An Early Look: 2017 Tacoma Catchers

Today we start our annual spring training positional previews, in which we take a look at the players who head into spring training with a chance to break camp as members of the Tacoma Rainiers.

We start with the catchers.

So much of the Rainiers roster depends on who makes the big league club, but in the case of catchers there is another huge factor: injuries.

Catchers are so much more injury prone than the other position players, strictly because of the nature of the position (unpredictable foul tips! Baseballs flying at you at all times! A grown man swinging a large stick right in front of your face! All of that squatting!).

We expect the Mariners to carry two catchers on the opening day roster, and if there are no injuries in the Cactus League they will be Mike Zunino and Carlos Ruiz.

Here in Tacoma, we’ll have two or three catchers when the season starts on April 6.

Seattle re-signed Jesus Sucre to a complicated contract which pays him a lot of money (by Triple-A standards) if he is in the minor leagues. This was a strategic play by the Mariners: they value Sucre and want to keep him, but he is out of minor league options. The hope is that the high Triple-A salary will prevent other teams from claiming him off waivers if the M’s have to send him to Tacoma. So, Sucre is a possible Rainiers catcher on Opening Day.

Another likely Tacoma catcher is Marcus Littlewood, who had a strong 2016 season at Double-A Jackson and finished the year with a three-week stint in Tacoma, including the playoffs. A switch-hitter, Littlewood batted .307 with a .404 OBP for Jackson last year, albeit in just 192 at-bats. He was a second round draft pick as a high school infielder in 2010, and the M’s converted him to catcher knowing it would be a slow development path.

Steve Baron is also in the mix, but there are injury concerns. His 2016 season ended in August with shoulder surgery, and at this time I’m not sure what his health situation is going into spring training. I’ll let you know when I learn anything.

The Mariners signed former Phillies prospect Sebastian Valle to a minor league contract, and he can slot in at either Double-A or Triple-A. Valle has Triple-A experience with Lehigh Valley in 2012 and 2014, but mostly has been playing at the Double-A level recently. His profile looks like that of a good defensive catcher – you just kind of assume it, since he hasn’t hit much.

One other player to add here: midway through last season, the Rockies released Ryan Casteel and the M’s signed him and sent him to Jackson for the stretch run. Seattle recently re-signed him for 2017. Casteel caught 51 games for Albuquerque over the last two seasons, but after Seattle acquired him last year he played strictly first base for Jackson.

A late acquisition at the catcher position is always a possibility – especially if one of the top three (Zunino, Ruiz, Sucre) gets injured in spring training. Last year, the M’s acquired Rob Brantly at the very end of March, and he spent the entire season in Tacoma and was a key contributor on a playoff team.

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