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What's the catch?

Posted by: Nick Nelson Updated: January 11, 2011 - 11:32 PM

The Twins yesterday released a list of 19 non-roster spring training invites. The name that will stand out to most people is Kyle Gibson, the team's first-round draft pick from 2009 who finished last season in Triple-A and could make a legitimate bid for a rotation spot in March.

My eyes scanned further down, to the list of minor-league catchers receiving invites to camp. There are six: Jair Fernandez, Chris Hermann, Steve Holm, Danny Lehmann, Danny Rams and Rene Rivera. It will be interesting to follow this group in Ft. Myers, because as things currently stand, pretty much any one of those guys could be one injury away from finding himself on the big-league roster this year.

One offseason trade I haven't discussed at all in this space was a December swap that sent Jose Morales to Colorado in return for a minor-league pitcher. The Twins never trusted Morales' defense, so it was hardly a surprise to see him go, but between him and Wilson Ramos the Twins have over the past six months gotten rid of the only two backstops in the organization outside of Joe Mauer with any kind of offensive ability. Morales was not the great hitter that his .311 average from from 2009 would suggest, but he was competent with the stick and that's not something you can say about any of those spring training invites mentioned above. It's also not something you can say about Drew Butera, who figures to be Mauer's top backup from the get-go this year.

Mauer is no stranger to injuries, which is to be expected given that he plays such a physically demanding position. Even in what we would deem a healthy year by his standards, he still misses about a month's worth of games. There will be many occasions this year where he'll be hurt, written into the lineup as a DH, or simply given the day off. With Morales gone, those opportunities to catch will all fall to Butera, who batted .197/.237/.296 last season and is arguably the worst hitter in the major leagues. In the event that Mauer has to miss a sizable chunk of time, Butera will be viewed as a regular and one of the minor leaguers mentioned above would become the big-league backup.

It's a disastrous scenario. Of the six non-roster invites, only Holm and Rivera have any MLB experience. They've both had cups of coffee and neither has managed to establish himself as any kind of legitimate prospect. The other four are raw young players unlikely to yield any more offensive production than Butera.

Of course, offense is clearly not a major consideration for the Twins when evaluating backup catchers, otherwise they wouldn't have traded Morales away. They're probably correct in that mindset; it's the most important defensive position on the diamond and teams can easily take advantage of liabilities like Morales.

But what the Twins have been missing since Mike Redmond's departure is a backup catcher with a solid glove who can actually hold his own at the plate. That's not Butera, and it's not any of the six other guys who will be vying for the third spot on the depth chart during spring training.

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