The talent pool for catchers in the American League Central will be pretty thin in 2010, as Minnesota’s Joe Mauer is the clear headliner of the group. Here is a breakdown of the backstops for the five teams in the AL Central.
Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer, Jose Morales
The Minnesota Twins have one of the better players in the American League behind the plate in Joe Mauer, and Jose Morales is taking over for longtime backup Mike Redmond. Mauer was named American League Most Valuable Player last season, as he batted .365, while blasting a career-high 28 home runs. Leading the Twins to a surprise AL Central crown, Mauer also grabbed a Gold Glove, while cementing his place as the top catcher in the league. Morales batted .311 in 54 games, smacking six doubles, while scoring fourteen times. He is an offensive upgrade from Redmond, and has grown behind the plate
Detroit Tigers: Gerald Laird, Alex Avila
Laird enters his second season with the Tigers, after spending the first six seasons in Texas. The 2009 season saw a drop in Laird’s offensive statistics, as the light-hitting catcher batted only .225. Playing 135 games, Laird set a career-high with 413 plate appearances last year, driving in 33 runs. There has already been talk of when the talented Avila will take over, so Laird should be on a short leash this season. The son of Tigers’ VP Al Avila, the young backstop batted .279 in his first 29 games of big league action in 2009, and was an Eastern League All-Star for Erie. He also blasted five home runs, giving Tigers’ fans a glimpse of the future.
Cleveland Indians: Lou Marson, Mike Redmond
Marson was acquired by the Indians in the Cliff Lee trade, and quickly became a prized prospect in the Tribe’s system. Marson was an All-State quarterback in high school, and has a rocket for a right arm. Though he only batted .246 in limited action for the Indians in 2009, Marson will become a fixture in the lineup in 2010, and will be given every opportunity to succeed. Backing up Marson will be Redmond, who was a fan favorite in Minnesota for the past few seasons. He is coming off his worst offensive season of his career, so maybe a fresh organization will do him good.
Kansas City Royals: Jason Kendall, Brayan Pena
While no longer the offensive catcher he once was, Jason Kendall is still one of the more respected backstops in the game. A career .290 hitter, Kendall has hit under .250 the past three seasons, most recently for the Milwaukee Brewers. Pena was long a member of the Atlanta Braves system, though he got his biggest shot for the Royals last season. Pena did not disappoint, as he appeared in a career-high 64 games for Kansas City. The Royals were very impressed with his .273 batting average, and his six home runs tripled his career total heading into the season. He will likely catch around 50 games this season.
Chicago White Sox: A.J. Pierzynski, Ramon Castro
The fiery Pierzynski batted .300 for the first time since 2003, his last season with the Twins. He also managed to smack double-digit home runs for the seventh straight season, as he continues to be a model of consistency behind the plate. His 151 hits were the second highest total of his career, as he looks towards another solid season behind the plate in the Windy City. Castro came to the White Sox last season from the New York Mets in exchange for pitcher Lance Broadway, and batted only .184 in 31 games. He is likely to see limited time in 2010, but usually provides some nice pop off the bench when he gets in.
Analysis: The Twins have the best team of backstops in the Central, and arguably in the entire Major Leagues. Mauer and Morales both batted over .300 last season, and Mauer is a once in a lifetime talent behind the plate. It will be interesting to see if Marson can live up to hype behind the plate in 20101, and if Laird can hang on to his job in Detroit. Pierzynski will be a lighting rod on and off the field this season, and will likely put together another solid season. The Kendall/Pena duo in Kansas City will be one to keep an eye on, as the veteran Kendall will do wonders for Pena’s development behind the plate.