So who’s going to be playing backup to the SF Giants’ indomitable starting catcher, Buster Posey, this season?
After all, there can be no doubt at all that Posey will be the starter the vast majority of the games. He’s a rock solid performer, a fan favorite, a team leader, and it favorite of Coach Bruce Bochy. The team has him under contract for the next several years (through 2021). His 2016 season was sterling despite sitting out 33 games for one reason or another. His batting line of .268/.362/.434 showed a bit of a drop off from the previous three seasons, but is still pretty respectable. Mainly he gets the nod behind the plate because the handles the Giants’ rotation with incredible insight and finesse.
But one of the biggest questions in Spring Training camp is will be his regular backup? During the office-season, the Giants picked up 33-year-old, 10 year veteran Nick Hundley. They signed him to a one-year, $2 million deal. Presumably he doesn’t get that money unless he makes the roster. That move was undoubtedly designed to hedge the teams bet on last year’s backup backstop, Trevor Brown, who was less than spectacular at the plate and whose defensive skills are still a bit behind where they need to be if he wants to be a major contributor to the team, would probably benefit from at least starting 2017 in AAA ball where he’d be an everyday catcher rather than sitting around waiting for the rare turn to spell Posey.
Statistically, though, Hundley seems a bit poorer risk. Offensively, in 79 games as a Rockie last season, he hit .266/.320/.439. Those are comparable to Posey’s numbers. Defensively, Hundley was guilty of seven errors, six of which were throwing miscues, allowed eight passed balls, and caught just nine of 66 attempted base thieves. His overall fielding percentage was .988.
Brown played 19 fewer games (60) and ended with an anemic batting line (.237/.283/.364). Defensively, he was a good bit better than Hundley (probably because of his relative youth at 25) committed only two errors, allowed just four passed balls and caught nine of 40 stealing attempts. His fielding percentage was .993.
I’m predicting Hundley starts the season at No. 2, but will be benched or reduced to a pinch hitting role by the All-Star Break when Brown is brought back up.
Bochy likes to carry three catchers if he can. He has four non-roster invitee catchers in camp: Tim Federowicz, Aramis Garcia, Josmil Pinto, and Matt Winn. None of them looks ready for the Bigs but Spring Training has a way of doing tricky stuff with up-and-coming young talent. But of the four, if they send Brown down, Winn could be a good bet to be on the Opening Day roster. He hits for power (13 HR, 49 RBI in 95 games with the Class A Augusta Green Jackets. Still, a jump from A to the majors? Highly unlikely.
If Bochy decides to keep both Hundley and Brown in town, it will be because the latter can also play the infield, at least first and second base. In fact, he began his career at second. That kind of flexibility is important to a strategic coach like the Boch. (I promise not to overuse the poetic pun.)