Nearly complete with our look around the St. Louis Cardinals we land on catcher this week. With the absence of both Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan, Yadier Molina’s role might be more important than any other Cardinal heading into 2012.
New manager Mike Matheny originally joined the St. Louis Cardinals before the 2000 season and stuck around through 2004, bringing great stability and defensive prowess behind the plate for St. Louis. He handed the reins of the pitching staff over to his understudy, Yadier Molina, in 2005, and the rocket-armed, Molina has been there ever since.
The four-time Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina enters spring training this year a lifetime Cardinal seeking a long-term extension, just like Pujols a year ago. Molina is heading into the final year of his contract and he would like to stay in St. Louis.
The 29-year-old Molina, the youngest and most talented of three brothers to catch on in the major leagues, is coming off perhaps his best season. In addition to a strong year behind the plate, he set career offensive highs with a .300 average, 14 homers and 65 RBIs, then added nine RBIs in the World Series. This in addition to his handling of the Cardinals pitching staff and assault on base runners
However this season presents another challenge for Molina. One he has been able to avoid so far in his Cardinal Career. Whether or not his contract talks affect his play will take time to tell. One thing is for certain. Molina enters this spring as the best back-stop in the National League, let alone his own division.
Geovany Soto, Cubs. Catcher Geovany Soto slumped in 2011, hitting .228 with 17 homers, 54 RBIs and 46 runs scored. Soto struggled with injuries early in the season and never got on track, striking out 124 times in 421 at-bats. There is still plenty of power in his bat and Soto could collect more hits in 2012. 20 to 25 home run potential. Just know he could hit anywhere from .215 to .290 any given season.
Ryan Hanigan, Reds. Hanigan appears to be a good bet to pair in a catching tandem next season, splitting time with Devin Mesoraco. After hitting .354 in August, Hanigan came back to Earth with a .235 average in September. With a .267 average and minimal to no power Hanigan will be fighting for his job most of the spring and regular season.
*Devin Mesoraco, Reds. Super prospect failed to impress in his September call-up. Maybe this will keep him under the radar, because he has all the tools to be a top 5 catcher for years to come. He hit .289 with 15 home runs in AAA last year.
Jason Castro, Astros. Missed all of last season after undergoing major knee surgery, will miss the first part of Spring Training after undergoing surgery in December. He hit .205 with two homers and eight RBIs in 195 at-bats in his Major League debut in 2010. Still, the injury casts some uncertainty over Houston’s catching situation entering spring camp. Castro, the club’s first-round pick in 2008 out of Stanford, is slated to be the starter next year in what would be his first full season in the Major Leagues.
Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers. Lucroy put together a fine sophomore campaign with 12 homers, 59 RBIs and a .265 average. Lucroy went deep five times in May but didn’t show a lot of power the rest of the way. His .247 average after the break will cast some doubt on his 2012 value but regular playing time should help him.
Rod Barajas, Pirates. Playing for the Dodgers, where he started 85 games behind the plate and batted .230 with 13 doubles, 16 homers, 47 RBIs and a .287 on-base percentage. He missed nearly a month during the summer while recovering from a right ankle sprain. A short-term commitment for the Pirates, who are hopeful that top catching prospect Tony Sanchez will be ready to ascend to the Majors in the next year or two.
Yadier Molina, Cardinals. Molina’s ability to hit for average and supply respectable power makes mixed with his superior work behind the plate means that he will continue to get as much playing time as he can handle. In 2011 the Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina slugged 14 homers, stole four bases, drove in 65 runs, scored 55 times and hit .305. Career highs across the board.
By the time 2012 is said and done here is how I see things shaking out amongst the NL Central backstops. Here more than any other position I factored non-batting statistics and play into the equation.