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Meet the NRIs: The Catchers

Find out who all of your favorite Mariners pitchers will be violently hurling baseballs at this spring

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Pittsburgh Pirates Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

As we continue our look at the Seattle Mariners non-roster invitees this week, we turn our attention to the catcher position. Spring Training is the wonderful time of year when the roster consists of roughly two-hundred pitchers, meaning an abundance of catchers is needed.

40-man players Mike Zunino, Carlos Ruiz, and Tuffy Gosewisch will be joined primarily by five non-roster receivers, four of which have been in the Mariners organization for awhile. Here’s a breakdown of the group.

Sebastian Valle

2016 (AA): .202/.243/.303, 48 wRC+, 5.3 BB%, 29.5 K%

Valle is purely depth at this point in his career. Once considered a top prospect, he hasn’t played above Double-A since 2014 and will be turning 27 this year. Last season, Valle posted a 48 wRC+ with the Yankees Double-A club over 244 plate appearances.

He might catch on if Triple-A Tacoma or Double-A Arkansas really needs the catching depth–which they might, given the state of the catching position in the organization–but don’t expect Valle to blow you away this spring.

Steve Baron

2016 (AA): .280/.370/.358, 120 wRC+, 12.6 BB%, 20.1 K%

Baron, a first-round pick back in 2009, will arrive at camp at the ripe old age of 26. It’s probably safe at this point to consider Baron more of an organization guy than a legitimate prospect, and I don’t expect him to get much of a look this spring.

Baron spent all of 2016 in Double-A, where he managed a 120 wRC+, the highest mark of his career, before injury ended his season prematurely. The glove isn’t bad, but the bat has just never come around. It’s hard to predict where he’ll play this year given the clog of fringe catchers the Mariners have at Double-A and Triple-A right now, but I expect him to hang around for at least one more season.

Marcus Littlewood

2016 (AA): .307/.404/.417, 143 wRC+, 14.2 BB%, 18.2 K%

Littlewood enjoyed the most successful season of his career in 2016, putting up a career-high 143 wRC+ across 225 plate appearances in Double-A Jackson. The catcher has always managed impressive walk and strikeout rates, but he took it to another level last year, walking 32 times and striking out just 41 times. There were some downsides, as he posted his lowest ISO (.109) since a 27-game stint in Class-A ball back in 2011 and a lot of his success seemed to be overwhelmingly BABIP-driven (.388).

The glove is okay, so I suppose your opinion of Littlewood ultimately comes down to how much stock you want to put into a catcher finally dominating Double-A in his sixth season of pro ball.

He could get a decent look this spring and I’d expect him to start out the season in Triple-A.

Tyler Marlette

2016 (AA): .300/.333/.400, 112 wRC+, 5.6 BB%, 20.4 K%

Far and away the best catching prospect in the system, Marlette enjoyed his best professional season in 2016 after mixing up his hitting mechanics. Defense has improved considerably, but there are still question marks.

If Marlette is going to enjoy a successful career, it’ll be as a late bloomer. Entering the seventh season of his pro career, he is yet to start a season at Double-A or higher and is yet to truly excel above High-A ball. When a prospect’s biggest selling point is their bat, you want a little more than a 112 wRC+ against Southern League pitching.

Expect Marlette to start the year in Double-A, where he’ll get a chance to prove himself against higher competition over the course of a full season.

Jesus Sucre

2016 (AAA): .273/.301/.333, 69 wRC+, 2.9 BB%, 14.4 K%

The man who needs no introduction, Sucre is technically a non-roster invitee after being ousted from the 40-man roster a couple weeks ago. Despite the presence of Tuffy Gosewisch, Jesus Sucre is still arguably the third-best catcher on the roster, and he’s obviously a player the Mariners prefer stick around.

Despite a small offensive outburst at the end of 2016, there isn’t much hope for the bat at this point, but spectacular defense makes him somewhat valuable to have moving forward. Even with Zunino, Ruiz, and Gosewisch all ahead of him on the depth chart, I wouldn’t bet against seeing Sucre in Seattle in 2017.