Position Previews: Tacoma’s 2020 Catching Situation

We start our weekly Tacoma Rainiers 2020 Position Previews™ series today with a look at the catchers who are in the mix to break camp with Tacoma.

There is not much existing catching depth in the upper levels of the organization, so it was expected that the M’s would sign at least one veteran Triple-A/MLB receiver to boost the position. We waited and waited… and this morning, the day this post was scheduled to be written, we got word that a catcher had been signed. Perfect timing!

Here are the Rainiers potential catchers for the 2020 season:

Joe Odom – a man with a bit of experience in Tacoma, Odom should expect a lot of playing time for the Rainiers in 2020. Odom joined the organization prior to the 2018 season after originally being drafted by the Atlanta Braves, and he has spent the majority of the last two years with Double-A Arkansas. He has played in a few games for the Rainiers: six in 2018, and 17 this past season. The 28-year-old is known to be a good handler of pitchers, but he did hit .306 with two homers in 17 games for the Rainiers last year in his first chance to hit with the juiced Major League baseball.

Joe Hudson – the veteran catcher whose signing we learned about this morning. Hudson, also 28, is a bit more experienced at the upper levels than Odom, and he even has some big league time. Hudson reached Triple-A with Salt Lake in 2018, hit .311 with three homers in 26 games, and suddenly found himself in the majors due to a series of injuries. He appeared in eight games for the Angels that year, notched his first big league hits, was DFA’d when the injured catchers got healthy, and finished the season in Louisville. Last year he signed with the Cardinals as a minor league free agent and played for Memphis, hitting .223 with a career high 10 homers in 197 at-bats with the juiced MLB baseball, and also appeared in one big league game for St. Louis. He’ll be in major league camp on a Triple-A contract.

As it stands right now, it’s possible that one or both of the Joe’s could end up breaking camp with the Mariners, because the Mariners catching corps right now is as thin as I have seen in my 21 years with the Triple-A club.

Seattle has just one listed catcher on its roster: Tom Murphy. Austin Nola is the back-up catcher, although he’s listed as an infielder. Nola has caught seven major league games. Much of Nola’s value comes from his ability to play many positions – a value that disappears if he is the only back-up catcher on the roster, since baseball managers hate having both of their catchers in the lineup at the same time more than they hate trips to the dentist or paying their taxes. With the MLB active roster expanding to 26 this season it makes sense for the Mariners to carry another catcher, freeing Nola to optimize his value as a super-sub.

Other catchers in the organization who could be Rainiers in 2020:

Brian O’Keefe – acquired in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 Draft, O’Keefe played for Double-A Springfield in the St. Louis Cardinals system last year. He hit .229 with 13 homers in 301 Double-A at-bats, and that power came without the help of the super-juiced MLB baseball. The prevailing thought is that he was brought in to caddy top prospect Cal Raleigh at Double-A Arkansas, but that could easily change during spring training.

Cal Raleigh – the top catching prospect in the organization hit 29 home runs between Advanced-A Modesto and Arkansas last year. He’ll open the season with Arkansas – he played just 39 games at that level last year – but we will see him in Tacoma sometime down the road.

Ryan Scott – signed as a minor league free agent, Scott was in the M’s system in both 2017 and 2018, serving as an organizational fill-in catcher. He played for four different Mariners affiliates in 2017 alone, including four games for Tacoma, helping out with whatever team had a need behind the plate. In 2019 he played in the Angels system, appearing in 50 games for Advanced-A Rancho Cucamonga and 11 games for Salt Lake in the PCL. He’s familiar with all levels of the minors and could see playing time for Tacoma.

The signing of Joe Hudson helps the catching crew quite a bit, but the M’s may not be done. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the M’s signed an experienced MLB reserve catcher in the next few weeks – along the lines of Jose Lobaton from last year’s Rainiers club.

Next in our Position Previews series will be the corner infielders, which should be posted Wednesday. Before that, expect a fresh post on Friday rounding up any Triple-A news that may come out of the Mariners annual Pre-Spring Training Media Event which I’ll be attending tomorrow. So, please check back early Friday afternoon.

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