Around the Horn: Catchers
Toss up going into Spring Training for Reds backstops
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Will it be David Ross or Javier Valentin behind the plate for the Reds in 2008?
Will there be one regular starter -- or would it perhaps be a platoon?
The catching situation is one of a few questions new manager Dusty Baker will seek answers for when Spring Training opens next month in Sarasota, Fla.
"It's up to Dusty. It's his call in how he handles it," general manager Wayne Krivsky said.
Ross is considered better defensively while Valentin is more known for his hitting. But the differences aren't that black and white.
A 2006 season in which Ross smashed career highs in home runs (21), RBIs (52), at-bats (247) and games played (90), earned him a two-year contract worth $4.5 million with a $3.5 million club option for 2009. However, the 2007 season proved to be more of a disappointment.
Ross carried over a paltry .203 second half batting average from his previous season and equaled it for all of 2007 in 112 games. He had 17 homers and 39 RBIs in 311 at-bats, but saw his on-base percentage plummet from .353 to .271 while striking out more.
The Reds would like Ross to become more selective at the plate. He struck out 92 times compared to 30 walks last season.
"I think in David's case, he didn't stay on the ball and use the whole field to hit," Krivsky said. "He might have gotten too pull-conscious. All good hitters hit the ball where it's pitched and put the ball in play."
Defensively, Ross threw out 23 of 54 baserunners trying to steal (43 percent), ranking among Major League leaders. The 31-year-old also caught five of the pitching staff's six complete games and five of their seven shutouts.
As Ross struggled to hit and later suffered a concussion in an August collision, an opportunity opened for Valentin. The 32-year old was able to show he's more than a reliable pinch-hitter as former interim manager Pete Mackanin wrote his name on the lineup card more often.
Valentin batted .276 with two homers and 34 RBIs in 243 at-bats over 91 games and led the team with 40 pinch-hit at-bats. A switch hitter almost exclusively used as a lefty only in the past, he batted right-handed more often. A career .222 hitter as a righty, Valentin batted .290 from the right side last season, compared to .274 as a lefty.
"Pete came in and wanted to keep Javy sharp so he could come in versus a tough relief pitcher and have a better chance," Krivsky said.
Valentin, who batted .338 in August, started 25 of Cincinnati's last 45 games behind the plate. Although he threw out just five of 44 (11 percent) baserunners attempting to steal overall, he dedicated himself to improving defensively.
"He worked hard on his throwing and got better later in the year the more he played," Krivsky said.
On Oct. 31, Cincinnati picked up Valentin's $1.35 million club option for 2008.
The Reds carried three catchers for much of the past two seasons but don't appear likely to do that again in 2008.
Four younger catchers will get exposure in big league camp during Spring Training. Ryan Hanigan was 3-for-10 (.300) with two RBIs as a September callup after splitting 2007 at Triple-A Louisville and Double-A Chattanooga.
Hanigan, 27, batted .292 with a .420 on-base percentage in 60 games at Chattanooga before moving up on June 28. At Louisville, he batted .252 in 41 games and threw out 48 percent of runners attempting to steal.
Alvin Colina, who is a non-roster invite, spent 2007 with the Rockies' Triple-A team in Colorado Springs. The 26-year-old batted .195 in 80 games and played two big league games in 2006.
Craig Tatum emerged as a prospect when he split last season between Class A Sarasota and Double-A Chattanooga. Overall, he batted .281 with 12 homers and 61 RBIs while walking 26 times compared to 90 strikeouts. He was invited to participate in the Arizona Fall League.
Chris Kroski spent the last two seasons at Sarasota, where he batted .281 with a .368 on-base percentage.