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State of the Diamondbacks Farm: Catcher

As we head toward the 2015 MLB Draft, where the Diamondbacks will have first pick, as part of our coverage we'll be looking at the strengths and weaknesses of each position in terms of minor league depth. We start behind the plate,

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The catcher's spot may be the thinnest in the Diamondbacks' farm system, with a lot of the future riding on the shoulders of Peter O'Brien. His ability to stick at the position is still uncertain, and if O'Brien doesn't make it... Well, the fall-off thereafter is very steep. It would likely result in the team spending some of their new found local television wealth on the free-agent market this winter, and picking up a catcher who, ideally, combined the defensive skills of Tuffy with Peter's ability to wield the lumber. You'll see what we mean as we go through the available alternatives, currently in the farm system.

For each level, we list the player, their date of birth, how the Diamondbacks acquired them, their 2015 triple-slash line, and overall minor- or major-league OPS.

Disabled List

  • Oscar Hernandez - July 9, 1993 (Rule 5 pick) - N/A, MiLB .827
    Before looking at those who have played, we shouldn't forget Hernandez, chosen from the Rays in the Rule 5 draft last December. He suffered a broken hamate bone in his hand during spring training, and is now making his way back. Rule 5 picks need to be kept on the 25-man roster for the entire season, but an exception is made for DL cases like this. In such a situation, they must be rostered for at least 90 days, which can extend into subsequent years. The time missed this season may make it more likely we are able to retain Hernandez, who has never played above A-ball. He posted a .701 OPS there in 2014, and is generally seen as a defense-first backstop,

AAA Reno

  • Blake Lalli - May 12, 1983 (Free agent) - .266/.318/.291, MiLB .764
    One of the main names in the mix for a role on the 25-man roster during spring training, Lalli failed to make the cut, and was even passed over after the back-up's back-up went down. As the primary catcher for Reno until O'Brien took over the job, Lalli has acquitted himself with passable marks, if he was playing a team outside the PCL. While his triple slash of .266/.318/.291, combined with a strikeout rate of only 17% and a walk rate of 9% look entirely respectable, when placed into the context of being put up while playing for Reno, the numbers do not reflect favorably on Lalli's ability to hit. Though he got cups of coffee in 2012 and 2013, Lalli is an organizational filler and is unlikely to ever see the 25-man roster for anything other than total injury-driven catastrophe.

  • Peter O'Brien - July 15, 1990 (From Yankees in Prado trade) - .328/.364/.628, MiLB .869
    Peter O'Brien remains one of the most intriguing prospects in the Diamondbacks organization. While possessing a bat with undoubted thunder, O'Brien continues to struggle finding a defensive home. After taking about a month off from catching after spring  in order to find his bat again, O'Brien has resumed catching duties for AAA Reno. The results of this have been somewhat of a mixed bag as the occasionally erratic throwing still seems to plague him, and he continues to be challenged with mobility behind the plate due to his rather large size.

    On the good side, his bat has not regressed any this time, and he is blocking pitches better than before. It remains to be seen how long the team will continue the experiment in Reno. If the defensive development continues to improve, it remains to be seen how long the team will wait before promoting his bat to see how well or poorly he plays when facing an even tougher challenge of handling MLB pitching. If Tuffy should fall into another black hole offensively, or if O'Brien continues to hit at Bondsian levels while making small strides defensively, it seems quite possible, and even likely, that O'Brien will be up around the trade deadline. Regardless, it seems likely that O'Brien's ticket to the majors will be punched no later than September 1st.

  • Jarrod Saltalamacchia - May 2, 1985 (Free agent) - .083/.214/.083, MLB .725
    Jarrod Saltalamacchia was picked up after the Miami Marlins cut him (and his sizeable contract) loose only 29 plate appearances into the 2015 season. After a career year for Boston in 2013, Salty has failed to live up to the hefty contract that Miami signed him to in order to entice him away from Boston. The 30-year old bat-first catcher has yet to see any significant playing time since Arizona signed him and assigned him to AAA Reno. In only 14 plate appearances though, he is hitting a lowly .083 with two walks. Saltalamacchia posses an opt-out that allows him to return to free agency if he is not on the 25-man roster by June 1st. Given how little he is currently being utilized by the organization, it seems likely that the beleaguered catcher will move on when given the opportunity. If he doesn't, he will continue to work on rediscovering enough bat to be made Gosewisch's backup until O'Brien's arrival.

