With twenty-three year old Joe Mauer and Mike Redmond, who recently signed for another two years, the Twins immediate needs for a catcher is limited to a backup to fill in for a few weeks should Mauer or Redmond need to spend any time on the disabled list. There aren't any young catchers in the system that are at a point where their play is demanding a promotion to the majors, therefore, should either catcher be injured for an extended period in 2007 or 2008 the Twins would have to go outside the organization for a replacement. Following is a review of all the catchers in the system by team:
The Rochester Red Wings (AAA) had two catchers who both have seen some time in the major leagues over the past several years. **Chris Heintz, 31+, (#37/#34) shared the position, however, also played some third base and DH. Heintz had another good season for the Red Wings with a .286Ave, 22 doubles, 3 home runs and 39 rbi in 374 at bats. Shawn Wooten, 33+, (#46/-), who signed with the Twins this past winter, shared the position with Heintz. Wooten is an excellent defensive player who was solid at the plate, hitting .253Ave, 20 doubles, 6 home runs and 41 rbi in 352 at bats. Heintz is a serviceable option to fill in for the Twins should they need to bring someone up for a few weeks or as a third catcher. Wooten reportedly was not happy when he was not added to the Twins expanded roster on September 1st. He was injured shortly before the playoffs and left Rochester rather than remain with the Red Wings during the playoffs. Local reporters have reported that his actions indicate that he will most likely not be with the organization in 2007 even though his permanent residence is Victoria, Minnesota.
New Britain's (AA) starting catcher was Jose Morales, 23, (#64/#54), who didn't hit as well as prior seasons (he hit .287Ave in Ft. Myers in 2004) as he was recovering from a back injury that caused him to miss much of 2005. Morales hit .211Ave, 14 doubles, 3 home runs and 26 rbi in 251 at bats prior to being promoted to Rochester for the playoffs to replace Heintz who was added to the Twins roster on September 1st. Although he didn't get a lot of hits in the first round of the playoffs, he was excellent defensively and made solid contact driving in several runs on SAC flies. Steve Lomasney, 28, (#88/-) is a veteran minor league player who had previously been in the Red Sox organization. Lomasney, who had a .199Ave, 5 doubles, 2 home runs and 13 rbi in 141 at bats, had the distinction of being the lowest ranked position player in the system based on his performance and was released late in the season. Considering that Morales is playing well for the Red Wings during the playoffs, he will likely move up to Rochester in 2007 unless the Twins sign another veteran minor league catcher for additional insurance at the big league level.
Ft. Myers (Hi-A) had three catchers on their roster during much of the season. Former Notre Dame star Javi Sanchez, 24, (-/#41) was on the roster although he was injured and did not play during the entire season. Kyle Geiger, 23+, (#58/#80) is one of the top catchers in the system as evidenced by his being selected as a starter in the Florida State All-Star game. Geiger hit .248Ave, 10 doubles, 1 home run and 21 rbi in 226 at bats for the Miracle. He was promoted to New Britain late in the season to replace Lomasney, where he hit .137Ave, 1 double, 2 home runs and 5 rbi in 102 at bats. He also joined the Red Wings as their backup for the playoffs. Korey Feiner, 24, (#68/#75) was Geiger's back up, appearing in 81 games hitting .219Ave, 7 doubles, 1 home run and 21 rbi in 237 at bats. Feiner is a disciplined hitter who had a good on base percentage from his 41 walks compared with only 49 strikeouts.
The Beloit Snappers (A) had three catchers during much of the season, including Jose Leger, 23+, (#74/#64), who also played some third base. Leger was a solid reserve for the Snappers, hitting .248Ave, 5 doubles, 0 home runs and 16 rbi in 121 at bats. Leger also spent part of the season with the Ft. Myers Miracle where he hit .239Ave, 2 doubles, 0 home runs and 3 rbi in 46 at bats. Leger will continue his development as a catcher in this fall's Instructional League. Beloit's top catcher during much of the season was also the system's highest ranked catcher, Caleb Moore, 22+, (#30/#49). Moore was one of the Snappers' top hitters with a .286Ave, 12 doubles, 2 home runs, 27 rbi and only 33 strikeouts in 245 at bats. When the system began its catcher shuffle late in the season, Moore was promoted to Ft. Myers where he became the starter hitting .220Ave, 5 doubles, 1 home run, 7 rbi and 20 strikeouts in 82 at bats. Allan de San Miguel, 18, (#63/#62) is amongst the youngest catchers in the system and was also one of the youngest players in the league. Known as one of the better defensive catchers in the system, de San Miguel struggled with many Midwest League pitchers who often were three to five years older. For the season, de San Miguel hit .208Ave, 10 doubles, 0 home runs and 21 rbi in 202 at bats. Assuming that he continues to develop as a hitter, de San Miguel has an excellent opportunity to be with the Twins by his 22nd or 23rd birthday.
