Colorado remade its catcher position Wednesday night with a tandem of moves. The first, as analyzed by Chris Cwik, sent Chris Iannetta to the Angels for starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood. The Rockies will replace Iannetta at backstop with the second move, the signing of Ramon Hernandez to a two-year, $6.5 million contract.
As far as catchers go, it’s difficult to find any with the on-base skills or raw power of Chris Iannetta. His 14.3% walk rate since 2009 ranks third among catchers with at least 600 plate appearances (Mike Napoli, Chris Snyder) and his .198 ISO ranks fourth (Napoli, Carlos Santana, Jorge Posada). Despite these excellent peripheral skills, Iannetta’s 99 wRC+ ranks 14th over that same time frame, one spot behind the man who will take his place in Colorado. Why? That old devil known as batting average:
Hernandez’s 103 wRC+ is built on contact instead of power and walks; with a 12.4% strikeout rate Hernandez makes the most out of his otherwise average profile. Over the short term, the differences between Iannetta and Hernandez at the plate will be indiscernible, merely accomplished in different ways. As such, one could argue the younger Iannetta, about to enter his age-29 season would be the better long-term option. At 36 next May, Hernandez could be on his last contract.
By the time Hernandez’s contract ends, the Rockies hope to have their long-term catcher situation perfectly figured out. If all goes according to plan, Wilin Rosario will be the Rockies full-time starting catcher, perhaps even before Hernandez’ new contract ends in 2013. Rosario was ranked as the Rockies third-best prospect entering 2011 by our own Marc Hulet:
Notes: Like Arenado, Rosario is an intriguing power-hitting prospect. Rosario, though, is much closer to being MLB ready. The young catcher saw hit ISO rate jump from .138 in ’09 to .267 in ’10 (after also flashing good pop in ’08). Impressively, Rosario also showed a more discerning eye at the plate with an increase in walk rate from 4.5 to 7.1 BB%. He still strikes out too much (21.1 K%) but the power output makes the trade-off worthwhile. At the plate, he takes a small stride and doesn’t transfer his weight overly well, and he generates power with quick hips. Rosario blew out his ACL in August but it’s not expected to have a long-term impact on his potential. Defensively, he’ll certainly be able to stick behind the dish with a strong arm and good receiving skills.
Rosario struggled to get on base in his second go-round at Double-A but made good on the power projections, putting up a .249/.284/.457 line with 21 home runs in 426 plate appearances. He earned a September call-up to the majors, where the same problems persisted: he put up an eerily similar .204/.228/.463 line with the Rockies including three homers in just 57 plate appearances. The questions of his discipline will linger until he can demonstrate an ability to reach base consistently, but at age 22 and with no Triple-A experience yet, there is still time. Catchers with his defensive ability and power stroke can be productive even without a steady on-base ability, and so there is plenty for the Rockies to be hopeful about.
With Rosario in tow, the Rockies largely needed to concern themselves with the short term at the catcher position. Although Chris Iannetta may be the more intriguing option over the next two years, Ramon Hernandez has shown a similar ability to hit over recent years. In a straight one-to-one swap, Iannetta’s age could give him the edge. But the Rockies were able to acquire an intriguing pitching prospect and replace Iannetta with the similar-hitting Hernandez at a similar cost. It is unfortunate that Iannetta was unable to launch his career in Colorado — some of the blame likely lies with Jim Tracy — but the Rockies have handled his departure deftly, building a bridge to the future in Rosario with the veteran in Ramon Hernandez.