When news came out before Twins Fest that Jose Morales would need surgery on his wrist and miss most of spring training, people started to talk about the backup catcher role, and who would fill it. Mike Redmond was let go and signed with Cleveland. With no report of Morales being available any time soon, the question remains: Who will be Joe Mauer
’s backup on Opening Day?
Will it be Drew Butera? The 26 year old backstop was acquired from the New York Mets in the 2007 trade of Luis Castillo. He is definitely known for his defense. He is said to have a strong, accurate arm. He has good footwork and mechanics behind the plate. Pitchers enjoy pitching to him and he does a good job of quickly understanding how to work opposing hitters. However, he did lead the International League in 2009 in passed balls. He better be good defensively because he simply is not going to hit at all. In over 1,600 plate appearances in his four-plus minor league seasons, he has hit a combined .214/.295/.317 with 100 extra base hits. Last year in Rochester, he hit just .211/.268/.292 (a solid .560 OPS… Ouch!!). As you know, Butera is the son of former Twins catcher Sal Butera, who caught for the team from 1980 to 1982, and then again for 51 games in 1987 (and hit .171/217/.243). Most believe that Drew Butera’s defense will allow him to spend many years in professional baseball, likely hovering between AAA and the big leagues as a backup.
Or will it be Wilson Ramos? The 22 year old Venezuelan burst on the scene in 2007. Scheduled to go to short-season Elizabethton, Ramos was needed in Beloit. He came up and hit .291 with 17 doubles and eight homers in 73 games before an injury ended his season. He moved up to Ft. Myers in 2008 where he hit .288/.346/.434 with 23 doubles and 13 home runs in 126 games. Last year, he moved up to AA New Britain where he played in just 54 games due to two injuries. First, he took a foul tip and broke the tip of his right middle finger. When he came back, he pulled his hamstring and missed more time. However, in those 54 games played, he hit .317/.341.454 with 20 extra base hits. He went home to Venezuela for Winter League ball and was recently named by Baseball America as the Winter Player of the Year. Ramos hit .332/.397/.582 with 49 RBI. Simply put, Wilson Ramos can hit. He is a highly touted prospect, a top three prospect for the Twins each of the past four years. But he is more than just a strong hitter. When he wants to, Ramos can be a very good catcher defensively as well. He has a canon for an arm, and improved footwork has helped his accuracy. He can be very good at blocking balls in the dirt. His game-calling has greatly improved with more games played.
Drew Butera or Wilson Ramos?
If the question was – “Which Player will be a better Major League player? “ – then the answer is simple. Ramos.
But in this scenario, the question is, “Which player should be Joe Mauer’s backup to start the 2010 season if Jose Morales is unable to go.
The Case for Wilson Ramos
He is a better hitter. He is solid on Defense. His upside is much higher. In fact, he is probably a much better player than Jose Morales already, as well.
The Case for Drew Butera
He is a much better catcher all-around defensively. At his age, he is what he is, a backup catcher.
The Case Against Drew Butera
He isn’t as good as Ramos offensively. In fact, it isn’t particularly close.
The Case Against Wilson Ramos
This is what it really comes down to, doesn’t it? It’s pretty clear that Ramos is the better overall player, and that on the days that he plays, he gives the Twins a better chance of winning (arguably) than Drew Butera does. So, why shouldn’t Wilson Ramos be the opening day backup catcher? There are a few theories.
#1 – Ramos is too good and too young to be sitting on the bench. He is just 22 years old, and with his upside, you want him playing as much as possible. The more plate appearances he can get, the better. The more innings he can catch, the better.
#2 – Ramos’s arbitration clock starts. This argument isn’t terrible important, in my opinion. If he is up with the Twins for two to four weeks, his service time starts. But when Morales comes back, Ramos can go back to AAA and the service time shuts off again.
The arbitration clock (#2) isn’t a great argument unless you put it in conjunction with his age, talent and potential. As Joe Mauer’s backup, Ramos would likely catch one game a week during his service time and sit on the bench the rest of the time, possibly pinch hitting once as well. If you’re going to use his service time, it doesn’t make sense to waste it with him on the bench.
That is why I am completely on board with Drew Butera being the Twins backup catcher on opening day, until Jose Morales comes back. Wilson Ramos can play most every day in AAA Rochester and keep progressing.
Now, if Joe Mauer were to get hurt (something that happens from time to time with most catchers which is why giving a lot of years and a lot of dollars to a catcher is somewhat silly!) for an extended period of time, I wouldn’t hesitate to call up Ramos and insert him as the team’s starting catcher.
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