Catching is one of the most important elements in building a winning team. The NL East this season will have a mix of veterans and young guns who look to climb the ranks. Here's how we see the backstops in the National League East.
In Brian McCann
, the Braves don't only have the best catcher in the National League East, but one of the best in all of baseball. McCann suffered through some injuries in 2012 and put up decent numbers, but not the type that he's used to. His 20 home runs were his fewest since hitting 18 in 2007 and his .230 average was the lowest of his career by far. In fact, McCann's numbers and health kept him off the all-star squad for the first year since his rookie season of 2005 when he played just 59 games.
Defensively, McCann is average to slightly above, with all of his defensive numbers right in the range that they should be.
McCann will be 29 when the season starts and he's caught a lot of games, so it's possible that the beatings are catching up with him. If he rebounds and stays healthy, he's still destined to put up impressive offensive numbers in 2013.
While the Braves have the best established catcher in the division, the Miami Marlins may have one of the best up-and-coming catchers in the division. Rob Brantly caught 31 games for the Marlins in 2012 and looks to have the edge in winning the starting job heading into spring training. Brantly hit three home runs in just 100 at-bats and finished the year with a .290 average. Defensively, he was close to league averages in most categories, except throwing out base stealers, where his 18% success rate didn't quite measure up to the league average of 27%.
At just 23, the Marlins may have to think about whether or not they want Brantly to be their everyday catcher, but he made a nice impression in his 2012 audition and the only other real option for the Marlins would be veteran backup Jeff Mathis, who doesn't provide much offense. Since the Marlins embarked on yet another rebuilding effort, it makes sense for Brantly to handle the catching chores and take his lumps now on a young team.
The Mets catching scenario is interesting. They acquired John Buck from Toronto in the R.A. Dickey trade after the Blue Jays had acquired Buck from the Marlins in their earlier blockbuster deal. Buck is a good defensive catcher and hit 12 home runs in 343 at-bats last season, but he also hit under the Mendoza Line, so there's not much offense from him. To make the situation interesting, the Mets have two young catchers who are definite prospects in Travis D'Arnaud (a former Phillies prospect) and Anthony Recker, who is also a highly regarded young catcher.
It's likely that the Mets will go with Buck and one of the young catchers in some sort of platoon as they look to bring the young part of their catching squad along slowly.
The Phillies are in good shape with veteran Carlos Ruiz
, but he's lost for the first 25 games of the season because of a suspension for violating the league substance abuse policy. That leaves Erik Kratz
to take over for the first month of the season. Kratz proved last season that he's a decent option behind the plate; he calls a good game, the pitchers trust throwing to him and he's got some pop in his bat. Bottom line though is that he's not Ruiz.
When Ruiz returns, he'll give the Phillies both the bat and the defensive weapon that they are used to having behind the plate. Last season, Ruiz was a monster offensively, hitting career-highs in home runs (16), RBI (68) and average (.325) even though he missed a good amount of time late in the year and caught just 114 games for the Phillies. To ask if any of those numbers were inflated by the banned substance he was taking is a valid question, but time will tell.
Knowing that Ruiz is going to miss time early in the season, the Phillies went out and got veteran catcher Humberto Quintero to add to the mix. Quintero, or possibly John Suomi, will serve as the backup to Ruiz until he serves his suspension.
In Washington, veteran Kurt Suzuki
came over from the Seattle Mariners last season and played well for the Nationals, hitting five home runs and posting a .267 average in 146 at-bats in his first National League stint. The Nationals also have veteran Wilson Ramos, who battled injuries in 2012, on the roster. An interesting part of the mix for the Nationals is Jhonatan Solano, who had two home runs and hit .314 in 12 games in the majors.
Manager Davey Johnson has said that Suzuki will likely be the number one catcher, but anything can happen in spring training. Both Suzuki and Ramos are excellent defensive catchers, so it could come down to who figures to provide the most offense. It's very possible that Suzuki will be the starter, with Ramos serving as a quality backup and Solano having to wait his turn.
Ranking the NL East catchers:
1. Brian McCann (Atlanta)
2. Carlos Ruiz (Philadelphia)
3. Suzuki/Ramos (Washington)
4. Rob Brantly (Miami)
5. Buck/D'Arnaud/Recker (New York)