Dodgers Continue To Rework Organizational Catching Depth

Good holy lord, do we all need another topic to discuss right now. Let’s go with this one: Earlier today, the Dodgers acquired minor league outfielder Matt Long from the Angels to complete the Drew Butera trade, then flipped Long and recently-DFA’d pitcher Jarret Martin to Milwaukee for minor league catcher Shawn Zarraga. Okay, so maybe that’s not all that exciting. But do you really want to keep talking about… the unpleasantness?

Zarraga is mildly interesting, mostly because he worked his way up from being a 44th-round pick in 2007 to being a switch-hitter with a career .376 OBP, including .440 (!) in 267 Double-A plate appearances last year, but, well, he’s also a 44th-round pick who’s just about 26, took seven years to get to Triple-A, and was just acquired for the grand cost of Butera and Martin. So maybe he’s not all that interesting, although my friend Carson Cistulli would certainly disagree:

Zarraga’s profile is nearly identical to Kral’s insofar as he (a) has been slightly old for his levels, (b) has recorded excellent plate-discipline figures, and (c) benefits from the catcher’s positional adjustment in terms of projected value. One difference is this: while Kral’s slash stats are unsightly, Zarraga has actually helped the case for some kind of future in the majors. To wit: in 235 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A, the 25-year-old possesses a line of .358/.453/.458. The Pacific Coast League has posed a greater challenge for Zarraga; his season as a while, however, has been a success.

This isn’t really about whether Zarraga is a guy worth watching, because while this note from May is extremely encouraging

A commitment to offseason conditioning was behind 25-year-old catcher Shawn Zarraga‘s breakthrough April at Double-A Huntsville, making Zarraga a bona fide Brewers prospect.

“He’s always had the hitting capability, but he’s never been a very good defender,” assistant general manager Gord Ash said. “I talked to him at the end of last year and I said, ‘If you really want to be serious, you’d better get home and get in condition,’ and he did. He lost 20-25 pounds.”

It made a big difference in Zarraga’s mobility behind the plate, Ash said, and the offensive numbers are again impressive. Zarraga entered Tuesday batting .441 (26-for-59) with a .500 on-base percentage in his first 22 games. His career OBP in the Minors is a solid .372.

“He has turned himself into a [capable defensive catcher],” Ash said. “Switch-hitter, and if you can hit like that, you’ve got a chance. … Every time I see him, I pat him on the back.”

…the fact remains that the price just paid for him tells you a lot. So maybe he’s a guy we ever think about again, and maybe not. But the point is that we all knew that the catching position was a huge problem organizationally last year, with just about zero depth anywhere before High-A ball. (And even there I’m talking about Kyle Farmer, who struggled terribly in his first crack with Rancho.)

Remember, this is how the upper levels looked at the position last year, and I’m attempting to forget that Miguel Olivo ever existed:

MLB: A.J. Ellis (terrible 2014, tendered an arbitration offer)
MLB: Drew Butera (traded to Angels)
AAA / MLB: Tim Federowicz (traded to Padres, probably)
AAA: Griff Erickson (free agent)
AAA: Johnny Monell (signed with Mets)
AA: Chris O’Brien (not on MLB’s Top 20 Dodger prospects, unprotected from Rule 5)
AA: J.C. Boscan (free agent)

Now, if this interminable Matt Kemp deal ever actually gets done, 2015 could look like…

MLB: Yasmani Grandal (119 career wRC+)
MLB: Ellis
AAA: Austin Barnes (acquired from Marlins, 157 wRC+ in Double-A, shown above)
AAA: Zarraga
AA: O’Brien
AA: Tyler Ogle, maybe?

You know we like Grandal. Chad will explain soon why we like Barnes. Zarraga is interesting enough. This probably still isn’t enough depth, because you only have two catchers with big league experience, and not everyone loves Grandal’s non-framing defensive attributes. Ellis will be 34 and has a few leg injuries on his recent resume. This isn’t perfect. It’s better, though. It’s so much better. We can marvel at the big moves the new front office has made like dumping Brian Wilson, selling high on Dee Gordon, and attempting to offload Kemp for Grandal, Jimmy Rollins, and Joe Wieland, and that’s all great. The small moves, though? Those are the ones I like the best. They’re the ones that matter so much more than you think they do.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello

Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.