Three catchers failed to surpass the Mendoza Line for a Cleveland Indians team that came one win away from winning their first World Series title since 1948.
The glaring flaw from a momentous season came in the form of the catcher position. Yan Gomes (.167 BA), Roberto Perez (.183), Chris Gimenez (.216) and Adam Moore (0-for-5) all logged appearances behind the plate in 2016, but struggled to make a substantial offensive impact.
The Indians organization made few moves pertaining to the position this off-season, leaving anxious fans with many unanswered questions heading into 2017.
Now that spring training is less than 10 days away, the first of five positional breakdowns is finally here.
Atop the depth chart is the first Brazilian native to play Major League Baseball. Nothing is set in stone, but look for Gomes to get first crack at the everyday catching gig from day one. Out of the available catchers, the 29-year-old holds a commanding lead in the MLB experience department with 435 games under his belt.
The key here is to avoid the injury bug. Gomes suffered a right knee sprain (April, 2015), separated right shoulder (July, 2016) and fractured right hand (September, 2016) in the past two seasons alone. Despite the trio of setbacks, Gomes made an impressive return behind the dish and finished the year on the ALDS, ALCS and World Series rosters.
Using MLB’s Statcast technology, it is evident that Gomes needs to square up the baseball and keep the ball in play. His 87.68-mph exit velocity from 2016 was well below the major league average of 89.57-mph. Gomes also struck out 28.8% of the time, the largest percentage over the duration of his five-year MLB tenure.
As mentioned in previous articles, Gomes is in the fourth year of a six-year contract, has playoff appearances in both 2013 and 2016 and has been the primary backstop for all five pitchers on the starting staff since they began their playing careers with the Tribe. Not only does this favor Gomes when the roster is dwindled down to 25 players, but it also gives him a leg up on Roberto Perez and Adam Moore who have yet to see a full season in the big leagues.
What to expect: Forget the .167/.201/.327 slash line and career-low .527 OPS from 2016. It has been awhile, but Gomes will finally return to playing the game of baseball at full health with a clean slate to boot. There is little doubt that his injury issues over the last two years have impacted his play at the plate, so if he can stay healthy a return to form offensively is possible. If all goes well this spring, expect Gomes to reclaim his job as the everyday catcher.
Perez is similar to Gomes in that he has struggled to stay healthy. Coming off a right thumb injury that sidelined him for two and a half months in 2016, the 28-year-old will have to make an impression on manager Terry Francona and staff if he wants to maintain his starting job ahead of Gomes. The Indians selected Perez with the 1,011th overall pick (33rd round) out of Florida Gateway College in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft. With little invested in a player with such low projections to begin with, there is no denying that Perez has been a pleasant surprise and an essential piece to last year’s postseason run.
The average baseball fan will look at Perez’s .183/.285/.294 regular season slash line and wonder how he fits on a roster that expects to return to the World Series. These two reasons support his case…
In his first playoff at bat, Perez leveled an opposite field bomb off Boston’s Rick Porcello to even the score at 2-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS. Couple that with a two-homer performance against the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series, and Perez has made a strong bid for a spot on the 2017 lineup card. Simply put, Perez was clutch on baseball’s largest stage and brings some raw power when he steps up to the plate.
Aside from a .996 fielding percentage, Perez cut down 13 of the 26 baserunners that attempted to steal on him. This 50% clip was the best in the majors for catchers appearing in at least 60 contests. In addition, Perez has an 8.8 oStr%, a framing statistic developed by Statcorner’s Matthew Caruth that calculates the percentage of pitches called a strike despite being caught outside of the strike zone. This mark ranked 8th in the major leagues for catchers with a sample size of at least 4,000 pitches caught. Simply put, Perez is one of the better pitch-framers the game has to offer.
What to expect: Barring any unexpected circumstances, Perez figures to be one of the two catchers on the opening day roster. Whether he starts or not remains to be seen, but the Puerto Rican product did more than enough to solidify himself as a respectable major league player last season. If Gomes is unable to return to form or happens to revert to his prior injury woes, then Perez has a legitimate chance to be in the eighth or ninth slots of Francona’s everyday batting order.
Just a few days ago, Moore made the decision to re-sign with the Tribe by agreeing to a minor league contract that would pay him $570K if he makes the big league team at some point in 2017. Should this scenario come to fruition, Moore would likely suit the role of a backup with little value as a hitter. The 32-year-old veteran has batted .197/.237/.303 with a .540 OPS in his eight-year MLB career. Moore has yet to reach the century mark for games played (97), but offers insurance if either of the aforementioned options goes down.
Moore embraced his role as a Columbus’ catcher by logging 178 games over the last two campaigns. A former standout at UT-Arlington, Moore’s been a part of nine different minor league teams representing four different franchises (Mariners, Royals, Padres, Indians). While his numbers are not groundbreaking, Moore provides a veteran presence as one of the older catchers in the system.
What to expect: Even though Moore is a long shot to make the roster, he can still be useful as a third or fourth option for one of the organization’s weaker positions. With top prospect Francisco Mejia still a year or two away, Moore could also act as a leader and guide for the younger prospects in the pipeline.
Erik Kratz / Guillermo Quiroz
These two players go well together because they are in similar spots heading into spring training. Kratz (36) and Quiroz (35) each received non-roster invitations to spring training this off-season and should get plenty of chances to work with the MLB pitching staff in the coming months.
Kratz appeared in 32 MLB games in 2016, but could only muster a meager .094/.105/.153 slash line between the Houston Astros and Pittsburgh Pirates. Quiroz has not played in 40+ MLB games since his 2013 season with the San Francisco Giants (.186/.237/.302).
What to expect: Do not expect these two players to be a part of the Tribe in 2017. Within the confines of Triple-A Columbus, Kratz and Quiroz might have the opportunity to compete for playing time alongside Moore for most of the season. They are extreme emergency options and mostly to help round out the Triple-A roster with veteran backstops to help their pitchers. Moore should be on the Columbus, so one of Kratz or Quiroz will either a third catcher in Columbus who is not active but still works out with the team or they will be released.
Mejia is a catcher worth monitoring for the many years to come. As evidenced by his new designation on the 40-man roster, the Indians have shown high regard for the 40th ranked prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline’s latest rankings. A versatile switch-hitting backstop, Mejia projects to make his major league debut at some point in 2018.
The 21-year-old is coming off a breakout campaign in which he batted .342/.382/.514 between Single-A Lake County and High-A Lynchburg. His .896 OPS is noteworthy, but his 50-game hitting streak made national headlines as the longest streak in the minor leagues since 1963. MLB Pipeline also ranked Mejia as MiLB's number two catching prospect behind the Cardinals’ Carson Kelly.
The only question regarding Mejia’s future is his consistency and ability to string multiple successful seasons together. In 2015 with the Captains, Mejia slashed .243/.324/.345 with just nine home runs and 53 RBIs in 109 games. What a difference one year can make as Mejia’s experience boded well for a bounce-back season in 2016 with high hopes for the years to come.
What to expect: Depending on how he performs this spring, Mejia will play with High-A Lynchburg or Double-A Akron to commence the campaign. It is highly unlikely the Bani, Dominican Republic native makes the majors in 2017 given that he will probably open at Lynchburg and maybe only spend a half season at Double-A Akron. Mejia is still a work in progress, but his natural feel from both sides of the plate generates plenty of untapped MLB potential.
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.