Today marks the beginning of the State of the Farm series for 2012. Each Monday I will look at one position and the state of it throughout the farm system. I will go in order of positions, starting with catcher and working around the diamond until we get to the pitchers where I will look at both starting pitching and relief pitching.

The position that was arguably the Reds strongest after 2011 may be the weakest in 2012. The Reds lost two Top 50 prospects in baseball at the position from last year with the graduation of Devin Mesoraco and the trade of Yasmani Grandal. Tucker Barnhart seems to be alone at the top of the current crop. In 2011 he was recognized by Rawlings as the best defensive catcher in all of the minor leagues and was given the Gold Glove award for minor league baseball at the catcher position. At 21 years old, he is a very good defender with a strong and accurate arm. He threw out 38% of would be base stealers in 2012, though he did have 13 passed balls, which was up from just six the year before. He split his time between Bakersfield and Pensacola. At the plate, it was a night and day difference. In Bakersfield he hit .278/.371/.409 with good plate discipline. Once in Pensacola though, his plate discipline, while still solid, took a step backward as did the rest of his offense. While it was limited to just 142 plate appearances, a .200/.262/.292 line was not a good showing. He suffered from a low BABIP that certainly held down the line, but AA pitchers seemed to figure out something as Barnhart went from a 41% groundball hitters in Bakersfield in 2012 to a 57% groundball hitter in Pensacola. Expect him to be back in Pensacola next season as the starting catcher.

As far as prospects go, there isn’t another catcher in full season ball who showed enough to give a second thought. In Arizona there were a few interesting guys though. Daniel Paula got the majority of the starts for the Reds. The bat showed well in a limited sample size, while the defense is a big question mark. Offensively, in 25 games he drew 7 walks and struck out just 8 times while hitting .342/.349/.435. For a teenager in his first year of professional baseball he showed strong plate discipline and contact ability. Defensively he threw out only 11% of opposing base stealers (though it should be noted that especially at this level, the pitchers could be entirely to blame as no one on the team of four catchers was even at 20%) and had 10 passed balls. To be fair, I don’t know much about him defensively at all, but there must be some tools there or the Reds wouldn’t have brought him to the US for his first taste of professional baseball. The Reds 17th rounder out of Puerto Rico in 2012 saw limited action after signing toward the end of the signing period, but Jose Ortiz hit well in his 49 trips to the plate with a .359/.469/.538 line to go along with 8 walks and 10 strikeouts. The 18 year old flashed some power with 6 extra base hits. He has a strong arm, but only threw out 16% of attempted base stealers. Pre-draft scouting reports noted that he needed work on his receiving skills. While it is early, he showed some early promise in his first exposure to pro ball. One guy that I forgot to mention in the original write up was 6th rounder Joe Hudson, who missed the season after breaking his wrist right before the season began. Scouting reports question his ability to hit, though they do note that he has some power potential. He is also viewed as a very good defensive catcher.

Overall Thoughts

As noted in the early part of the post, the catching position may be the weakest among all positions in the system. There is one guy in the entire system who has shown thus far to have perhaps potential on both sides of the ball while also being in full season ball. That is not good. The youngsters in Arizona showed some things with the bat, but left a bunch of questions behind the plate still. Overall, I would give the current catcher situation an D-. There is no depth at the position right now. There is no star potential at the position. The position is just very rough in the system right now.

32 Responses

  1. Jer-B

    Any chance The Reds resign Navarro and put Mez in Louisville to get more reps? They’d probably have to sign Navarro for 2-3 years, but should be tradeable once Mez turns the corner.

    • jim t

      Jer-B,just my opinion but I can’t see it happening. I think Mez will be fine. Just a tough first year. Catching is the toughest position on the field both Mentally and Physically. Needs to keep working hard. The talent is there.

      • Alan Horn

        It’s going to be a tough call. Navarro might want to go where he can start. I agree that Mes is going to be fine(in time). Right now, I don’t think there is any question that Hannigan is number one.

      • jim t

        Alan, I agree. Navarro will go where the money is good and he can start or compete for the job.

      • MK

        If I were Navarro I would look at Ramon Hernandez and say “You know Dusty knows how to handle catchers to resurrect a career.” I too would like to see Mesoraco have a chance to improve his defense, which today is not Major League quality. He can either do that next month in winter ball or at AAA next year.

    • Doug Gray

      I don’t think they will go that route. I think Navarro tries to turn this season into a deal where he might actually get some playing time no matter what the other guys do.

  2. jim t

    Doug, I know this thread is about the state of the catchers in the system but I have to say it. That was a incredible game pitched my Arroyo lastnight. Guy is a PITCHER. Fields, handles the bat and takes his turn every 5th day and gives his team a chance to win.

    • Alan Horn

      I agree Jim. Also, I was impressed with LeCure and Latos Saturday night. I especially liked the way Latos wanted the ball when adversity struck. You don’t teach or coach that.

