Arizona Diamondbacks – young catchers to target
By Jake Lieberman
Mike Hazen, General Manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, will look for a long -term option at catcher
The Arizona Diamondbacks may carry three catchers on the 2017 roster. The three current options are Jeff Mathis, Chris Herrmann, and Oscar Hernandez.
Recently-signed Mathis should get about 60 starts behind the plate. The remaining games will likely be divided among Hermann and the third catcher, currently Oscar Hernandez on the 40-man roster. Even with the plan of catching the majority of games in 2017, Mathis and Hermann may not the catchers of the future. General manager Mike Hazen could use the third catcher position to trade, and look to develop a catcher of the future.
Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart from the Red Sox
A trade for either one of these young Boston catchers would reunite them with new Arizona manager Torey Lovullo.
Vazquez is a defense first catcher trying to find his way offensively. He hit .227/.277/.308 in 57 games at the Major League level last year coming off of Tommy John Surgery. Right now, he is the backup to Sandy Leon, but could have the upper hand with a strong spring training at the plate. Out of options, Vazquez would have to be on the Red Sox 25-man, opening day roster. With Leon’s strong 2016 campaign, Vazquez seems destined to an secondary role and may be be in a position to fully develop his offensive game in Boston.
Because of his offense and versatility., Blake Swihart is a more interesting prospect for many teams.
Before a season-ending ankle injury, he played the majority of the time in left field. In parts of the 2015 and 2016 Major League seasons, he slashed .271/.328/.386 in 103 games for Boston. The former top prospect has shown to be able to hit at the major league Level in two short stints. The problem is that he is blocked in the outfield by the “Killer B’s,” Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Mookie Betts. There is also a roadblock behind the plate by Leon and Vazquez. At this point, the Red Sox like him, but his name surfaced to other teams by the active Dave Dombrowski.
Because of Swihart’s offensive abilities, the asking price could be slightly higher than Vazquez. Swihart would be able to sit behind a great defensive catcher in Jeff Mathis and absorb an education. Mathis is under contract for the next two years, and Swihart would get playing time considering Mathis’ 60 game target. With a platoon and developing role behind Mathis, Swihart could be able to take over full time by 2019 at the age of 27.
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The Padres are looking for a shortstop, and the Diamondbacks are a looking for a young controllable catcher. This seems a like a match.
After the shipping of Derek Norris to Washington., Austin Hedges iappears the clear starter. Bethancourt seems to be in transition to the outfield or catching with the recent Rule 5 pick of Luis Torrens. Torrens, at 20-years-old, could be on 25-man roster behind Hedges, and this leaves the athletic Bethancourt expandable. This follows a .228/.265/.368 slash line in 2016 for the Padres.
Why would the Diamondbacks want a catcher that is being delegated to the outfield or even the pitching mound? While he struggling making contact with 56 strikeouts in 192 at-bats, he managed to hit 6 home runs with 25 RBI’s. There is a great dealof power potential in his bat if Bethancourt can learn to make more contact at the plate. Defensively, he have the strongest catching arm in the majors. Currently, he is pitching in the Panama Winter League to get some work before Spring Training on the mound. He was given the highest grade of 70 for arm strength by MLB.com as a prospect for the Braves.
Bethancourt will likely stay in San Diego through spring training. That’s because the Padres will want to see him on the mound. The Diamondabcks would have to give up Chris Owings, Ketel Marte, or Nick Ahmed for him, but the 25-year-old would be under club control until 2021. With Mathis’ leadership and contract, Bethancourt would be able to learn a great deal and possibly well as take over behind the plate by 2019.
Austin Barnes is definitely the least well-known option from the Dodgers.
The ninth-round pick from Arizona State played in two short stints for the Dodgers in the 2015 and 2016. The Dodgers 10th-ranked prospect will likely be difficult to acquire, and that’s because because of his versatility. In 555 games in the minors, Barnes played 173 at second base, 26 at third base, and 356 behind the plate. While listed as the back-up catcher to 2019 free-agent Yasmani Grandal, Barnes could see playing time at the wide-open second base.
Barnes is considered an underrated player. The contact first hitter slashed .296/.386/.434 during six seasons in the minor leagues. He also has sneaky power with one season of 12 homers and one with 13 dingers. Defensively, he is a regarded as a “gifted receiver” with an average arm.
Barnes has all the tools to be an everyday starting catcher in the big leagues. The Dodgers may be unwilling to trade him because of his controllability through 2023 and his versatility. If the Dodgers don’t trade for Brian Dozier or Ian Kinsler as rumored, Owings or Marte might be a good back-up plan. The Diamondbacks would have to give up some other pieces as well. Overall, this divisional trade seems unlikely, but it does make sense if Kinsler, with the Tigers and Dozier, with the Twins, stay put.
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Consider this …
These options are club controllable through at least 2021. All four catchers also already have major league experience. A platoon role could be open for these catchers until 2019. That’s when the Diamondbacks begin to look for a full time starting catcher. That depends on the departure of Mathis. Blake Swihart’s name has been swirling around in trade rumors for about a year, and he could be the best option for the future.