This is the third of a series of posts previewing the 2013 Philadelphia Phillies prior to the start of Spring Training.
In 2012, Carlos Ruiz finally got his due. A stalwart in the Philies lineup and the type of catcher every pitcher wants to throw to, “Chooch” was named to his first All Star Game, and even earned some MVP votes when all was said-and-done.In 2013, Ruiz will start the regular season on the “Suspended” list, after testing positive for Adderall, causing him to miss the first 25 games of the year. While Chooch should be fine defensively, it may take him until the end of May to shake off any rust offensively. That said, by June (at the latest), Ruiz should be back to being the most consistent hitter in the Phillies lineup.
In the meantime, Erik Kratz, a thick, power-hitting catcher will handle the bulk of the backstopping. The 32-year-old got his first legitimate stretch of playing time in the majors last year, and he made the most of it, putting up a .248/.306/.504 triple-slash line while slugging 9 homers in just 157 plate appearances. He also was no slouch behind the plate, throwing out 45% of would-be base-stealers.
Sebastian Valle is the other catcher currently on the 40-man roster, but he may not be ready for the big leagues just yet. Valle’s stock as a prospect has dropped some, but that’s as much because his strength lies in his defense, not so much his bat (sound like a mid-2000s Carlos Ruiz, anyone?). The 22-year-old from Mexico spent most of last season at AA, tacking on 22 games at Lehigh Valley after the Phillies acquired Tommy Joseph from the San Francisco Giants in the Hunter Pence trade.
Depending on how Valle does in the Grapefruit League, he may be able to win the backup catcher job while Ruiz is serving his suspension. His primary competition will come from a pair of non-roster invitees: veteran Humberto Quintero and Steven Lerud, who served as Valle’s backup at Reading last year. Lerud got his first taste of the big leagues during a September cup of coffee last year. Neither are significant pieces, but rather depth players, giving Valle the inside track to the Opening Day roster.
Catching might not be sexy during April, nor ideal, but it should be more than serviceable, especially if the rest of the offense is healthy. Last year, Chooch was called on to contribute more than ever—and he answered the call stupendously With a little more leeway this April, the Phillies should be able to ride out Ruiz’s suspension on the back of Erik Kratz. This remains a position of strength for the Phillies in 2013.