Seattle Mariners: The Battle For Backup Catcher
By Dan Hughes
As the Seattle Mariners Spring Training draws closer, one of the big questions to be answered is who will be Mike Zunino‘s backup behind the plate?
Last year, the Mariners signed John Buck and he proceeded to do precisely squat. Granted, a team isn’t looking for an All-Star as a backup – otherwise they’d be the starter. But it would be nice to have a more-than-capable backup in case injuries strike.
And with catchers, they most certainly can happen quickly. It may not even take an injury for the club to look to the backup. Zunino batted below the Mendoza Line in 2014. If he starts 2015 on the same pace, the club may look to motivate him by starting the backup.
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To build up the competition, the Seattle Mariners added John Hicks to the 40-man roster this offseason, joining Zunino and Jesus Sucre. The Mariners have also invited four catchers to camp (John Baker, Steve Baron, Mike Dowd and Tyler Marlette).
Let’s take a look at all six players and break down their chances of making the club.
Hicks is the darling pick in my opinion, based on his successful 2014 season and his follow up in the Arizona Fall League.
Hicks split time between Double-A Jackson and Triple-A Tacoma in 2014 with a slash of .290/.351/.403 with five homers and 47 RBI in 53 games.
Then in 13 games in the AFL, Hicks slashed .304/.396/.522 with a couple homers and 11 RBI.
The 2011 fourth-round draft pick out of Virginia is a solid line drive hitter and has shown skill behind the plate, handling pitching staffs well, making minimal errors along the way.
Scouts are unsure how his power will translate in the higher levels, but he’s got a good looking swing.
While Jesus Sucre may be “next in line” I think Hicks is the rising star behind the plate for Seattle. And he is a rough start by Zunino away from getting his chance.
Speaking of Sucre, the 26-year old Venezuelan has 93 big league at-bats over the past two seasons with a slash line of .207/.222/.230.
Sucre hasn’t necessarily done anything to warrant being passed over for the job, it’s just my opinion that Hicks will jump past Sucre.
Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Sucre does have some glove work to focus on, but he has success throwing out runners – albeit in the minors – throwing out 51% of those who tried against him in Triple-A Tacoma last season.
I won’t be surprised if Sucre is the backup for Zunino this year. I also won’t be surprised if he starts the year in Tacoma.
Seattle Mariners Non-Roster Invitees
John Baker hasn’t hit a home run at the Major League level since he was a Florida Marlin – back in 2009. In fact, he had nine homers that season. He has now gone over 500 big league at-bats without one.
The Mariners must figure bringing him in will motivate the youngsters, because he’s a veteran. I don’t see him making the club, but I guess stranger things have happened.
Steve Baron split 2014 between High Desert and Jackson as did Tyler Marlette. Marlette is my preference of these two, offensively speaking. Baron slashed .261/.319/.360 in 2014 with a homer and 29 RBI. Marlette slashed .297/.349/.517 with 17 homers and 51 RBI in just 90 games.
If Marlette comes to camp on fire, the club may have no choice but to find room for him on the 40-man roster.
Mike Dowd was invited for added depth in the camp only – in my opinion. He is the least likely to earn the backup spot.
Apart from the shortstop battle (for the second year in a row) I think this will be the most intriguing and exciting to watch.