Continuing on with our prospect per day. Today: The Rays catching situation and Nevin Ashley.
The Rays have - once again and like nearly every other club - some big decisions to make this offseason. They have to find at least a stopgap solution for shortstop (Nick Punto + Sean Rodriguez anyone?), they have to find at least one above average bat-first player for 1B and DH (internal options for more playing time: Brandon Guyer, Russ Canzler), they should solidify their bullpen by adding some talent to the mix (Mike Gonzalez, Michael Wuertz, Yoel Zumaya, Fernando Cabrera, Josh Kinney, ...) and they have to make a decision about their catching duo for '12 and beyond.
The Rays catchers combined for only 1.3 WAR (25th in the MLB) with a wOBA of .274 (26th) and an OPS of .611 (27th; all stats from FanGraphs). Versus righties (.573 OPS, .258 wOBA; 27th) they have even been worse. The Rays now more or less have two options (the 3rd option of a stopgap backstop won't do it as there is no sure-fire starting catching prospect in the system right now). They can bring in a catcher who is able of playing 70% of the games (e.g.: Yasmani Grandal, Chris Iannetta, ...) or they can go on with what they have in-house. I'm going to look at the 2nd option. Therefore I also included Kelly Shoppach despite him not having been offered arbitration this week.
The stats in the following table are the '11 stats from fangraphs for Shoppach and Jaso and the major league equivalents (calculated with this tool) for Lobaton, Ashley, Vogt and Chirinos according to their '11 MiL numbers. The splits for these 4 players are from historical '10 data (from here) and they are not major league equivalents but the real MiL numbers from MiL-splits (the data set for '10 doesn't seem to be complement. I took it anyway in order to get a tendency). They are here in order to show the tendencies of the players.
While the front office doesn't seem to be pleased by John Jaso's defense, the platoon splits tell me that he seems to be the only one of the six catchers who very, very likely will be on the Rays opening day roster in '12. He is the only left hander ready for the bigs (according to reports about Stephen Vogt's defensive abilities behind the plate). And even the switch hitter on the list seems to play better against lefties. Therefore, Jaso - barring a trade for or signing of an everyday catcher - seems to be a lock for the next years' roster. After that I could see any one of Shoppach, Lobaton and Chirinos on the roster. In my private roster projection for '12 I have the Rays trading for Yasmani Grandal (giving up Wade Davis+). In this scenario I'd start Grandal in AAA and begin the season with Jaso/Lobaton in the bigs.
So, if Kelly Shoppach is out of the picture, the Rays will most likely go with John Jaso and one of Jose Lobaton/Robinson Chirinos in 2012. This would mean that one of Chirinos/Lobaton, Nevin Ashley and maybe also Stephen Vogt (mainly in the OF or at DH) would play behind the plate in Durham. Both, Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos, are better against lefties and therefore they'd complement John Jaso very well. This scenario indicates John Jaso getting most of the plate appearances against righties and more than half of all plate appearances.
The front office, however, is not very enthusiastic about Jaso's defense, and, therefore, I think that they will bring Kelly Shoppach back (or another catcher from outside in). The reasons are that he first of all is good against lefties, that he is better defensively than Jaso and that he was a bit unlucky in '11 and looks to be better in '12. This would mean that Shoppach would play most of the games against lefties with John Jaso playing mostly against righties. Shoppach, however, should never ever see a right handed pitcher and therefore we have the same problem again. The '11 John Jaso is not good enough in order to play in 70% of the plate appearances and Kelly Shoppach shouldn't play against a rightie. In this scenario, however, there would be a logjam in AAA as all other four catchers have proven themselves in AA (or even in AAA already).
Either way, if the Rays don't bring in an MLB ready catcher from outside, they have the same problem. They have four catchers who are ready right now for backup catching duty in the majors (Shoppach, Jaso, Lobaton, Chirinos) with another one having the bat for the majors (Vogt) and the other playing well above average defense (Nevin Ashley). Neither of them, however, seems to be able to play a starting catching role adequately. That's a logjam at a position with below average major league talent.
Therefore, - by individually looking at the catching situation and ignoring other roster moves - I hope for the Rays to trade for/sign a starting catcher. One of Jaso/Chirinos/Lobaton can play a solid backup and one of these three can be traded (in order for them to get a chance in another organization). Then Ashley, Vogt (often at DH and in the OF) and one of Jaso/Chirinos/Lobaton would man the '12 catching duties in Durham, providing very solid major league depth. If the traded for catcher needs more time in the minors (like in my scenario with Grandal who I think should play at least 1-2 months in AAA), I'd start the season with Jaso/Lobaton until this catcher is ready. What do you guys think?