Elizabethton (Rookie) had two solid catchers for much of the season and another who was converted to a catcher this season, Dan Berg, 21, (#32/#86). Although he played some of the season at third base, Berg's bat earned him a spot as the second highest ranked catcher in the system by hitting .253Ave, 13 doubles, 6 home runs and 27 rbi in 174 at bats at Elizabethton and .192Ave, 1 double, 0 home runs and 4 rbi in 26 at bats earlier in the season at Beloit. Greg Yersich, 19, (#38/#77) was a 2005 seventh round pick out of high school who took a big step forward in 2006, hitting .244 with 12 doubles, 6 home runs and 21 rbi in 197 at bats. This year's sixth round pick from the University of Nebraska, Jeff Christy, 22, (#55/-) had a reputation as an excellent defensive catcher, however, hit very well (.259Ave, 4 doubles, 1 home run and 11 rbi with 14 walks and only 13 strikeouts in 81 at bats) earning a late season promotion to Ft. Myers where he hit .063Ave, 0 doubles, 0 home runs and 1 rbi in 16 at bats prior to being promoted to New Britain for a few games where he failed to get a hit in 6 at bats. Berg, Yersich and Christy will all participate in this fall's Instructional League.
The Gulf Coast League Twins (Rookie) had four catchers on their roster with several playing first base as they didn't have a first baseman on the squad. Wilson Ramos, 18+, (#57/-) appears to be one of the better hitting catchers in the entire system after his first year in the GCL where he hit .286Ave, 12 doubles, 3 home runs and 26 rbi with 12 walks and only 14 strike outs in 154 at bats. Ramos will be the fifth catcher playing in this fall's Instructional League. Rodolpho Palacios, 20+, (#62/#89) was also solid hitting .279Ave, 5 doubles, 0 home runs and 16 rbi in 111 at bats. Mighuel Barrientos, 20, (#87/#83) spent much of his second season in the system on the disabled list, hitting .143Ave, 0 doubles, 0 home runs and 2 rbi in 28 at bats. This season's twentieth round pick Gil Buenrostro, 20, (#82/-) played sparingly, hitting .281Ave, 3 doubles, 0 home runs and 0 rbi in 32 at bats.
The Twins system is recognized as having one of the strongest groups of pitching prospects of any major league team. By comparison, their catchers are likely the weakest position in the system, with the highest ranked catcher ranked #30 and the average catcher ranked #57 out of 88 position players playing in the system in 2006.
Fortunately, barring injury the Twins will not need any of these players to step up and contribute at the major league level until 2009 at the earliest. There aren't however, any players in the system who are playing at a level that clearly indicates that they are future major league players who should be on a fast track to Minnesota. Players that appear to have a chance of filling a backup role by 2009 would include Jose Morales or possibly Kyle Geiger. Perhaps the most promising prospect is Caleb Moore who is an excellent hitting prospect, although he will likely not be ready for a role at the major league level until 2010 at the earliest. Allan de San Miguel, Greg Yersich and Wilson Ramos are only 18 or 19 years old and had good seasons at Beloit, Elizabethton and the GCL League, respectively. They are exciting young prospects who could develop into fine players, however many stars in rookie ball never make it to AA…much less the major leagues.
The Twins are fortunate that they have one of the best catchers in the game who is only 23. Assuming Joe Mauer stays free from injury and they sign him to a long-term contract, their catching needs for several years will be limited to finding a veteran backup. It would be good however, to have one young star at either AA or AAA. A player who is pushing for a job with the Twins. Maybe Moore, de San Miguel, Yersich, Ramos or another catcher in the system will develop into that top prospect?