19. Who will be the backup catcher in 2009?

The Braves didn't get much production out of the backup catcher spot in 2008, so will that improve next season?

While Brian McCann was arguably the best offensive catcher in the game last season, the Braves situation behind him was probably the worst.

Corky Miller and Clint Sammons combined to hit .111 as catchers last season. Need we say more?

Miller is a free agent, and while it's unlikely he'll be back the truth is the Braves love the way he handles pitchers. So it's still a chance he returns as a non-roster player to go to spring training.

Sammons is the player to watch. For several years he's been thought of as the potential backup for McCann. Sammons has never been known for his offense, but instead for his outstanding defensive ability - which is what the Braves want for a backup catcher.

However, after having the situation be so bad last season, it would almost be a shock if the Braves don't bring in a veteran to compete with Sammons for the backup job. If Sammons had hit more after his promotion last summer that might not be needed, but he simply struggled at the plate.

Sammons has a strong arm and has great ability to handle a pitching staff. But the Braves need someone to be able to at least hit between .200 and .250, and Sammons needs to show that in March.

One name to keep in mind is Michael Barrett, who is a free agent. He's an Atlanta resident, and if he can't find a team to take a chance on him as a starter, he might accept an opportunity to be McCann's backup with his hometown team.

There are two former Braves who may be options. Paul Bako, the backup catcher for the 2001 season, and Henry Blanco, who replaced Bako for the 2002 and 2003 seasons, are free agents. Both are very good defensive catchers with marginal offensive skills.

Paul LoDuca, who turns 37 next April, can still hit but his defense is suspect. He's a free agent; so are Gary Bennett, David Ross, and Doug Mirabelli. If Ivan Rodriguez is ready to become a full-time backup, he might be a target. Braves bench coach Chino Cadahia instructed Rodriguez in his younger days in the Rangers' system, so there is a tie there. Rodriguez could be a great mentor for McCann.

The Braves wish Clint Sammons could have convinced them late last season he was ready for the job. But his offensive struggles may make the Braves look elsewhere for a backup catcher for the 2009 season.

Bill Shanks hosts The Braves Show Talk Show, The Atlanta Baseball Show on 680 the Fan in Atlanta, and The Bill Shanks Show on SportsRadio 105.5 the Fan in Macon. He is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

Atlanta Dugout Top Stories