The Catching Situation – Improving from Within

During the last offseason, all Red Sox fans had the same top priority: finding someone to fill in for Jason Varitek, who had just come off a truly pathetic offensive season, putting up a career low 73 OPS+. Although the Red Sox no longer have anything to complain about when it comes to Varitek, whose impressive power numbers help to offset his low on base percentage, there's still the question of the future. At 37, Varitek is not likely to be a long term solution, and within as little as a year-and-a-half, the Sox are likely to need the replacement we all wanted last winter. While last year, the idea of finding a catcher within the organization seemed like a pipe dream, this year the Sox find themselves with a number of potential options at almost all levels of the minor leagues. These are the catchers who could, at some point in the future, be considered the Red Sox' "Catcher of the Future".

 

 

 

 

Mark WagnerWagner, a 24-year-old 9th round pick from 2005, stumbled in his first year at AA Portland after putting up impressive numbers in 2006 and 2007. After re-establishing himself in the Arizona Fall League with a line of .288/.373/.542 over 59 at bats, Wagner has been on fire in Portland, hitting .302/.435/.535. Wagner has always displayed a typical Red Sox approach at the plate, taking counts deep and walking often. With 3 passed balls, 0 errors, and a remarkable 76% of baserunners thrown out, Wagner is also a great defensive catcher. The main concerns with Wagner are his ability to frame pitches, and whether or not he can continue to perform at this level, as he's had a tendency to decline as the season continues.

 

Luis ExpositoAfter a breakout 2008, 22-year-old Exposito is experiencing some regression, primarily in power numbers as the Advanced-A Red Sox team has moved out of hitter-friendly Clear Channel Stadium. Currently batting .281/.340/.445, Exposito is showing improved plate discipline, walking at nearly twice the rate he did last year. Of all the Sox' catching prospects, Exposito is the closest to replacing Varitek's presence in the clubhouse and behind the plate, as he's incredibly popular with pitching staffs and is an excellent defender behind the plate. Exposito does allow too many stolen bases, throwing out only about 28% of baserunners, but his strong arm means it's likely a coachable problem.

 

Ryan Lavarnway – Picked in the 6th round last year, 21-year-old Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz are combining to produce admirable numbers from behind the plate in Greenville. Considered the more advanced offensive player, Lavarnway is putting up a line of .278/.350/.519. So far, his plate discipline hasn't been showing through in his stats, but the organization has not had any problems with his approach. Lavarnway is still raw behind the plate, having only become a catcher in 2007, and is only throwing out 23% of baserunners.

 

Tim Federowicz – 21-year-old Tim Federowicz was the Red Sox' 7th round draft pick last year. The more defensive-oriented of the Greenville catching duo, Federowicz is still having an arguably better year than Lavarnway, posting a line of .306/.363/.484. Tim has good game-calling abilities and is popular with the pitching staff, and while he's only throwing out 25% of baserunners so far, scouts like both his arm and his mechanics and expect this to be a positive part of his game. Federowicz also possesses good speed on the basepaths, stealing 10 bases and being caught only 3 times in Lowell last year.

 

Oscar Perez – A 17-year-old international free agent signee last year, Perez is sure to make you wonder what you've been doing with your life. Expected to advance straight to the Gulf Coast League, bypassing the Dominican Summer League, Perez will come in over a year younger than almost all his teammates. While some scouts doubt Perez can be a major league catcher, the Red Sox scouts liked him enough that the organization was willing to give him a signing bonus of $750,000.

 

Carson Blair – Oscar Perez' 19-year-old teammate, Blair is a converted infielder with plenty of raw potential. Drafted in the 35th round last year due to signability issues (he was previously committed to Tulane), Blair is a long-term project which could pay significant dividends, or nothing at all.

 

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