has been praised for his preparation before games and his game-calling skills in general. His offensive production might improve with more days off during the season (his career post-All-Star splits are lower than his pre-All-Star totals), but the A's haven't been able to afford to bench Suzuki much the past two seasons as the team has introduced a slew of young pitchers. With a more experienced pitching staff expected for 2010 in Oakland, the A's may be more willing to give Suzuki regular time off, especially early in the season.

First Line of Defense: Landon Powell

One of the reasons the A's may be able to give Suzuki more scheduled rest in 2010 is the emergence of Powell as the team's back-up catcher. Powell made his major league debut last season and was productive in limited action, slugging .429 and playing solid defense. Powell was especially productive as a left-handed hitter, posting an 829 OPS in 101 at-bats.

Unlike Suzuki, Powell has not been blessed with good health during his professional career. He has had two ACL tears and a third, more minor surgery on his knee. He has also had to work through a condition called chronic autoimmune hepatitis that can attack the liver and requires him to take a series of medications. The medications cause fatigue and weight gain and limited Powell's availability at times last season. Powell has reportedly been weaned off of one of the medications, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, and he came into spring camp in better shape than the year before.

If Jake Fox is on the roster as expected (more on him in a moment), the A's may be more willing to play Powell more often not only as a starting catcher but also as an occasional DH and pinch-hitter late in games since Fox can serve as an emergency third catcher. With more regular at-bats, Powell should be able to up his OBP significantly (it was under .300 during his rookie season, but has been high historically throughout his minor league career) and, with his power, could have one of the better OPSs on the A's, albeit in a back-up role.

Emergency Third Option/Spot Starter: Jake Fox

When Fox was acquired by the A's from the Chicago Cubs in December, he was originally thought to be a candidate as the team's everyday third baseman. Then when the A's acquired Kevin Kouzmanoff for that role, Fox became a more likely candidate to serve as a super-utility player. Fox has more recently been thought of as a corner infielder/outfielder, but he has spent the bulk of his professional career behind the plate. The University of Michigan alum was a catcher in college and played primarily behind the plate from 2003-2006 in the Cubs' chain. His bat was advancing quicker than his defensive abilities, however, so the Cubs moved Fox into the infield/outfield role in 2007.

Although Fox doesn't have a reputation as a strong defensive catcher, he has been getting plenty of work there with the A's this spring, an indication that Oakland is weighing whether he would be a legitimate option for a spot start or a mid-game substitution during the regular season. Fox isn't guaranteed a roster spot with the A's on Opening Day, but he is out of options and the A's gave up a significant amount to acquire him (three players plus a sum of money in the form of absorbing much of the contract of Aaron Miles). That combined with Fox's defensive versatility make him an attractive candidate to be on the Opening Day roster. As mentioned previously, Fox's presence on the roster would free the A's up to use Powell more frequently.

Triple-A Depth: Josh Donaldson, Anthony Recker, Joel Galarraga

Catcher is arguably the deepest position in the A's system, and that is none more evident than at the Triple-A level, where the A's have three legitimate Triple-A starting catchers who will be vying for regular playing time in 2010 (and, perhaps, a spot on the Sacramento roster, as the A's may send one of these catchers to Double-A in order to give all three adequate time behind the plate).

Recker and Galarraga both saw time at Sacramento last season. Recker had a solid season with the River Cats, hitting 12 homers and posting a 782 OPS in 78 games (he also had a 911 OPS in 16 games with Double-A Midland). The A's 2005 18th round pick is having a solid spring in big league camp and could be positioning himself as a first option for the A's should either Suzuki or Powell suffer an injury. He has two hits in five at-bats, including a homerun. Recker has also flashed a strong throwing arm. He survived the first round of spring cuts and could see more playing time in big league camp this week.

Galarraga was signed by the A's out of the Mexican League last season and, after some visa troubles, the native of Cuba got off to a fast start with Sacramento. He hit .375 with a 925 OPS in 13 games before he injured his throwing shoulder. That shoulder eventually required surgery and cost him the rest of the season. He has been limited this spring and it isn't clear whether he will be 100 percent at the start of the year. Galarraga is the most experienced catcher of this trio. The soon-to-be 28 year old has played professionally in Cuba and in Mexico in addition to his brief time in the minor leagues last season. He will probably see time with Sacramento this season even if he doesn't start the year there.

Donaldson is the A's best catching prospect in the upper levels of their minor league system. The Auburn alum was acquired in a trade with the Cubs in 2008 and he has shown a solid bat since arriving in the A's organization. He hit .330 with a 955 OPS in 47 games with High-A Stockton in 2008 and batted .270 with a 795 OPS in 124 games with Double-A Midland last season. Donaldson has an above-average feel for the strike-zone and good gap power for a catcher. His defense is still a work-in-progress, although he has improved every year in the minor leagues. He was a third baseman at the start of his college career and he could see time at third and at first this season in addition to being behind the plate. Donaldson has two hits in seven at-bats this spring (including a homerun), but he has had trouble controlling the running game. He should be the River Cats' main catcher this season, but he will likely only get a promotion to Oakland before September if there will be significant playing time available for him.


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