There has been quite a bit of talk about what the Rockies will do at the catcher position this off-season. For whatever reason, the team seems like it might be ready to give up on Chris Iannetta. A few weeks ago, Troy Renck speculated that the Rockies might want to trade Iannetta this off-season, leaving the starting catching job in the hands of Wilin Rosario. That would be a grave mistake.
It’s interesting that Jim Tracy refuses to bat Iannetta anywhere other than the eighth hole. He ranks second on the team in OBP and tied for third in wOBA. As of last night, CarGo and Iannetta were tied in wOBA and wRC+. The only area where Chris doesn’t stack up when compared to CarGo is in batting average. According to Fangraphs’ WAR, Iannetta is the second most valuable position player on the team. That’s right. So far this year, he has contributed more wins above replacement than Helton or CarGo.
Chris hasn’t been okay this year; he’s been really, really good. In fact, his performance has been borderline elite. Out of Major League catchers with over 320 at-bats, Iannetta is third overall in WAR, trailing only Bryan McCann of the Braves and Alex Avila of the Tigers. That’s an All-Star level performance, and, the fact is, Iannetta is one of the best five catchers in baseball this year. It’s crazy that the only thing holding him back from the recognition he deserves is his batting average.
Obviously they need to listen to any offer, but, if the Rockies’ plan is to use someone else at catcher next season, they are insane. There is no way Wilin Rosario and/or Jordan Pacheco can fill Iannetta’s shoes next year. Not to say they can’t get there eventually, but Rosario has taken a step back offensively this year and Pacheco isn’t even close defensively. The Rockies would be doing both players a disservice by bringing them up too early. If the Rox want the catcher that gives them the best chance to win next year, that’s Iannetta.
It’s a popular thing to group Iannetta with Dexter Fowler and Ian Stewart. Many claim that these three are evidence of the Rockies’ failure to develop players. I’d say that these three are examples of the Rockies’ inability to be patient with their young players. Stewart has 150 plate appearances this year. In terms of baseball, that’s a miniscule sample size. He’s hardly been given a fair shot. But, Stewart aside, the Rockies’ treatment of Fowler and Iannetta has been particularly perplexing. It’s been absurd, actually.
Fowler hit a slump after a decent start and was sent to Colorado Springs to “figure things out”. In the meantime, the Rockies’ outfield defense suffered greatly. And, now that he is back, he is tearing it up apparently because of an added leg kick. You mean to tell me that he couldn’t have figured that out while he stayed in the majors? God forbid they lose out on some of EY’s productivity. Meanwhile, Iannetta has been permanently relegated to the eighth spot, despite the fact that he is a much better hitter this year than Wigginton, Seth Smith, Fowler, and anyone else not named Tulo, Helton, or CarGo. Today, Tracy batted Eliezer Alfonso cleanup. He would’ve never done that with Iannetta, but he’s okay with Alfonso in that spot? It makes no sense.
If Colorado ever wants to truly become a “homegrown” organization, they have to exercise more patience. Fowler is twenty-four years old and was giving the team value when he was sent down. That never should’ve happened. They’ve been waiting for years for Iannetta to develop into a plus catcher and it’s finally happening. Yet, his manager inexplicably thinks he is a weak hitter and management seems more than willing to send him packing. Solid catchers are very hard to find. It would be a shame if the Rockies gave up on one of the best in the biz because they wish he would swing the bat more.