High Minor League Catching is Slim

In the fifth of our series on the Dodger minor league system, we'll take a look at the catchers. With a pair of young backstops at the major league level -- Dioner Navarro and Russell Martin -- the Dodgers seemed set for some time, but that same situation didn't hold for the minor league teams.

The fact that Russell and Navarro, who was traded early in the season and was replaced by Toby Hall, were plugging up the main line toward The Show for other catchers in the system became quite clear to them as the 2006 season progressed.

Hall immediately told the Dodgers he didn't want to stick around as a backup and Sandy Alomar, who was to be Navarro's backup before Russell arrived in a shower of stardust, saw so little action that he was traded to the White Sox.

In the off-season, things got even tighter when the Dodgers signed veteran catcher Mike Lieberthal, making up for the departure of Hall by free agency. Einar Diaz was also non-tendered and moved on.

Minor league free agents Edwin Bellorin and Brad Cresse also opted for free agency, depleting the experienced catchers in Las Vegas and Jacksonville.

Following the season, L.A. signed Ken Huckaby and added him to the Dodgers' 40-man roster. It seems he will be the starter at AAA and an insurance policy if Russell or Lieberthal go down during he season.

Huckaby first joined the Dodgers in 1991 as a 22nd round draft pick out of San Joaquin Delta Junior College in California. He spent seven years in the system and was called up to the big club twice -- in 1996 and 97 -- but spent his time in the bullpen, never getting into a game. He then traveled through seven other systems, some of them more than once.

He was a backup catcher in the big leagues with the Blue Jays, Orioles and Rangers. This past season, he was with the Red Sox for eight games, batting just .200. He spent most of the year with Pawtucket, hitting .219.

That leaves Eric Langill, A. J. Ellis and Gabriel Gutierrez with limited experience in the AA+ scene. Ellis aided his cause by hitting .346 in the Arizona Fall League, and the three will challenge for spots at Las Vegas and Jacksonville.

Further down the chain, the Dodgers have some catchers in place who could move up and after the successful conversion of Russell Martin from third base to behind the plate, they are moving toward duplicating that effort with a trio of young players.

Outfielder/3B Carlos Santana will be trying to make the transition to catching, a position he occupied as an amateur. And two others have been added to the list of prospects, Russell Mitchell and Lucas May.

The trio worked in the Arizona Instructional League on the position switch.

Santana had a solid season at Vero Beach; Mitchell hit 40 doubles and 19 home runs between Columbus and Vero Beach while May had 27 doubles, nine triples and 18 homers for Columbus.

Other young catchers in the system include:

Gabriel Gutierrez
Signed at age 18 in Mexico and move his game to the Dominican, spending three years at Santo Domingo before moving to the mainland at Columbus in 2005.

He caught in 71 games and .259-3-18 before rising quickly to Las Vegas to fill in after an injury. He caught four games and did his Roy Campanella imitation, hitting .462 over the four games he spent in Nevada.

In 2006 he caught in Vero Beach (.200-0-14) and Jacksonville (.268-0-6) without displaying much bat strength.

Juan Apodaca
Signed as a free agent in 2003, Apodaca played two years in the Dominican before moving to Columbus in 2005 where he hit .244-4-20 before moving to Ogden for a cup of coffee.

He caught 55 games for Columbus, then moved to Vero Beach in 2006, improving as he moved up and started to show a little power.

He seems to have the physical tools to become a solid all-around receiver but has just turned 20 and is a work in progress in almost every phase of his game, catching, throwing, calling a game and hitting. There's that promise though in every aspect.

Tony Harper
A twenty-three year old, Harper displays defense talent. after being signed out of Frank Phillips College in Texas in 2004.

His solid body (5-10, 222), generates a short batting stroke that seems to promise power in the future. He collected 12 extra-base hits among the 29 he collected in the Gulf Coast League in 2004 but an injury (bone spurs in elbow) resulted in an operation and scrubbed his entire 2005 season.

Jumped to Columbus in 2006, he hit .287 over 78 games with six homers and 33 runs batted in. He will probably play in San Bernardino this summer.

Carlos Medero-Stultz
Medero was born in Havana and while he and his family make annual trips back to the island, he lives in Miami.

He was drafted in the eighth round in 2004 out of Goleman High in Miami Lakes and was reputed to be a fine receiver but not so fine with the bat.

And after he hit .195 in the Gulf Coast League his first year, it looked like the scouts were right. However, in 2005 he weighed in with a .313 average with the Coasties, a .333 average with Columbus (one game) and a .500 average with Jacksonville (two games).

But as his offense reported for duty, his defense went AWOL. He has a strong arm but suddenly the ball didn't go where he was aiming.

He played with Ogden in 2006, hitting .197 but making only one error in 40 games behind the plate.

If the 20-year-old can get them both coordinated, he just could be the real thing.

The complete list of Dodger catchers in 2006:
                    ave gm  ab  r  h 2b 3hr bi sb
Einar Diaz LV      .429  2   7  0  3  2 0 0  2 0
Ryder Mathias LV   .333  2   3  0  1  0 0 0  1 0
Russell Martin LV  .297 23  74 14 22  9 0 0  9 0
Edwin Bellorin LV  .234 96 321 32 75 13 1 7 49 1
Eric Langill LV    .181 35  83 12 15  3 0 0  7 0
Dioner Navarro LV  .175 11  40  3  7  2 0 0  9 1
Pat Borders LV     .053  6  19  0  1  0 0 0  0 0
Gabe Gutierrez Jx  .268 13  41  3 11  0 0 0 11 0
Brad Cresse Jx     .259 47 162 18 42  8 0 7 28 0
A.J. Ellis Jx      .250 81 252 34 63  9 1 0 21 2
Eric Langill Jx    .200  4  15  2  3  3 0 0  6 0
Gabe Gutierrez VB  .198 39  96  7 19  1 0 0 20 0
Ryder Mathias VB   .190 29  84  9 16  4 0 1 23 2
Pat Borders VB     .181 20  72  6 13  3 0 1 19 0
Anthony Harper Col .287 78 279 30 80 12 0 6 32 0
Juan Apodaca Col   .249 55 189 23 47  8 0 1 22 1
Conor McGeehan Col .237 23  59 10 14  5 0 1 22 0
Conor McGeehan GC  .571  2   7  1  4  0 0 0  3 0
John Martin Og     .256 42 129 19 33  9 1 1 18 0
Carlos Stultz Og   .197 40 122 18 24  4 0 1 14 0
Estaban Lopez GC   .319 14  47  5 15  1 0 0  5 0
Jason Anthony GC   .286 10  35  4 10  2 0 0  3 1
Kenley Jansen GC   .248 35 117 14 29  2 1 1 10 1
Keyter Collado Dom .314 56 191 29 60 12 0 2 23 3
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