New York Mets Preseason Position Report: Catchers
Mets Hoping Buck and Recker Can Hold the Fort
As with any team in MLB, when you have a relatively young pitching staff, you need to make sure that their battery-mates can connect for a successful season. This is no different for the New York Mets. With Matt Harvey, Jonathan Niese and Dillon Gee the focal points of their rotation, GM Sandy Alderson has to make sure that his acquisitions behind the plate this off-season will pay off, and Manager Terry Collins has leaders behind the plate.
John Buck, Landon Powell and Anthony Recker all were brought in to vie for a starting spot. Travis d'Arnaud was acquired with Buck in the trade that sent R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays, and he will be the future of the organization. Juan Centeno was a non-roster invitee brought into spring training so the Mets coaching staff can better evaluate him going further.
What the Mets have lacked the past few years is a complete catcher. To say the least, the Mets have lacked any sort of offensive power from the position since Paul Lo Duca was behind the plate in 2007. Brian Schneider provided defensive skills, but again, no power, and the past couple years we have witnessed the abilities, or lack thereof, of Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas.
While none of the following catchers(except d'Arnaud) will "wow" you, what they do provide is a bit of hope for a better future. It is easy to say that it looks as if Alderson and the Mets are "punting" this year, but that may not necessarily be the case. Regardless of the play behind the plate to begin this year, understand that with d'Arnaud, the future will undoubtedly look very bright in what may turn out to be the Mets best catcher since Mike Piazza. That is what makes Mets fans believe!
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John Buck Should Be the #1
John Buck is 6'2" and weighs about 230lbs. and has played in the major leagues with the Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays and Miami Marlins. He has the ability to hit between 12 and 20 home runs in any given year and is a lifetime .235 batter. While this may not exactly impress anyone greatly, Buck's best year was 2010 with the Blue Jays, when he batted .281 with 20HRs, 66RBI and 25 doubles in 118 games.
That is a far cry from what Mets fans have been seeing from the likes of Thole and Nickeas. One thing that Buck brings is a veteran presence and an ability to work with pitchers. He will also be the oldest position player on the Mets at age 32, and will act as mentor for the young group of Niese, Gee, Harvey, and eventually, Zack Wheeler. No matter what, Collins should be happy to have a catcher with some pop in his bat and leadership abilities. Buck is projected to be the Mets starting catcher on opening day, and I do not see that changing unless he has a very poor spring.
It Is Recker's Job to Lose
Anthony Recker is a bit bigger than Buck, but needs to improve his defensive skills, and hopes to have a good minor league bat finally join him in the big leagues. So far, Recker, who was claimed off waivers by the Mets from the Chicago Cubs, initially was brought in to platoon with the departed Thole, can do nothing but lose his stay with the Mets.
He will become the primary backup for the sole reason that the other competition is just not good enough yet. All in all, he will be keeping a spot warm until d'Arnaud is ready to make the leap, and Buck becomes the backup. Recker has shown pop in his bat in the minors at all levels and is a career .272 hitter with 386RBI and an OPS of .810. Not too bad, but when you consider the drop at the MLB level, it is evident that Recker is lucky to be on a big league club at all. He has only batted .152 with a .524OPS in a limited sample of 27 games. Unless Landon Powell can unseat him, I do see him as the number two behind Buck.
The Future Looks Bright
Here is the future for the Mets: Travis d'Arnaud. MLB.com "draft and prospect expert" Jonathan Mayo has d'Arnaud as his top catching prospect and states:
"The only knock on him has been injuries, as he has played more than 75 games just twice since being drafted and missed much of last season with a torn ligament in his knee. If he can stay healthy, d’Arnaud has the potential to be one of the best catchers in the National League.”
Baseball America had d'Arnaud as the top prospect in the Blue Jays organization before coming to the Mets. The accolades keep pouring in, and although Alderson claims that d'Arnaud has the possibility to make the Mets out of spring training, it is more realistic for him to be brought up later in the year after working with other top prospects Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard. This past year, d'Arnaud was able to bat .333 with 16HR and 52RBI in just 279 at bats. That would be an amazin' addition to this Mets club if he were able to duplicate that again and bring that bat with him to the majors.
Defensively, d'Arnaud is athletic, with a good arm, and works well calling games. Another stint in the minors will help him progress his defense, but it will be his bat that brings him up. I look for him to be the opening day starter in 2014, but will be very glad to see how he does with the Mets later in the year.
Centeno Needs More Seasoning
Juan Centeno was the Mets 27th round pick in the 2007 First Year Player Draft. At 23 years old, Centeno hit .285 with 12 doubles and no homers in 281 at bats. He needs some more seasoning behind the plate defensively, and the Mets staff will be able to get a better look at him this spring.
At 5'9" and only 172lbs, he is a bit small for a catcher and may need to add some bulk if he were to make the climb to the majors. Centeno is a non-roster invitee by the Mets and will be the longest shot of any to make the club with both Buck and Recker ahead of him.
Powell Is a Long Shot
Landon Powell is far from a prospect at 31 years old, and has not had much success over the minor league level. Considered one of the better catching prospects when the Oakland A's drafted him as their number one pick in 2004, Powell has been up and down since tearing his ACL in 2005, then again in 2007. Now he becomes a non-roster invitee for the Mets who are desperate to find a gem in the mix.
Powell will not provide that, though, as he has had relative trouble adjusting to life in the big leagues. Last season, in 239 at bats in the Pacific Coast League with the Houston Astros AAA affiliate, Powell hit .251 with 8HR and 38RBI. His average will usually dipped to anywhere between .170 and .220 in his limited stints in the majors with Oakland, and that will not cut it for the Mets, who are trying to find some power and average from the catcher spot. Powell is a long shot to crack the roster, and his injury issues with his knee are always going to be a big question mark.