O's seek temporary backup catcher
Zaun to start until top prospect Wieters is ready to take over
BALTIMORE -- Sometimes, finding a starting catcher is only half the job. Veteran Gregg Zaun is going to start for the Orioles in April and May, then slide into a backup and mentor role for top prospect Matt Wieters, but that means by extension that Baltimore will have to find a reserve catcher for the first couple months of the year.
Part of the team's job in Spring Training will be identifying that initial backup, and there is no shortage of candidates. The list includes big league veterans Chad Moeller and Robby Hammock in addition to incumbent reserve Guillermo Quiroz and former Rule 5 Draft pick Adam Donachie, giving the Orioles several options to consider.
Moeller, who has played in the big leagues in each of the last nine seasons, appears to be the early favorite. The 33-year-old journeyman is a career .224 hitter and has played for four teams in the last three years. Moeller carved out a starting job in Milwaukee for a brief time, but he's hit .210 or under in four of the last five seasons.
Still, he has far more big league experience than any of the other candidates and a far greater knowledge of the league's hitters. Moeller has spent most of his career in the National League, but he stuck with the Yankees for a while last season. For his career, Moeller has thrown out 26 percent (75-for-291) potential basestealers.
And that number may not seem high, but it may look good to Baltimore. The ex-starter, Ramon Hernandez, threw out just 21 percent (44-for-211) of potential basestealers in the last two years, a fact partially attributed to the pitching staff's inability to hold runners on base. For his career, Hernandez has thrown out runners at a 30 percent clip.
Quiroz, a former top prospect out of Venezuela, finally got his first chance to stick as a backup catcher for an entire season in 2008, and the initial returns weren't promising. Quiroz batted .187 with a .259 on-base percentage with the Orioles, and Baltimore elected to expose him to waivers and outright him to Triple-A Norfolk after the season.
Still, Quiroz did manage to forge a positive bond with the pitchers on staff, which could bode well for him in the near future. He also managed to control the running game by throwing out nine of 30 potential basestealers. The 27-year-old will have to hit, though, and his most likely trajectory involves going back to Norfolk and backing up Wieters.
If the Orioles value big league experience, then Hammock could pose as Moeller's stiffest challenge. The veteran has spent his entire career with Arizona, but he hasn't had more than 100 at-bats in the big leagues since 2004. Hammock is a career .255 hitter in the Majors and has batted .290 or above in two of the last three years at Triple-A.
The Orioles are also bringing Minor League veteran Guillermo Rodriguez to Spring Training and allowing him to compete for playing time. Rodriguez, whose sole big league experience consists of 39 games with the Giants in 2007, has spent the last two seasons as a backup at Triple-A Fresno and hasn't had more than 200 at-bats since 2006.
The 30-year-old will get a look, though, and may wind up impressing enough to stick at some level of the Minors. Baltimore will also evaluate Jose Reyes, who played four games with the Cubs in 2006. Reyes missed all of '08 after surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow and won't turn 26 until late February.
The final non-roster candidate going to camp is Donachie, whom the Orioles selected in the 2006 Rule 5 Draft. Donachie wasn't able to stick with the Orioles that year and was returned to Kansas City's organization. The switch-hitter played at Double-A in each of the last two seasons and wasn't able to bat above .215 in either of them.
If Donachie has a strong spring, he could easily find himself with a job at some level in the organization. And that's the goal that all of the potential backups will bring to spring, knowing that Wieters is going to force a promotion on his own timetable. And that when he does, another job will open at Norfolk, lending a cushioned landing.
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.