February 12, 2013; Mesa, AZ, USA; Castillo in the batting cage during spring training camp at Finch Park. (Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports)

NLC Catcher Rankings: Molina and the Others


I think the headline says it all when it comes to the catchers in the NL Central.  If you honestly think about it, is there any other catcher within the division that could even contend for knocking Molina off the top spot?  For now, I’m not seeing it.

So, it’s a given Molina is the top catcher within the NL Central. It’s the order after him that can bring about many sources of discussion. This will most likely be no different.

One thing to keep in mind as you read this: although I will provide a projected WAR for each, I did not determine my ranking based on that number. Especially with the catching position, I think defense and handling of a pitching staff plays a huge role in the position as well.

Here’s the ranking for NL Central catcher…

Feb 13, 2013; Jupiter, FL, USA; Molina during spring training at Roger Dean Stadium. (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

1. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

2012 saw Molina snag another Gold Glove (giving him a total of five and all won in consecutive years) of while providing even more leadership and his best offensive season…by far.  When that guy that wore #5 departed for the riches of Los Angeles, some wondered who would give the Redbirds the extra offense and leadership.

Don’t think they’re asking that now.

Questions for 2013:

1. Can Molina continue catching 138 games a season? Some projections signify Molina as a “DH” rather than a catcher. Sorry, projections, but that’s absurd.
2. Can Molina continue to build upon his 2012 offense? Most projections say “no”. They actually expect a return to what he produced in 2011.

Stats AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 563 .315 .373 .501 22 65 76 12 45 55
3 YR AVG. 482 .295 .351 .438 14 51 68 8 40 50
2013 PROJ. 495 .291 .351 .436 15 58 69 8 43 52

Projected WAR: 4.4

September 18, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Lucroy (20) waits his turn in the batting cage before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

2. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers

Last season was the breakout for Lucroy…of sorts. If not for a DL stint, the 26-year-old from Louisiana-Lafayette without question would have set offensive career highs across the board. In fact, some may find it hard to believe that Lucroy posted the Brewers’ 3rd highest bWAR (among position players) at 3.5. Only Ryan Braun (6.8) and Aramis Ramirez (5.4) were higher than Lucroy.

If there is a hole in Lucroy’s game, it might be that his arm isn’t considered one of the strongest. He was only 19-for-89 in throwing out base stealers last season and for the past two seasons, Lucroy has ranked in the top five in stolen bases allowed (77 in ’11 and 70 in ’12). Granted, that’s not entirely on him. He has to have a little help from his pitchers…

Questions for 2013:
1. Can Lucroy stay healthy enough to play in 135 games? He played in 136 in 2011.
2. Will Lucroy continue his offensive progression? Again, he’s only 26, but projections lean more toward his career averages rather than his ’12 production.

Stats AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 316 .320 .368 .513 12 46 58 4 22 44
3 YR AVG. 341 .279 .326 .412 9 38 48 3 23 62
2013 PROJ. 417 .276 .332 .420 12 50 58 5 33 71

Projected WAR: 2.5

Feb 16, 2013; Goodyear, AZ, USA; Hanigan poses for a photo during photo day at the Reds Spring Training Facility. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

3. Ryan Hanigan, Cincinnati Reds

No one would ever debate that Ryan Hanigan is not your prototypical offensive catcher. He offers little power (a career. SLG of .360), but he does have a penchant for getting on base (career OB of .370). Batting 8th can induce a bit of an increase as Hanigan drew the 2nd most intentional walks (13) of any Reds player last season (Joey Votto drew a team-leading 18).

This all said, over he past two seasons, Hanigan’s contributions have come from behind the plate and not the batters box. If there is a peer to Molina defensively, it might be Hanigan with the difference being how many more games Molina plays. 2012 represented the first time Hanigan played in over 100 games and it was his 6th year in the league. Hanigan threw out 48% of runners attempting to steal last year, tops in all of baseball.

Questions for 2013:
1. Is Hanigan one that will assume a larger leadership role in ’13? No Scott Rolen and no Miguel Cairo creates a void in this area.
2. Will Hanigan build upon his growing defensive prowess? He allowed only one more passed ball (3) and one less wild pitch (17) than in 2012 despite playing in 21 more games.
3 Will Hanigan see less playing time in 2013? Practically every projection I have viewed shows Devin Mesoraco posting more games played, at-bats and plate appearances.

Stats AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 317 .274 .365 .338 2 25 24 0 44 37
3 YR AVG. 262 .279 .373 .368 4 26 32 0 37 30
2013 PROJ 271 .269 .357 .359 5 29 29 0 35 33

Projected WAR: 1.9

Feb 12, 2013; Bradenton, FL, USA; Martin during a workout session for spring training at Pirate City. (Douglas Jones-USA TODAY Sports)

4. Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Buccos raised a few eyebrows when they signed Martin. Not so much that they signed him, but more for the deal Martin got (2 years, $17MM). The Pirates got themselves a catcher that’s some view as starting on the down side of his career while still possessing some decent offense and defense. Not sure I buy into the downside bit as much as others as Martin just turned 30 (like on the 13th of this month).

Martin doesn’t run the bases as he did when he was in LA with the Dodgers. He doesn’t have the batting average skills he did then either. He still has the ability to hit the long ball. We’ll see if his move from Yankee Stadium to PNC Park will curtail that power.

Questions for 2013:
1. Can Martin’s offense transfer over to PNC Park? Well, the Pirates hope he can build upon the .211 BA he posted last season.
2. How quickly can Martin adjust to the Bucs staff? He has caught A.J. Burnett before (30 of Burnett’s 32 starts in ’12), but not much with the rest of the staff.
3. To what extent does Clint Hurdle stick with Martin? If Martin should stumble, Pittsburgh still has “The Fort”, Michael McKenry.

Stats AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 422 .211 .311 .403 21 50 53 6 53 95
3 YR AVG. 390 .231 .326 .385 15 51 48 7 50 79
2013 PROJ. 413 .236 .328 .378 13 53 52 6 49 83

Projected WAR: 2.4

5. Welington Castillo, Chicago Cubs

I know Cubs fans very will take this as a slight against their guy. Honestly, we haven’t seen enough of Castillo to put him ahead of any other other starters. I do like the offensive potential Castillo owns (aside from his whiff rate) and I believe at this time next year, Castillo will be ahead of at least one, if not a pair, of other NLC receivers.

Questions for 2013:
1. How long will the Cubbies stick with Castillo if he struggles? Dioner Navarro signed a deal with the Cubs during the off-season and there is also Steve Clevenger in a pinch.
2. How comfortable will the Cubs staff be with Castillo? Castillo was the backup to Geovany Soto who was dealt during the 2012 season, so Castillo did gain some experience in this area.

Stats AB AVG OBP SLG HR R RBI SB BB SO
2012 170 .265 .337 .418 5 16 22 0 17 51
3 YR AVG. 68 .261 .326 .424 2 6 9 0 6 21
2013 PROJ. 348 .246 .315 .418 14 42 48 0 32 95

Projected WAR: 1.9

Recap:
1. Molina
2. Lucroy
3. Hanigan
4. Martin
5. Castillo

Placing Molina atop this list was extremely easy. So was placing Castillo as 5th, but again, only due to his limited playing time. The middle three were tough to find any sort of means to rank. Lucroy offers the best all-around offense, even though I feel his owns the least defense when considering Hanigan and Martin. Hanigan’s defense is only to Molina’s in regards to the others. Martin does own the most proven bat among these three, but he is coming off a season where even Yankee Stadium wasn’t all that kind to his bat. Those numbers could see a further decline in 2013.

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