AA Mobile

  • Ronnie Freeman - January 8, 1991 (5th Rd, 2012) - .257/.297/.257, MiLB .686
    Splitting time with Pagnozzi this season, Freeman has slowly been climbing his way through the Diamondbacks farm system. He has no real bat to speak of, while continuing to be right about league average for age. Unfortunately for Freeman, it appears his bat is now stalling out, and he is in danger of being left behind. He could see a promotion to AAA by the end of the season depending on what happens to the Reno roster, but such a promotion would be more a verification of his role as organizational filler than having any real shot at the 25-man.

  • Mark Thomas - May 5, 1988 (Free agent) - .208/.288/.434, MiLB .693
    The third catcher in Mobile, Thomas has struggled to keep his average over .200 and has no pop to speak of. He eats innings behind the plate and will likely spend the rest of his career (however long it is) right where he is.

  • Matt Pagnozzi - November 10, 1982 (Free agent) - .254/.323/.424, MILB .618
    Like Lalli in Reno, Pagnozzi has been an organizational filler for many years now. While his time in the majors has been far more extensive, it has been no more successful. The 32-year-old was sent down to Double-A last week to free up a spot for Saltalamacchia, and appears to be getting plenty of time there, in working with several potential future members of the Diamondbacks' rotation.

High-A Visalia

  • Michael Perez - August 7, 1992 (5th Rd, 2011) - .163/.225/.275, MiLB .726
    It wasn't all that long ago that Perez looked like a prospect to watch out for. In 2012 he  hit .293 for Missoula. That earned him a promotion to South Bend in 2013, where he did just enough to get a bump to hitter-friendly Visalia. Perez struggled there, and he was sent back to South Bend, though has now worked his way back to a second attempt at A+ Visalia - where he is again struggling at the plate, hitting well below .200. Once over two years below the league average in age, Perez is now less than a year younger and appears to have stalled out. He will get the rest of this season to show what he can do, but if he doesn't make the move up to AA Mobile by the end of the season, expect him to fade away.

  • Tyler Baker - March 8, 1993 (15th Rd, 2014) - .192/.263/.301, MiLB .671
    Baker continues to work his way through the various lower levels of the Diamondback organization, but has yet to ever find his bat at any level. So long as he shows an sort of improvement at the plate, he's likely to be given another shot at Visalia again next season, but the 22-year-old has no special talents that stand out, meaning he is as close to washing out as he is to hanging on.

A-ball Kane County

  • Stryker Trahan - April 25, 1994 (1st Rd, 2012) - .205/.254/.385, MiLB .739
    Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Initially a bust behind the plate, the team moved him to the OF in the hope of getting his power bat through the minors quickly. Unfortunately, Trahan apparently forgot how to hit as well, and his strikeout numbers escalated to a 35.9% strikeout rate for the Midwest league last season. Repeating the level this season, the organization decided to try him behind the plate once again. Although Trahan has cut down on his strikeouts, he is still whiffing at a 29.4% clip. If he continues at his current hitting pace though, he could see a promotion to Visalia by the end of the season. Regardless, the 26th overall pick of the 2012 draft is now a bust, and is now at the point where he needs to make the grade and then some each season or risk being out of baseball.

  • Jose Queliz - August 7, 1992 (Intl. signing) - .250/.302/.325, MiLB .658
    Quite possibly the entire opposite of his teammate Trahan, Queliz is a light-hitting backstop with much better command of the strike zone. This season, Queliz has dropped his strikeout rate down to 17% while hitting a modest .250 Queliz is already starting to show his age for the level, but a promotion to Visalia is not out of the question. Unfortunately, Queliz does not show the sort of development that indicate a high likelihood of success into or beyond AA ball.