Monday, January 18, 2010

Morales Hurt; Backup Situation Fluid

The Star Tribune reported over the weekend that Twins' backup catcher Jose Morales has an aggravated right wrist which requires surgery. He is expected to miss six to eight weeks, a timeframe which puts the likelihood that he'll be ready for April 5th opening day festivities very tenuous.

In 54 games for the Twins last season, Morales hit .311/.381/.361 with seven RBI in 119 plate appearances. These numbers are not going to have Twins' fans forgetting that they have Joe Mauer on the roster, but Morales' presence led the Twins to cut ties with longtime backup catcher Mike Redmond, who signed with the Cleveland Indians on Friday. The Red Dog spent five seasons with the Twins as a perfect backup to Mauer and hit .297/.339/.359 in 931 plate appearances in Minnesota.

With Redmond gone and Morales seemingly out of the mix, La Velle E. Neal III reports that the Twins have several internal options to win the backup catcher spot, including:
  • Drew Butera - Viewed as a great defensive catcher, Butera narrowly was edged by Morales for the backup spot out of spring training last year. Although he apparently is a joy to pitch to, Butera simply cannot hit, as his career batting line of .214/.296/.317 in 1,630 plate appearances over five minor league seasons suggests.
  • Wilson Ramos - The 22-year-old has progressed very quickly through the Twins' minor league system, spending 2009 with New Britain, but missed a significant chunk of time due to injury. In four minor league seasons, Ramos is a career .294/.343/.447 hitter with 69 doubles, 31 homers, and 181 RBI in just over 1,200 at bats.
  • Jair Fernandez - The Twins invited Fernandez to big league camp in 2010 and the Twins received his as compensation for Seattle plucking R.A. Dickey back from the Twins before the 2008 season. Like Butera, Fernandez is not much of a hitter (.239/.321/.329 in 927 minor league at-bats), but is four years younger than Butera (Fernandez is 23). Fernandez played all of 2009 in Ft. Myers, so don't look for him to get much of a look.
  • Danny Lehmann - The 24-year-old Lehmann spent 2009 backing up in New Britain, and hit .190/.247/.238 with 10 RBI in 189 plate appearances. He is a career 230/.313/.299 hitter. Enough said.
  • Danny Rams - Rams was the Twins' second round pick in the 2007 draft and played for three teams last season. After hitting .355/.444/.790 with 6 HR and 23 RBI in 72 plate appearances for Elizabethton, Rams was promoted to Beloit. With the Snappers, Rams's power numbers kept up (7 HR and 23 RBI in 195 plate appearances), and he was then promoted to Ft. Myers for a few games. Overall, he hit .264/.345/.520 last season with 13 HR and 49 RBI in 281 plate appearances.
Only Ramos and Butera are currently on the 40-man roster and have a realistic shot of making the team from this group.

The Twins could also reach out into the backup catcher pool of free agent, where the likes of Paul Bako, Rod Barajas, and Bengie Molina are still available. It's unlikely the Twins will go the free agent route, preferring to give at-bats to Morales once he comes back from wrist surgery. However, if they could get someone like Bako at a cheap price, it may be worth considering.

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