As our look around the Cardinals’ system, from the roof to the basement continues, we’ll move onto catcher, where the club is in a familiar situation. In Yadier Molina, the direction of the team is set with perhaps the face of the entire organization, yet even in as secure of a situation has there is, there still have to be contingencies. So what is the scenario behind Yadi? And is the future potentially as certain as the immediate past and present has been? Here’s how the current situation for the Cardinals’ backstops is playing out.
St. Louis: The scene is set with the big league squad, and isn’t changing for a while. Molina is arguably the best catcher in baseball currently. Since inheriting the job from now manager Mike Matheny in 2005, he’s grown into the best defensive player in baseball, a winner of five consecutive Gold Gloves and two Platinum Gloves as well. His bat has also began to rise up the level of his prodigious defense as well, has he has hit .310 over the past three seasons. This balance helped him finish fourth in the National League MVP vote a year ago. At 31, he’s the cornerstone of the team, and is an unapproachable role as the team’s top catcher.
Although the opportunities behind Molina are sparse, Tony Cruz made a solid impact in his part-time work and is a fairly good athlete. He’s in a good position to hold the spot for a while, as he is low cost, young and has an ability to play other positions if needed.
High Minors: At Memphis, the club currently has some veteran backstops stashed to provide depth, and most importantly, help groom the young arms reaching the brink of St. Louis. Rob Johnson and J.R. Towles are currently lining up behind the plate. While neither is much more than an extreme fallback option in case of an injury to Molina or Cruz, Johnson did perform well in the spring.
At Double-A Springfield, 26-year- old Audry Perez has been the part-time backstop for two years, splitting the duties three ways in 2011. While not a major prospect, in five seasons through the organization, he has hit .275.
Low Minors: Cody Stanley and Jesus Montero are the prime talents at the Class-A level, both at Palm Beach currently. A former pitcher, Montero the 21-year-old hit .308 at Low-A Batavia in 33 games a year ago. Of all the catchers in the system currently, he has among the best chances of breaking through into St. Louis. While he projects favorably, but needs to get healthy to starve off his teammate this season, Cody Stanley. The 24-year-old is hitting .250, with a home run and two triples, and while he isn’t a great threat to make an impact in St. Louis, he can be a solid player in the minors.
Steve Bean, the team’s second round pick a year ago, showed some potential as well. He split his first professional year at Johnson City and the GCL Cardinals at the Rookie level. After a slow start at Johnson City, he hit .320 in 50 plate appearances in the Gulf Coast League, and at only 19 years old, he has a decent amount promise to still deliver on. He’ll continue in the GCL when season play starts June 21.
Prognosis: In a lot of ways, it’s really Yadi and then everybody else. And while that would be the case regardless of the talent behind him, it’s a rather extreme difference. From veteran backups to young, but one-dimensional prospects, there’s not a clear player that is “next” in the organization right now. While Cruz is talented, he’s not displayed himself to be a candidate for much more of a role than he carries now, for any club. And while Montero and Bean are showing potential, they are some way off from being even among the better players in the system as whole. So for the time being, in Molina’s value is even greater than is seen daily, just due to how much taller he is than the pool he’s standing in.