Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Prospect A to Z Day 14: Nevin Ashley and the Rays Catching Situation

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.

(Click at the table for a larger view)

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?


  1. It is certainly a position that needs looking at , i still think we may bring back Shoppach,but that doesnt solve a whole lot.

  2. I'd rather see Rodriguez then Jaso catching

  3. I'd like a Shoppach/Lobaton platoon. Jaso is trash.

  4. What I'd like to see (which means it's very unlikely to happen) is for Vogt to get a good long look at 1B at Durham this year. Take him out of the catching equation entirely because he really doesn't have a good shot otherwise. And I think, but could be wrong, that he may be up against Rule 5, so he's likely to go on the 40-man. Durham doesn't have a good 1B prospect, yet, and Anderson isn't going anywhere.

  5. Upton and Jaso to Washington for catcher Wilson Ramos and a prospect?

  6. If Shoppach is not re-signed and there is no trade for a starting catcher, wouldn't it make sense to have the best defensive players behind the plate? If so, that seems to be Lobaton and Ashley. Given that none of the catchers in the system-at least none near the majors-seem to offer much offense, how much worse can those two be?

    I think the best option would be to find a starting catcher either via trade or free agency and use Lobaton as the backup, but the cost, either in dollars, years or prospects may be prohibitive which leads us back to the Rays own system.

  7. Are there any good free agent catchers, that the Rays can afford? I'm with Robert, go defense at catcher. Not like there are a ton of Johnny Benches out there with the bat anyway, just try to be somewhere near league average with good defense.

  8. Anon 3:45 - I don't think this is a good day to trade for Wilson Ramos, he was kidnapped from his home in Venezuela per reports.

  9. Supposedly ashley has a canon for an arm. Does anyone know his pop times to 2b? I wonder if they are sub 1.8?

  10. I know that Wilson Ramos was abducted earlier today, but if he is found unharmed, if I were in charge of the Rays I would try to trade BJ Upton, Reid Brignac, Wade Davis and any one of our catchers to Washington for Wilson Ramos and Danny Espinosa. I believe that both players still have three years of control left, have decent OBP for their position and off substantial power upgrade over what we currently have. I would also try to get Pena back for cheap for protection for Longo.
    That way we can have a line-up of
    1. Jennings
    2. Espinosa/S-Rod
    3. Longoria
    4. Pena
    5. Zobrist
    6. Damon
    7. Ramos
    8. Joyce/Johnson
    9. Canzler/Guyer

    This would allow the Rays to be very flexible with Espinosa filling in at Second or Short. S-rod, Zobrist, and Johnson would be able to move all around the field to fill in anywhere to give a day off to our "normal" starters.