As Red Sox Nation gets closer and closer to the beginning of this season’s spring training, we here at BoSox Injection will be kicking off our second series to help you get to know the team. However, unlike “25 in 25,” this series will focus on the entire AL East division. We will be ranking each team’s projected starter at each position, including starting and relief pitching, and then when finished, will add all the rankings and form a composite ranking of how we expect the AL East to shake out. Let’s get started!
1. Brian McCann (New York Yankees)- As tough at it is to kick off this series with a Yankee at #1, Brian McCann is really the clear choice as the AL East’s top catcher. One of the Yankees’ multitude of free agent signings this offseason, McCann is coming off a season in which he slashed .256/.336/.461 with 20 home runs and 57 RBIs despite being limited to 102 games for the Atlanta Braves. That slash line is just slightly under his career averages, but given that he will be just 30 on Opening Day and is moving from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park (especially for left-handed sluggers like McCann), it’s conceivable that his numbers could improve in 2014.
2. Matt Wieters (Baltimore Orioles)- Wieters has not quite lived up to his hype as a former #1 overall prospect by Baseball America. However, he has turned into a relatively durable and consistent catcher who is nothing short of excellent defensively. Though his offensive statistics were well down in 2013, as he slashed just .235/.287/.417, he suffered from a .247 BABIP which suggests that Wieters could return to his career norms in 2014 (career .255/.319/.420 slash line). However, even if Wieters cannot get back to that level, then he is still valuable because of his phenomenal receiving and throwing skills and that is where he truly makes his money.
3. AJ Pierzynski (Boston Red Sox)- All things considered, Pierzynski is really the epitome of a solid, reliable baseball player. Now 37 years old, he has been more or less the same player for over a decade and should continue to provide decent production into 2014. As sure a thing as anyone in baseball by this point, Pierzysnki has made his brand clear: he’ll hit for a decent average and add a little bit of power; he won’t walk or strike out too much; and he will be a solid, if unspectacular, catcher behind the plate. A cheap, one-year addition for 2014, the Red Sox can reasonably expect Pierzynski to put up a slash line similar to his 2013 performance, when he slashed .272/.297/.425 with 17 home runs and 70 RBIs. He will not be a star, but he’s a known quantity and it would be surprising if he wasn’t at least a decent option behind the plate.
4. Ryan Hanigan (Tampa Bay Rays)- Hanigan has never truly made it as a starting catcher in the major leagues. However, that’s not because of his defense or his on-base ability– two of the most prized assets in the Rays’ team philosophy. Coming off an atrocious offensive season which saw him slash just .198/.306/.261 in 260 plate appearances with the Cincinnati Reds, the Rays bought low on Hanigan and intend to try him as their starting catcher. Hanigan has never shown the ability to be anything more than passable offensively, with a career .262/.359/.343 slash line. The sole reason that Hanigan has seen significant playing time in his career has been his excellent defensive attributes, as he has led the National League in caught stealing percentage the last two seasons. That defense behind the plate should be enough to keep him in the starting lineup as long as he can hit above his weight.
5. Dioner Navarro (Toronto Blue Jays)- While all of the other AL East catchers seem to be known quantities for the most part, Navarro enters the 2014 season as a complete wild card for the Blue Jays. Navarro is coming off a season in which he put up a career-best .300/.365/.492 slash line in 89 games with the Chicago Cubs. However, no other season in Navarro’s ten year career has ever shown him to be more than an average hitter, with many seasons showing him to be less than that. In addition, Navarro’s defense is generally regarded to be average at best, and certainly not good enough to support his bat should be regress to pre-2013 form. The signing does offer the Blue Jays some upside, but it is certainly risky to go into the season with Navarro their clear-cut starting catcher.