Position Battle: Rays' Backup Catcher

Who cares, you say?

The Rays care a lot, I'll bet. Because they're shooting for the postseason again and their backup catcher(s) should get plenty of playing time. According to Tim Kurkjian, anyway:

As near as I can tell, the candidates include Jose Lobaton and Robinson Chirinos. Now, this is spring training for me too and I'm still shaking off the winter rust, but I'll admit in this space that neither of those names ring a bell with me. At all. So join me, won't you, for a quick look at this important spring-training battle?

Lobaton looks like the No. 1 candidate. He's played just a few games in the majors, but last season with the Rays' triple-A Durham affiliate he hit .293/.410/.489 in 54 games. Yes, that dwarfed anything he'd ever done before, but sometimes catchers develop late as hitters and his career triple-A line is decent enough for a backstop.

At 27, he's hardly a real prospect ... but the same might be said of another candidate, 27-year-old Stephen Vogt, listed by one source as a C/OF/1B. Vogt actually spent most of last season in Class AA, where he caught in 44 games. Upon his promotion to AAA, Vogt caught only six times in 31 games. According to Baseball America, he's a "fringy receiver with average arm strength." He looks like a useful player, but not one who's going to catch three or four games in the majors every week.

And then there's Chirinos, who's also 27. After spending a full decade in the Cubs' organization, he moved to the Rays last season and was the No. 1 catcher in Durham for most of the season, ahead of Lobaton. But like Lobaton, he's always just been sort of an organizational guy, moving up the ladder without making any of the prospect lists. He's a backup, at best.

Last season, the Rays' top two catchers were Kelly Shoppach and John Jaso. Neither of them hit much, at all. The next two were Chirinos and Lobaton. They hit even worse. Jose Molina did really well with the Blue Jays last season, but that was probably a fluke; historically, he's been a terrible hitter.

The Rays aren't going to get much production from their catchers this season, no matter who wins the backup job. At this point, it's merely about choosing the 27-year-old no-name who might do the least damage.

This does matter, though. Or might. On such things, Wild Cards are won and lost.

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