Position Projections: Catcher

With just a few weeks between now and the opening of the minor league season, the Tigers are starting to take a long, hard look at which players will be playing where when they break minor league camp. We too, we'll take a look at who might be heading where, starting off with the catcher position.

First up on totem pole is Toledo, where it's likely that Maxim St. Pierre, who has been a mainstay with the Erie SeaWolves the past few seasons, will likely make the jump up to the Mud Hens, helping a staff with a handful of impressive arms. St. Pierre is regarded as being good with a pitching staff, but his offense isn't quite as impressive as his work behind the dish, with just a .256 career average, and a .354 career slugging percentage.

The team's backup has yet to be determined, although Brandon Harper is a veteran who was with Erie as well in 2004. Former Tiger farmhand Mike River is in camp, and could be another possibility to back up. Sandy Martinez is yet another name to keep in mind.

Coming up to Erie will be 2001 fourth round draft pick Mike Rabelo. Rabelo is solid defensively, and while he doesn't hit for much power, has been able to make good contact and hold his own at the plate. For Lakeland in 2004, he hit .287 and while he had no home runs, he did show good gap power, with 20 doubles.

If the Tigers decide to keep an experienced catcher behind Rabelo, Russ Cleveland and Guillermo Rodriguez would be possibilities. Another possibility is Alex Trezza, who backed up Rabelo for a good portion of '04 for the L-Tigers.

Lakeland will be manned by a player who had somewhat of a breakout year in 2004; Danilo Sanchez. Although Sanchez was a bit old for the Midwest League at 23, he put up impressive numbers at the plate with a .798 OPS, as well as being respectable and leading one of the League's top pitching staffs to the Midwest League championship.

The aforementioned players, Cleveland, Rodriguez and Trezza, are all possibilities to take the backup role in Lakeland as well. If the Tigers look to get more playing time for Joel Roa or Justin Barnes at West Michigan, it's possible that Andrew Graham will continue backing up Sanchez.

At the final full season stop, West Michigan, there will probably be at least a couple players sharing time. Andrew Graham started '04 in Oneonta, then was called up to West Michigan, where he served as Sanchez's backup. But the possibility remains that he'll move up to Lakeland, to make way for Dusty Ryan.

In his first professional season, Ryan hit .274, including an .802 OPS. Despite being a bigger guy at 6' 5", Ryan has thus far displayed the ability to stay behind the dish. If Graham stays, both players will see time, but don't be surprised to see Ryan emerge as the guy, just as he did in '04.

If Graham moves up, Roa and Barnes will be the prime candidates to back up Ryan and get a shot at some playing time in a full season league.

The picture becomes a bit less cloudy as we move down to Oneonta, because you can never rule out the emergence of a draft signing (much like Ryan was, as a draft-and-follow from the 2003 draft). However, if the starter comes from within the organization, don't be surprised if it's the GCL Tigers' top performer at the spot from last season; Cole Miller. In just 130 at bats, Miller blasted 5 home runs and drove in 16 (1st and 2nd on the team, respectively).

Heading down to the GCL, the Tigers have a pair of catchers that didn't get much play in 2004, one because of injuries the other because of Miller being in front of him. Cody Collet was a 2003 draft selection, but was slowed with injuries all season long, keeping him out of action most of the season. Skelton meanwhile never fully got a chance simply because of the production Miller put up. Both will likely repeat the GCL after working out in extended spring training.

Overall, while the Tigers have plenty of serviceable catchers in the system, there doesn't look to be any real help on the way until you get to Dusty Ryan . . . luckily, the future Hall-of-Famer behind the dish should keep the Tigers in good shape for the time being.

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