Baseball, it’s almost here. If you’re like me, you’re just getting done watching the Caribbean Series which took place last week, while simultaneously getting ready for the college baseball slate that kicks off Friday afternoon. All of that extra-curricular baseball activity is great; but it’s not Cincinnati Reds baseball.
I’ve had this slated since the 2014 season ended and I’m honestly surprised by how quickly it got here. What we’re going to do over the weeks heading into both Spring Training and the regular season is rank the National League Central position-by-position.
Today, we’re going to start with the backstops. Let the debates begin.
After losing out on Reds killer Russell Martin during his free agent sweepstakes, the Pirates had to start from scratch, attempting to strike lightning in a bottle by signing a Yankee cast-off much in the same way they nabbed Martin initially.
Most outside of New York only know Cervelli for the fact that he was named in the recent investigation against Anthony Bosch/Biogenesis. He received a 50-game suspension for his troubles.
The most at-bats Cervelli has ever seen in a single year have been 266, and that was back in 2010. That leads pretty much all baseball pundits to believe that Chris Stewart will be doing at least half of the catching.
Stewart, known for his astute in-game knowledge, isn’t much of a hitter either. A career .228 batter, Stewart had 294 at-bats with the Yankees back in 2013 for his highest single-season total.
Where the Pirates once had an offensive threat in Martin, they’ve attempted to recreate his production, but through defense. Either way, their combo ranks last in the NL Central by a steady margin.
#4 – Miguel Montero – Chicago Cubs
Welcome the newest addition to the cause of grey hairs on your head. Montero is a dynamic catcher who can really swing the stick. The Cubs were able to exploit the Arizona Diamondbacks’ lack of payroll, picking up the remainder of his contract, which has three years and $40 million left on it.
Although he has played the entirety of his career outside the NL Central, those who follow the Reds closely enough should remember the powerful left-handed hitter. While he possesses more pop than most catchers in the bigs (double-digit home run totals in four straight years, five seasons with 20+ doubles, including one with 36), he has stayed relatively quiet against the Redlegs, batting just .228/.313/.368, with just 10 extra-base hits in 114 at-bats.
Montero went from being the second-best catcher in the National League West division, to joining a crowded pack of NL All-Stars in the Central.
#3 – Devin Mesoraco – Cincinnati Reds
Oh, how it pains me to not be able to put him higher on the list. Although reports have surfaced that Jonathan Lucroy may need surgery to correct a hamstring issue and may not be available for Opening Day, that won’t allow him to leap the Brewers’ backstop.
It serves as a reminder that this ranking is for the present. A few years down the line, and Mesoraco may have a stranglehold on the top catcher in the division, but for now, his competition is fierce.
As pleased as seemingly everyone was with his contract extension, it’ll be interesting to see how he can follow up his breakout 2014 campaign. He did have two significant gaps of missed time with nagging injuries, which he’ll have to kick if he strives to be an All-Star year in, and year out.
#2 – Jonathan Lucroy – Milwaukee Brewers
Coming off a season in which he broke the single-season record for doubles in a year for a catcher (53), many Brewers fans would be incensed to learn he’s not atop these rankings heading into 2015. And despite the loud clamoring’s that his pitch framing does wonders for his MVP case, he finished fourth last season in a winnable year, which either dismisses those notions, or illuminated the Brewers’ epic September collapse.
During the period in which the club had to endure the embarrassment that was Ryan Braun, Lucroy stepped in to be the new face of a franchise that desperately needed some fresh air and didn’t ooze petulance and dishonesty.
Before his season could even get going, he’s been set back by a hamstring injury. He’s expected to miss a significant portion of Spring Training, if not all of it. At that point, it would be fair to question his ability to start the season in roughly six or seven weeks.
#1 – Yadier Molina – St. Louis Cardinals
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a broadcaster say, “He’s a guy you love to have on your team, but if you’re playing against him, you hate him,” I wouldn’t even need to be here writing. While that axiom holds true with some of the game’s all-time grittier players, I feel as if many in Cincinnati don’t feel that way at all concerning Molina. They’re glad he’s on the other side of the field and not in the Reds locker room. I believe that to be the true definition of a rival.
For as disliked in the Queen City as Molina is, there’s no doubting his value to arguably baseball’s premier franchise. Although he was sidelined by a thumb injury down the stretch last season, his value has never wavered. Prior to 2014, he had two consecutive seasons of finishing inside the top-5 MVP race.
Each of the last seven years, he’s won the NL Gold Glove. Each of the last six, he’s been an NL All-Star. Once an offensive liability, he now has batted at least .280 in four straight seasons, with the three prior to 2014 being over .300.
The bottom line with Molina remains so: if he can stay healthy, he’s a lead candidate for the league’s MVP Award each and every year.
Rankings in order:
1 – Yadier Molina
2 – Jonathan Lucroy
3 – Devin Mesoraco
4 – Miguel Montero
5 – Francisco Cervelli/Chris Stewart
Other Positional Rankings: