Over the next week or so I will preview the 2012 season for the Rockies position by position. There have been some fan favorites jettisoned from the team and some new faces (albeit longer in the tooth) who have jumped on board.
First up is catcher.
Players lost: The Rockies had five players take a turn catching for the team in 2011 and the main starter, Chris Iannetta, is gone along with three of the other four.
Iannetta has been discussed ad nauseam on this site over the past year and we couldn’t understand why Jim Tracy seemed to not like him and now why the Rockies traded him for seemingly nothing. Iannetta did have the fourth best on-base percentage among all catchers in baseball with at least 400 plate appearances. His WAR according to Fangraphs was above average among the same group of catchers; he is a top 10-12 catcher and the Rockies let him go.
Along with Iannetta, Jose Morales is no longer with the team. Matt Pagnozzi was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates last year and Eliezer Alfonzo is suspended 100 games for testing positive for PED’s for the second time. The only player who saw time catching for the Rockies who will more than likely see time again in 2012 is Wilin Rosario (more on him below).
Players gained: To replace Iannetta Dan O’Dowd signed free agent Ramon Hernandez. The signing, presumably, is mostly as an active mentor position to help Rosario progress as a professional. Hernandez will be in his age 36 season and hasn’t caught more than 100 games in a single season since 2008. The last two seasons Hernandez has had an OPS+ above average but it is hard to expect that sort of productivity from a guy who is 36 years old and has caught nearly 11,400 innings in the major leagues. Even a guy who kept himself in great shape like (formerly) Pudge Rodriguez saw his OPS+ drop after his age 33 season.
It looks like the Rockies will break camp with Rosario and Hernandez making up a full time catcher. Hernandez is signed to a two-year deal so my guess is the Rockies will not rush along Rosario; maybe the two will split time 60/40 with Hernandez getting the bigger share.
Minor leagues: Rosario still tops the Rockies farm system at the catcher position. Rosario has 54 big league at-bats and one needs 130 or more to lose rookie status, thus, he can and is still considered a minor league prospect. However, it looks like he will win a job in the big leagues opening the 2012 season and that leaves Will Swanner as the next best prospect in the Rockies farm system at the catcher’s position. Swanner posted a .911 OPS in Casper last year, his first full season (played 18 games in 2010, his draft year) in professional baseball at the age of 19.
Who makes Opening Day roster: I can’t see it being anyone other than Hernandez and Rosario unless the Rockies make a move. They will only make a move for another catcher if Rosario is horrid this spring or one of the two gets hurt.
Who might come up during the year: No one. Rosario would be that call up. If there are injuries or poor performance (we know how quick Tracy is to pull the trigger on a young guy in the midst of a 2-15 streak…) then guys like Lars Davis or Matt McBride might see time with the Rockies, but neither are knocking at the door.
Next up: First base