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40-Man Review: Catchers

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The Mariners are set at catcher as Mike Zunino leads the way in 2015.

Otto Greule Jr

Yesterday, I started a series of posts that will examine the Mariners' 40-man roster, both a recap of 2014 and a look forward to 2015. I'll do my best to try and figure out who might be dropped from the roster before the season starts and who might be added to the roster. I won't speculate on any specific free agents or trade targets -- there will be plenty of time for that later -- I'll only comment about where the Mariners could stand to upgrade for 2015. I'm also using the recently released Steamer projections via FanGraphs to estimate 2015 production. These projections are pretty conservative and the playing time estimates are based on FanGraphs' depth charts.

Today, I'll start with a look at our catchers:

Catchers

Age

Org. Level

2014 Salary

2015 Salary

Mike Zunino

24

MLB

$504,100

ML Minimum + service

John Buck

34

MLB

$1,000,000

Released

Jesus Sucre

26

MLB

$500,000

ML Minimum + service

Humberto Quintero

35

MLB

Minor League Contract

Free Agent


2014 Recap

Name

PA

K%

BB%

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

WAR

Mike Zunino

476

33.2%

3.6%

.199

.254

.404

.290

1.7

John Buck

92

26.1%

8.7%

.226

.293

.286

.266

-0.1

Jesus Sucre

64

26.6%

0.0%

.213

.213

.246

.203

0

Humberto Quintero

2

50.0%

0.0%

.000

.000

.000

.000

0

In his first full year in the majors, Mike Zunino didn't quite live up to the expectations placed on him. In hindsight, they might have been a bit unreasonable. He was only able to accumulate just over 500 plate appearances in the minor leagues before he was called up to the majors and catchers normally have the longest offensive development curve of any position. It was obvious that Zunino wasn't prepared to face major league pitching and major league pitchers exploited the many holes in his plate approach.

Zunino led the majors with a 17.8% whiff rate which led to a strikeout rate north of 30%. The image that was burned into our minds this year was Zunino swinging off-balance at a breaking ball low and away. To wit, his swing rate on pitches outside of the zone was a whopping 39.5%! In the minors, he averaged a 20% strikeout rate across four different levels, peaking in Triple-A with a 28.8% mark. Strikeouts are part of Zunino's game whether we like it or not. Now, it's just a matter of mitigating the damage with positive contributions.

To that end, his power has the potential to be a massive mitigating factor. He hit 22 home runs this year which was the tied for the third highest total among all catchers and his .205 ISO was the top mark for a catcher in the American League. These homers weren't cheap shots either. His average fly ball distance was a robust 290ft. His batted ball profile should support a high home run rate too, as he put almost half of his batted balls into the air.

At this point in his career, his defensive contributions definitely outweigh his offensive contributions. An excellent receiver behind the plate, StatCorner saw him as the second best pitch framer in the majors this year. If you add his runs above average value as a receiver to his overall WAR, it jumps up to 3.9. While it may not be as simple as adding those runs above average to his WAR total, all of the comments from the pitching staff and the coaching staff indicate that Zunino's value extends far beyond what is easily quantifiable. For the metrics that do use quantifiable measurements of defensive ability, Zunino was rated below average (-7 per DRS). His control of the running game was merely average as well -- he caught just 28% of the runners attempting to steal on him.

John Buck and Jesus Sucre served as Zunino's primary backups during the year. Buck was signed to serve as a veteran mentor to Mike Zunino but he seemingly forgot how to play baseball at a major league level in the meantime. His power completely disappeared and was released at the start of July.

Jesus Sucre is a defensive specialist who will probably continue to serve as the primary backup to Zunino next year. He's able to make decent contact at the plate and has run some pretty decent batting averages in his minor league career. Unfortunately, those batting averages are pretty empty -- he doesn't have much power and he doesn't walk very much.

2015 Outlook

Name

PA

K%

BB%

AVG

OBP

SLG

wOBA

WAR

Mike Zunino

451

27.6%

5.3%

0.223

0.278

0.411

0.303

2.4

Jesus Sucre

147

16.4%

3.7%

0.239

0.271

0.319

0.263

0.2

Steamer projects some positive progress offensively for Zunino in 2015. Both his strikeout rate and walk rate are trending in the right direction. After running an ISO over .200 this year, Steamer projects a bit of a step back in the power department -- an ISO of .188 and just 18 home runs. My gut tells me this is a pretty conservative estimate. He should be able to muscle out over 20 homers again next year. This continued offensive development combined with his excellent defensive contributions make him an extremely valuable piece for the Mariners.

Jesus Sucre seems to be projected to be a serviceable backup, nothing too flashy. I'd expect the Mariners to give a few veteran catchers an invitation to spring training and sign one or two to minor league contracts. Maybe Humberto Quintero again, who knows?

Coming up through the system , Tyler Marlette and John Hicks seem to be the only names that really stand out. Marlette only reached Double-A at the very end of this year and he should repeat the level to start next year. Hicks was able to reach Triple-A this year and he should continue at that level next year. He's also a candidate to be added to the 40-man as he's eligible for the Rule 5 draft but catchers are rarely selected (due to their long development curves) so I wouldn't expect to see the Mariners add him unless they're planning on using him in the majors next year as a backup.