      • MK

        Latos is a stud. He had thrown a bullpen, ran, lifted weights and iced before the game and still went out and threw 50+ quality pitches. That is the kind of effort that can inspire all of his teammates. That’s my definition of a winner.

  3. sultan of swaff

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but we have an option on Hanigan in 2014, right? If so, the lack of depth isn’t a pressing issue, but it is a position of need in the draft. I would figure Hanny will be the starter next year, then Mez in 2014, with Barnhart ready to slide in as the backup (what I feel is his ceiling) behind Mez.

    IMO, Mez would really have to flame out for this to go south, and I just don’t see it happening.

    • fromcubawithluv

      I believe he is signed through 2013 but he is arb eligible in 2014. Don’t think it is an option. But yes, he will be with us through 2014 at least.

  4. Jer-B

    I’m just afraid catching 2 days a week stunts his growth (I.e. 2012), catching 5 days a week in Louisville wouldn’t be a bad thing for him IMO

    • Doug Gray

      I agree that the usage for 2012 was not an ideal way to use your #1 prospect and I do think, regardless of what anyone says, he would have been better learning by actually playing 110 games in Louisville than getting 145 at bats in the Majors.

      • fromcubawithluv

        totally agree. I think Walt and Dusty were not on the same page. Dusty did not want him to learn on the job and I bet Walt intended a split leaning toward Mez. Instead the worst thing ended up happening. IMO, at least Mez seems to have a good attitude about the whole thing. Still cheering his team on and all.

      • jim t

        While I don’t claim to know what Dusty and Walt thought my thinking is that after the trade for Latos there really wasn’t a lot of options for a back up catcher. I think the year Hanigan had caught everyone by surprise. I think the plan was initially that Mez would get more time but Hanigan just flat outplayed him. Navarro was insurance and assigned to AAA in case some one got hurt. I think it worked out fine. navarro has turned out to be a bargain, hanigan has been better than anyone thought and Mez gained some experience and knows what he has to do to get better. The production from our catching position was anything but a problem both offensively and defensively.

      • wanderinredsfan

        Great response and ‘right on target’. Mesoraco will get more PT next season, but Hanigan is the #1 until Mesoraco can un-seat him by producing on the field.

  5. MK

    I think Yovan Gonzalez has potential. He was hitting pretty well the first two-thirds of the season and was pretty solid behind the plate with an average to plus arm.

    His season ending numbers were down because he caught a lot during the hot stretch and at the end of the season was doing 80% duty with O’Shea playing first when they moved Buckley to left.

    • Doug Gray

      Yovan had a good April, in 13 games. His OPS by month then went like this: .608, .580, .517, .483 and In 12 at bats in September, .750.

  6. Krozley

    Joe Hudson is another guy to keep an eye on. 6th round pick out of Notre Dame broke his wrist, so we didn’t get to see what he could do but his college stats seem to suggest some talent. A long way to go though.

    • Doug Gray

      You are right. I forgot about him since he hadn’t played. I am going to go back and edit this post.

      • Krozley

        If Joe Hudson never does anything else, at least he was the guy who raised the post-2012 minor league catching situation grade from an F+ to a D-!!!

    • Doug Gray

      Good question. I don’t have an answer to be honest. Let’s just hope we win tomorrow and don’t have to worry about it.

  7. wanderinredsfan

    Although they may never be starters, I could see Vicioso or Fleury contributing as back-up depth (e.g., Corky Miller) once an injury sidelines one of Mesoraco or Barnhart (the probably catching corps in 2015 and beyond). You never know, one of the two might end up evolving into another Ryan Hanigan.

  8. Rob

    I am from Pennsylvania and am traveling out to Cincinnati for games 3 and 4. I am looking for advice on where to go after the game, especially if the Reds win the Series. Any advice would be greatly appreciated as I am not from the area. Looking for a place other Reds fans would be celebrating and a fun atmosphere. Thank in advance. Go Reds!!!

    • Doug Gray

      Directly across the street from the main entrance to the ballpark is “The Banks”. They have several bars in that area, including the Holy Grail which is probably going to be the most packed full of Reds fans.

  9. Kyle

    It would be great if Tucker Barnhart could turn into another Ryan Hanigan. That might seem overly optimistic now, but Barnhart is still young for his league and catchers often take longer to develop offensively. As for he rest of the minor league catching- yikes. This grade should be a little better in a year with Hudson getting playing time.

  10. George

    I can’t believe Corky Miller didn’t get a shout out! He is not prospect, but he had a .386 OB% in AAA. Guys that can handle a AAA staff and carry their weight offensively in AAA don’t grow on trees. Remember, the Reds signed Koyie Hill out of retirement this season.

    Corky did a good job for the Reds minor league system this year.

    • Doug Gray

      Prospects only. Otherwise I would have talked Navarro as well.