February 13, 2014
Catching Up with Catcher News
Twins eyeing two players at Cuban showcase
Darren Wolfson, a radio host for 1500 ESPN.com in Minneapolis, believes that both Diaz and Despaigne will ink stateside contracts in the near future.
Diaz, a shortstop in Cuba, cannot put pen to paper until February 19, his punishment for attempting to skirt international bonus pool rules by listing a false birthdate. Despaigne, 27, was declared eligible to sign in late January.
Depending on their evaluations, both players could make sense for the Twins, but Diaz might be an especially intriguing fit if they believe that he can stick at shortstop in the majors. The incumbents, Pedro Florimon and Eduardo Escobar, are all-pick, no-stick players who would not be terribly difficult to unseat. However, reports to date have indicated that Diaz fits better at second base, and Brian Dozier—coming off of a 3.5 WARP breakout season—would be tougher to displace.
The showcase will take place at the Padres’ facility in Arizona, per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez. Both Diaz and Despaigne are represented by Jaime Torres, who negotiated the Dodgers’ deal with Yasiel Puig.
Jesus Montero transitioning to first base
And the bad news keeps on coming.
General manager Jack Zduriencik told reporters on Wednesday that the team is close to admitting that the 25-year-old Montero can’t cut it as a big-league backstop. Montero was charged with three passed balls in just 23 games behind the dish in 2013, and opposing baserunners went 23-for-24 (96 percent) on their steal attempts. His poor pitch framing cost the Mariners 6.2 runs. In many ways, Zduriencik’s answer, relayed by MLB.com’s Greg Johns, sounded like a GM resigning himself to the inevitable.
Zduriencik added that Montero would still catch sparingly during spring training, but his future is at first base or designated hitter. The Mariners signed John Buck to a one-year, $1.5 million contract on January 15 to serve as the primary backup to Mike Zunino. Barring a rash of injuries at the position, Montero is unlikely to drop into the squat in a major-league game this year.
That decision would seem to exacerbate the Mariners’ logjam in the two spots at which manager Lloyd McClendon could write Montero’s name into the lineup. Even if Logan Morrison is a full-time outfielder, Justin Smoak and fellow newcomer Corey Hart are ahead of Montero in the pecking order.
Montero apologized on Wednesday for his PED transgression, a nice first step in his bid to earn back playing time this spring. (Unfortunately, he also admitted to being a bit out of shape.) But his struggles at the plate last year, the position change, and the Mariners’ offseason moves have left him with a long way to go.
Nationals, Rays still talking about Jose Lobaton
Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Topkin tweeted on Wednesday afternoon that long-standing discussions between the general managers are still ongoing, without intimating that a deal is near. But for the first time this winter, we have a window into what the return for Lobaton might be.
Topkin believes that right-hander Nate Karns, a 26-year-old who made his big-league debut in 2013, could be involved in the trade. Karns was shelled for 17 hits—five of them home runs—in his 12-inning cup of coffee, but he was the Nationals’ no. 5 prospect heading into last year and performed well in 23 starts for Double-A Harrisburg. The Texas Tech product is an older prospect, held back by shoulder surgery in 2010, but he might emerge as a back-end starter or swingman.
That’s an intriguing piece to nab in exchange for a backup catcher, albeit one with strong hitting credentials and pitch-framing skills. Lobaton, a switch-hitter, owns a .274 career TAv versus right-handers. His main shortcoming is an inability to control the running game—opponents went 63-for-73 (86 percent) on steal attempts last year—but Lobaton’s other defensive traits mitigate that weakness.
Topkin noted that the trade could expand to include other players, but he did not mention any names. Although the Nationals are the most hotly rumored team in connection to Lobaton, at least five other teams might be in contact with Friedman. The Rays’ pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to spring training on Friday.