Who Is The Phillies Catcher Of The Future?

Catching is a key spot on any ball club. After Mike Lieberthal's reign ended, the Phillies are now faced with deciding on who gets the shot at being the next catcher of the future?

For many years, the Phillies knew that Mike Lieberthal was going to be their catcher. Lieberthal withstood challenges from the likes of Johnny Estrada even though Estrada was often considered to be the one that would replace Lieberthal. Estrada never really got his chance in Philadelphia and Lieberthal is gone, but there is still no definite answer to the question of who's next. At least the Phillies have options on who to hand the job over to in the very near future.

For now, Carlos Ruiz is the leader in the clubhouse. He's all but pushed Rod Barajas out of the way even though Barajas was highly pursued by the Phillies during the off-season. It's not that Ruiz is slamming the ball, but he's hitting well and pitchers are singing his praises. Just the fact that he's in the majors gives him the top spot in the pecking order.

Seemingly hot on Ruiz' heels is Jason Jaramillo. From the moment he was drafted, Jaramillo was penciled in as the Phillies catcher of the future. Jaramillo spent his first pro season in short-season leagues and he exploded when he arrived in Lakewood for the 2005 season. In 2006, the Phillies pushed Jaramillo past Clearwater and all the way to Double-A Reading, where he was given some of the Phillies top pitching prospects to work with. Jaramillo's arrival at Reading along with pitchers like Scott Mathieson and Gio Gonzalez was no coincidence.

Jaramillo's offensive numbers haven't been quite where the Phillies had hoped they would be, but he's been given somewhat of a free pass on that part of his game. The Phillies have been content with watching him develop his skills at handling pitchers and are happy to take whatever they get from him offensively. This season, Jaramillo started strong at Triple-A Ottawa, but quickly fizzled and has watched his average drop to a season-low of .225 on Memorial Day. Defensively though, Jaramillo has been stellar.

Then there's Lou Marson. From the time that both Jaramillo and Marson were drafted, there has been a debate about who is better and who will be leading the Phillies long-term. Marson remains a couple of steps behind Jaramillo, playing his ball at Clearwater. While his defense is good, it's not up to the level of Jaramillo, but his offense is where the Phillies wish Jaramillo would be. This season at Clearwater, Marson is hitting .287 with the Threshers. The odd part is that while Jaramillo's offense has slipped as he moved through the system, Marson is improving. The question is how good it will be once he hits Double-A and beyone, since that's where Jaramillo - and most players - start their slide.

While Ottawa and Clearwater are blessed with solid young catchers who both appear to have the potential to have pretty good major league careers, the same can't be said about Reading and Lakewood. While Reading's Jason Hill is hitting .285, he's also 29 years old and isn't thought of as being a true prospect, let alone a player who would be handling a major league pitching staff for years to come. Lakewood has younger catchers - Joel Naughton and Tuffy Gosewisch - but neither are true prospects and both are struggling offensively for the BlueClaws.

So, Ruiz, Jaramillo, Marson. Which is the Phillies catcher of the future?

PLAYER, AGE (birthday), 2007 TEAM STRENGTHS WEAKNESSES
Carlos Ruiz, 27 (1/27/1979), Philadelphia Got his major league jitters out of the way and has developed into a decent offensive player. Has good defensive skills and won't be out-worked. His leadership skills are taking some time to develop. Having battled Barajas has definitely helped him to gain confidence and assertiveness.
Jason Jaramillo, 24 (10/9/1982), Ottawa Great leadership skills. Handles pitchers well and knows how to call a game. He's also got good mechanics and a strong arm. Offense has always been suspect and as he rises through the minors, he's been exposed at the plate.
Lou Marson, 20 (6/26/1986), Clearwater Has near perfect size and is a natural team leader. He's very athletic and his talents come naturally, plus he's not afraid of hard work to get better. Is still a little raw and will make youthful mistakes. Is more of a slow track type prospect.

Of course, there's always the possibility of a trade or a new face arriving through the draft. A trade isn't likely, since the Phillies have other areas to worry about much more than catching. They'll draft a catcher or two, but again, it won't be a major priority come draft day of 2007. As for another possible free agent arriving during the off-season, that's not likely either for the same reasons.

Most scouts believe that Marson has the biggest upside, but he's going to need some time before he can reach the majors and battle to take his spot on the Phillies catching throne. The real battle may be between Ruiz and Jaramillo to see who will keep the seat warm until Marson can reach the majors. Right now, Jaramillo is potential trade bait as Ruiz is warming the seat very well and a lot could happen between now and the time that Lou Marson gets a ticket to Philadelphia.


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