Rangers farm system focus: Catchers, part one
Posted on January 29, 2014 at 6:04 PM
Updated Wednesday, Jan 29 at 6:04 PM
While Jorge Alfaro gets his own column a few weeks from now, we’ll take a look at his catching compatriots in the minor leagues, and what their futures might hold. Catcher is a strange and sometimes difficult position to prognosticate, and while the Rangers do have Alfaro at the top of the catching prospect heap, the rest of the picture is a bit more muddled. The catchers featured this week will most likely start 2014 in AAA or AA, and could offer choices for the Rangers if injuries happen.
Jose Felix missed the last weeks of 2013 with a fractured hamate bone, but in his 32 games with the Express (25 as a catcher, 7 as a DH) he hit .270/.291/.306. This was Felix’s first season in AAA, after spending two full seasons with Frisco and plenty of time at the levels below that. The 25-year-old is a capable defender by reputation, but his Round Rock numbers were average at best, allowing three passed balls in his games in 2013 (two in 2012 with Frisco), and catching 24% of potential base-stealers, a significant drop from his Frisco rates of 32% (2012) and 36% (2011), though these year by year samples are relatively small.
Offensively, he has a career minor league on base percentage of .287, a number not brilliant even for the lowered offensive expectations that come with catching, as well as a career slugging percentage of .323, a below-average number, even when inflated by his time with former Rangers affiliate Bakersfield. This low OBP is caused by Felix’s seeming inability to draw walks, with a full-season rate of 1.6% in 2012. He appeared to have found some power with Frisco in 2012, hitting seven homers and 11 doubles, but in his shortened season in AAA, Felix only hit two doubles and no homers, a drop in production possibly caused by the hamate bone injury, or by the simple fact of a small sample size. Felix will almost certainly start 2014 in Round Rock, and his defense could lead to some MLB appearances as an injury callup.
In AA Frisco last year, Tomas Telis caught 82 of the RoughRiders’ 140 games, and appeared as a DH in nine other contests. In these 91 games, he posted a triple-slash line of .264/.290/.353. Telis hit four home runs in 2013, and 19 doubles, while only striking out 12.5% of the time. Even with a career walk rate of around 2.5%, Telis has a career OBP of .319, a few points higher than the MLB average for catchers, due to a combination of a contact-oriented approach at the plate and a lack of discipline.
Short, even for a catcher, and with some expressing concern about his general body, it may be difficult for Telis to be considered more than just a backup. He’s has never been considered a “defensive catcher,” and he allowed 12 passed balls in 2013, though he did catch runners stealing at an above-average 32%, a not abnormal rate for the 22-year-old throughout his career. This season, Telis could start in either double or triple-A, but a repeat of the Texas League to find some power would help him hit his ceiling as a MLB backup.
Zach Zaneski has an interesting story. An undrafted free agent after college, the Rangers signed him in June of 2008, where he caught 30 games with the Spokane Indians. Since then, Zaneski has worked his way up the levels, reaching Frisco in 2012 (though he did catch four games with old AAA affiliate Oklahoma City in 2009). In 2013, he struggled a bit, hitting a combined .194/.268/.328 between AA and AAA, lower numbers than 2012, when he slugged .412 with Frisco, and 2010, when he had a personal record in both batting average and slugging with low-A Hickory (.310 and .488, respectively). On the defensive side, Zaneski usually shows above-average ability, allowing four passed balls in 51 games and throwing out an average 33% of would-be base thieves in 2013. As well as adding to his collection of clubhouses seen, Zaneski also experienced life from the pitcher’s perspective in 2013, pitching three scoreless innings and striking out two in Frisco’s marathon 16-inning game against Corpus Christi. At 27, Zaneski has a reputation as a guy with good makeup, a catcher who will be in the game as long as he wants to be, and could probably find work in an organization after he decides to hang up the spikes. Until then, he’ll most likely be the third catcher in Round Rock, with possible fill-in starts with the other levels as need-be.
Though these three catchers don’t project as major-league regulars, if they hold their own and keep catching, it’s possible that they’ll have jobs in organized baseball as long as they want.
Kate Morrison is a recent Baylor graduate currently working as a freeelance writer. She likes minor league ballparks, music and the nickname 'Roogie.' That last one will be explained in due time. You can follow her on Twitter at @unlikelyfanatic.
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