The Florida Marlins organization will rely heavily on inexperienced catchers in 2009. The depth at the position is nothing to write home about, either. Matt Treanor, who appeared in 65 games for Florida in 2008 (and spent parts of the past five seasons guiding the pitching staff) was allowed to leave as a free agent. Currently the organization has just two players with more than 50 games of Major League experience – Mike Rabelo (86 games, 278 at-bats) and John Baker (61 games, 197 at-bats). The other catcher on the 40-man roster is B-level prospect Brett Hayes, who has yet to appear in a Major League game.
Rabelo was supposed to see significant playing time in the Majors in 2008 after coming over from the Detroit Tigers in the Miguel Cabrera/Dontrelle Willis swap. He was generally ineffective and missed time with knee and wrist injuries. Overall in 2008, he hit .202/.256/.294 in 109 at-bats. Already 29 years old, Rabelo has yet to prove he can consistently hit Major League pitching and his defense is not good enough on its own to justify a big league paycheck.
Baker, a former A’s farmhand, benefited from Rabelo’s poor season. The left-handed hitting catcher took full advantage of his first Major League opportunity and hit .299/.392/.447 with an ISO of .147 in 61 games. The 28-year-old was originally selected in the fourth round of the 2002 draft out of the University of California and kicked around the minors for parts of seven seasons. He has the best shot at playing everyday among the three catchers on the 40-man roster.
Hayes, 24, was selected in the second round of the 2005 draft out of the University of Nevada. He has moved through the system relatively quickly despite uninspired minor league numbers, which include a career line of .253/.311/.381 in 1,042 at-bats. He did hit .293/.331/.466 in 2008 during his first taste of Triple-A (116 at-bats). Hayes has a solid reputation as a good defensive backstop, excellent receiver and also displays leadership skills.
The club has also invited three non-roster catchers to spring training in 2009: Kyle Skipworth, Miguel Fermin, and Brad Davis. Skipworth, 18, was the Marlins’ 2008 first round draft pick out of high school and is in camp to gain experience. He will be headed down to A-ball for the 2009 season after hitting just .208 in his debut. Fermin had a breakout 2008 season by hitting .347/.374/.628 with 17 homers in 242 at-bats. However, he was 23 and playing in short-season ball. He also walked just 3.6 percent of the time. Davis, 26, spent last season in Double-A and hit just .205/.306/.345 in 249 at-bats. Other catching prospects Chris Hatcher, Torre Langley, and Jameson Smith all disappointed with the bat.