The catcher position in major league baseball has been often overlooked, one where guys can have long careers by staying healthy and making pitchers comfortable (their own I mean, although most do it for the other teams’ as well). In the past several years in Milwaukee the likes of Johnny Estrada, Chad Moeller, Damian Miller and Jason Kendall have extended their careers on the cheap for not much in return.
The National League Central has its share of those players this season but they also have a top 3 that enter 2012 on the cusp of joining the elite.
1. Yadier Molina
Molina had career highs in both average and home runs in 2011 and continued his run as the best catcher in this division as he has been since 2005. His batting average was at least 30 points higher than any other in the division.
His steady climb and year-to-year improvement have the 29 year-old poised to break out and join Brian McCann as the top in the National League.
Molina also is an incredible defensive catcher. The staff trusts him deeply and other teams pay when they try to run on him. He is a leader and will be looked to even more this season after the departure of Albert Pujols.
Lucroy and Soto may be gaining on him but Molina is still the class of the NL Central.
2. Jonathon Lucroy
Putting Lucroy ahead of Geovany Soto may be a bit of a homer pick but the 25 year-old has proven he belongs in the discussion . He hit almost 40 points higher than Soto last season and hit 12 HR’s. His evolution has been huge for the Brewers as recent seasons saw them trotting out a series of weak hitters over the age of 30.
He did take every fifth day off last season as Randy Wolf used George Kottaras as his own personal catcher. The approach worked for both Wolf who had a solid season and Lucroy was fresh down the stretch.
Lucroy has the potential to elevate himself to the top of the NL catchers and his lack of history actuall y helps here over the inconsistent Soto.
3. Geovany Soto
Soto burst onto the scene in 2008 taking rookie of the year honors by smashing 23 HR’s while driving in 86 runs and batting .285. He played in 141 games that season and looked destined by stardom.
He has not been able to live up to that start. From 2009 – 2011 he has missed 154 games. He still has averaged 17 HR’s since taking over the full time duties.
His .218 and .228 averages in 2009 and 2011 combined with big strikeout numbers (124 in 125 games last season) show his lack of discipline at the plate and make him a bit of a make or break type. If he ever fulfills his potential he could join the elite at the position currently ruled by the American League.
4. Rod Barajas
Barajas caught his first game in the major leagues in 1999 and has had a pretty decent career socking double digit HR’s in seven of the past eight seasons. Pittsburgh will be his eighth team and he will fit in nicely with the rest of the On-Base challenged Pirates.
A lifetime .238 hitter; his on-base percentage is an awful .287. The power and the consistency give him a slight edge over two other verterans in Cincinnati and Houston.
5. Ryan Hannigan
Hannigan figures to be the regular starter for the Reds this season but he is simply holding the spot for prospect Devin Mesoraco. Hannigan hit .267 last season and hit .300 in 200 at bats in 2010 but with just 16 HR’s in 800 AB’s he lacks the power to rank any higher.
The question in Cincinnati is whether to hand the reigns over now or later. They expect to contend and Hannigan may be the safer route as the Reds also have a rookie at shortstop in Zack Cozart.
6. Chris Snyder
Snyder has played just 630 games in eight big league seasons and not more than 65 in a season since 2008. A lifetime .231 hitter he had decent numbers in 2011 with Pittsburgh and will probably log a number of games behind the plate for the rebuilding Astros.