Positional Grades: Catcher

We all believe that Miguel Montero is going to become a star, but how long will it take? And what options do the Diamondbacks have behind him should Montero fail to meet expectations? FutureBacks.com takes a look at the catcher position throughout the organization, and assigns it the first of its Annual Positional Grades.

Johnny Estrada is not going to return to the Diamondbacks, so 2007 should feature a straight lefty/righty platoon of Miguel Montero and Chris Snyder.  This works well in theory, since Snyder has a respectable career OPS of .765 against southpaws and Montero hit .297 against righties between AA, AAA, and the majors this year. 

It sounds good defensively as well, with Snyder having thrown out 45% of the basestealers that he faced this year, and Montero having a good track record in the minors.  The possibility remains, however, that Bob Melvin will opt to do more of a defensive platoon.  Snyder has experience catching Brandon Webb, Miguel Batista, and Livan Hernandez, while Montero will have had experience calling games for any of the young pitchers who make the 2007 starting rotation, such as Enrique Gonzalez, Dustin Nippert, or Micah Owings.

But catcher remains a very demanding and dangerous position, with injuries more of a probability than a possibility.  Neither of these catchers is ready to take on full time duties just yet should the other fall prey to some misfortune.  Here's a look at some of the other promising young catchers within the organization:

Robbie Hammock, 29

Okay, so he's not exactly young, but last season Robbie Hammock displayed an ability to hit that he hadn't in many years.  No, a 29-year old catcher who can hit AAA pitching isn't a rare commodity, but Hammock is the first in line to step in for an injury at the major league level. 

Phil Avlas, 23

This former 24th round pick has had a lot of ups and downs in his career.  This season he proved valuable at Tennessee, mostly through his ability to take a walk and get on base.  While he's fantastic at calling a game, Avlas needs to show more consistency on offense before he's a serious threat for a callup.

Josh Ford, 23

Ford will turn 24 before getting a taste of AA ball, which is never a good sign.  But Ford is a huge physical specimen, and represents the highest draft pick that the Diamondbacks have spent on a backstop in the past three years.

John Hester, 23

Some were surprised when Hester went as high as the 13th round this year, but Hester justified it with his play at Missoula.  He's rather inexperienced for a 23-year old, but seems to be picking things up mighty quickly. 

Wilkin Castillo, 22

With a body type opposite to Ford's, Castillo seems more like a middle infielder than a catcher.  His offense has declined as he's gotten to advanced levels, but Castillo still does a lot of little things to help out his team.  He can bunt, run, and make contact with the ball.

Orlando Mercado, 21

This son of an ex-major leaguer continues to make huge strides on both sides of the ball.  He seemed to have an epiphany at the plate this July, when he hit .396 for the month.  He's probably never going to become an offense-first type of catcher, but has more walks than strikeouts for his career, and probably won't ever hurt his team with poor offense.  At 21 years of age, he's shown that he can be something of a team leader already.

This simply hasn't been a priority position for the Diamondbacks organization.  For whatever reason, the club hasn't spent any high round draft picks or big free agent dollars on backstops in recent years.  The organization is in pretty good shape, considering this philosophy; it certainly lucked out with Johnny the Bargain Estrada last year.  Yet it is hard to ignore that an injury here and a bust there could leave the club with virtually no major league ready options this year, and even the catchers at the lower levels look more solid than spectacular.

Positional Grade: C      

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