Best of the System: The Top 5 Catchers

The Diamondbacks minor league system is generally considered middle of the pack among Major League Clubs, but don't blame the backstops for that. The Diamondbacks have an embarrassment of riches at catcher, with two rookies battling for the big league club's starting job, two more who are knocking on the door and at least two more prospects at lower levels. Every Tuesday we'll debut the Top Five at a new position, but this week our <b>Best of the System</b> rankings start with the catchers.

#5)  Corey Myers was the #4 overall pick by the Diamondbacks in the 1999 draft.  A much heralded shortstop coming out of Casa Grande, AZ he was moved to third base after one year in the Diamondbacks system.  After two unspectacular seasons at third he started splitting time between third and first base, and in '03 he spent most of the season at first, but his power production has never projected as a corner infielder.  At the start of the 2004 season he volunteered to move behind the plate, where his bat is much more attractive.  He spent the first half of '04 in extended Spring Training learning the position, and then made a cameo appearance at Hi-A Lancaster before being moved to Triple-A Tucson where the plan was to get him as many innings behind the plate as possible.

Unfortunately 2004 saw the Diamondbacks making almost daily call ups and Myers was forced to play nearly as much third base as catcher in Tucson.  The organization is pleased with his progress behind the plate, but '05 might be Myers last chance.  He'll turn 25 in June and though his .290ish average would be just fine as a catcher, he's been plagued by injuries and is the old man on this list.  If his progress behind the plate continues he might become attractive to another organization, but he'll have to stay healthy.

#4)  The Lancaster JetHawks (Hi-A California League) seemed to produce top Diamondback prospects by the bushel in 2004, with Carlos Quentin, Conor Jackson, Jason Bulger, Enrique Gonzalez, and Jon Zeringue all spending chunks of time there.  With all the big names spitting out big numbers Avlas was often overlooked, but at the end of the year the numbers showed Avlas to be a legit prospect.

In fact, Avlas' 2004 numbers are startlingly similar to the number Chris Snyder put up at Lancaster in 2003 and that comparison has the Diamondbacks intrigued.  In '04 Avlas went .313/13/68 with a .516 slugging percentage in the hitter friendly California league.  In '03 Snyder went .314/10/53 with a .518 slugging percentage.  Snyder had fewer at bats as he earned a late promotion to Double-A, but Avlas is generally considered a half-notch better defensively, and will get his biggest test starting at Double-A Tennessee in 2005. 

#3)  Orlando Mercado Jr. is the son of a former Major League catcher, and it is pretty obvious he's been soaking up knowledge since he was a youngster.  The Diamondbacks have made the conscious decision to not rush him, but coaches consistently marvel at his grasp for the game, particularly the way he works with the pitching staff.  He's got the best arm of any catcher in the system, and though he hasn't put up big numbers in his first season and a half, the Diamondbacks feel his 5'10", 195 lb frame will continue to fill out because he's only 19 years old. 

Mercado won't have to hit much to become a big league catcher, because his defensive skills are stellar.  With Snyder and Hill at the big league level, and Mercado's youth, he will have plenty of time to figure things out at the plate.  He'll start '05 at South Bend and stay there unless something really clicks.  None the less, even if he spends a full year at each level he'd be only 23 years old when he debuted with the Diamondbacks in '09.

#2)  Chris Snyder did not expect to be on the big league roster last season.  The Diamondbacks liked his defense, and felt he had enough pop in his bat to be a factor in the future, but at the start of 2004 the Diamondbacks expected second year player Robbie Hammock to be their starting catcher.  The future got even bleaker for Snyder when the news spread that the Diamondbacks 1st round pick (fourth overall) in the 1999 draft, Corey Myers, was moving behind the plate, which left Snyder at least fourth in line (he was also behind Craig Ansman) among their young catchers.

After Koyie Hill was aquired from the Dodgers it seemed Snyder's best move might be to get out of the organization, and then in an instant things changed.  Hammock's back moved him from catcher to utility man, Myers' still needed time to get comfortable behind the plate, and when Hill's ankle was shattered in a collision at home plate just 13 games into his Diamondback career, Snyder got the call up over Ansman.  While he had a fantastic season at Double-A El Paso (.301/15/57 in 346 at bats) nobody expected Snyder to put up the numbers he did with the big league club.  He hit only .240, and struck more than once every four at bats, but he hit five homers in just 96 ABs, and coaxed 13 walks, showing that while he still needs to improve his pitch recognition, his plate discipline is solid. 

Coming into Spring Training he will compete for a spot on the roster, and the starting job behind the plate, with Hill.  The winner is in the opening day lineup, the loser will move to Triple-A, and wait for a second chance in the bigs.

#1)  Koyie Hill was considered the Dodgers' Catcher of the Future when he was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Steve Finley deal.  Coming out of Witchita State he was a second baseman, but made a relatively seemless transition behind the plate.  He doesn't have an overly strong arm, and he has occasionally gotten lazy behind the plate, but the Diamondbacks view him as a switch hitter with developing power and nice catch and throw skills when he's fresh and healthy.  He was given the Diamondbacks' starting catcher job after coming over from the LA organization, unfortunately for him that lasted all of 13 games before his ankle was shattered in a collision at home plate. 

Hill stays #1 because of our NFL mentality, which is you don't lose your position due to injury.  Unfortunately Chris Snyder was brought up after Hill's injury and was fantastic in 29 games with the Diamondbacks, setting up a showdown this Spring Training.  All indications are that the Diamondbacks intend on keeping either Hill or Snyder on the big league roster, but not both.  We're betting on Hill because he switch hits and has shown slightly better pitch recognition.  If Hill gets the nod it will likely be because he makes more contact, as Snyder has consistently shown more power.

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