Over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be providing a rundown on who the Twins will have in Spring Training camp at each position, including projected starters and backups, as well as long shots to make the Opening Day roster.
More than half of the Twins positional starters are basically set in stone, but we’ll take a look at the contenders where there is competition; many of the more interesting battles in camp will play out for backup spots as the spring progresses. And while even a strong camp will still mean relegation to the minors for a lot of these guys, they’ll be just an injury away from seeing time with the Twins at some point over the course of the season.
Today, we’ll start with the catchers, and move our way around the diamond over the course of Spring Training.
PROJECTED STARTER: Joe Mauer
After coming off an injury-plagued 2011, Baby Jesus played a smaller percentage of his games at catcher than in any previous season, and it led to career highs in games played and plate appearances. Mauer started just over half of his games at catcher–splitting the rest between first base and DH–and 2012 ended with Mauer battling for a batting title into the last few games of the season while leading the league in OBP. Mauer makes everyone around him in the batting order better, so look for this trend to continue in 2013, with the team’s backup and third catcher continuing to be of significant importance to the team. Mauer’s defense may be slipping somewhat, but it’s difficult to truly gauge how much of that is on Mauer’s shoulders and how much of it is on the pitching staff, as caught-stealing rates fell across the board for Twins backstops in 2012.
PROJECTED BACKUP: Ryan Doumit
The switch-hitting Doumit is good at the plate, and not so great behind it. He has the sort of defensive flexibility that manager Ron Gardenhire loves…although he doesn’t play any position on the field particularly well, and will serve as the team’s primary DH again this season. Still, the Twins feel he hits well enough to offset his defensive liabilities behind the plate, and not only did Doumit’s presence help keep Mauer in the lineup, but catching fewer games helped Doumit—who has his own history of injuries—stay healthy, too.
Butera is a horrendous hitter and a great defensive catcher; I’m not going into the numbers, but he hits like a pitcher…and in a single appearance last season, pitched like one, too. Both the Twins and the fans—and I assume Butera himself—know what he is as a player. There is certainly value in a backup catcher that can play high-caliber defense and call a solid game, and with Doumit on board, Butera had the fewest plate appearances of his career last season.
Precipitated by injuries to Mauer and Doumit, Chris Herrmann was a late September call up last year after a solid campaign at AA New Britain. Herrmann has only been playing catcher since 2010, and while his defense behind the plate will need to improve, he did throw out 44 percent of base runners last year, so there’s a possibility that the Twins will find him a solid enough backstop to take on the role of third catcher, a position the Twins have traditionally demanded exceptional defense from. Herrmann is versatile enough to play the outfield, and beyond the injuries to Mauer and Doumit, the Twins may have given him a September call up in part to take an early look at him as competition for Butera this spring. At this point, however, he’s likely to start the year in AAA and be the first call up if an injury strikes. Looking forward, Herrmann’s defensive versatility will come in handy as the Twins start to craft a contender in the coming seasons.
Josmil Pinto is the only other catcher on the 40-man, and his chances of heading north with the team are slim to nil. With so many pitchers in camp, the Twins are also bringing in non-roster invitees Eric Fryer, Kyle Knudson, Danny Lehmann and Dan Rohlfing.
Mauer and Doumit are set and, while Butera probably comes north as the third catcher, he may be facing his strongest competition in years for his roster spot.