As we saw with pitching, there was a massive amount of mid-level prospects who were almost indistinguishable. The same is true for catchers. The positions has long been a sore spot in the Tigers' farm system. Brandon Inge is the only catcher the system has produced in the past 10 years who has gone on to be a regular in the league. You'd probably have to go all the way back to Chris Hoiles to find an everyday catcher the Tigers' system produced. Still, there are likely to be ten players donning the tools of ignorance as the season begins. Who could they be?
This question is highly dependent on the Major League bench. I'm going to go with the notion that Vance Wilson will not be fully recovered at the start of the season and Brandon Inge has yet to be traded. That leaves this bench:
I know some have suggested that Raburn will be an options victim, but I would hope the Tigers take the best players they can. You could argue Raburn should be the team's starting leftfielder this season, but that's a whole other story. I've got Brandon Inge earmarked as the backup catcher, something that seems likely in the scenarios I've laid forth.
For the minor leagues, I am assigning two catchers to each team. Determining a starting catcher in the minors is a bit misleading. Often times, catching tandems are utilized to keep catchers fresh. The DH is frequently used to get the second catcher an extra start. This has been especially true in the short-season leagues, where the Tigers often assign four catchers. I'll give the run-down of players who could be catching in full season leagues this year before assigning them teams.
Dane Sardinha: At one point, he was a sure thing in the Reds system. Of course at that point, they couldn't look past the defense and see that the guy couldn't hit. Sardinha appears likely to return as the emergency catcher, getting a lion's share of the playing time just an hour's drive away in Toledo.
Max St. Pierre: Yes, he's still a catcher. The pitching experiment is over. St. Pierre has a great arm, but isn't much of a hitter. Are you sensing a trend yet? I'd have to imagine he's in Toledo this year, but you can never be too sure.
Andrew Graham: It's been five years since Graham was drafted, and he hasn't exactly stepped forward. As a backup in several locations the past couple years, Graham has not hit well at any stop. I'd expect Graham to be gone at the end of camp, unless there is room in Erie for him.
Nick Trzesniak: The only catcher the Tigers have who was once drafted in the first round. Okay, it was the supplemental round, and it was nine years ago. I see Trzesniak settling back into the role of AA caddie this season.
Dusty Ryan: His breakout season in 2004 was merely a mirage, the result of a .383 BABIP and the small sample size that accompanies short season leagues. Be weary of putting too much stock in the Oneonta's statistics. He'll need a strong Spring to move up to Erie, and there may not be room for him in Lakeland.
James Skelton: Did you know he was skinny? Anyways, barring an amazing spring, he's probably moving up to Lakeland after the fine season on the other side of the palm.
Joe Bowen: Sometimes, you can get a good idea of a player's skill from a small sample. In 25 plate appearances after his promotion to Oneonta last season, Bowen went 1/25 with 12 strikeouts. Yes, it is a small sample, but that is pretty horrible, and it's hard to believe bad fortune caused the performance. Bowen is an overrated prospect. The NRI could mean that he has the inside track on a job at West Michigan. If so, it will make the Caps fans long for the days of Joel Roa.
Jeff Kunkel: Kunkel seems like a guy who is going to be around the system as long as he wants. He may never sniff a day in the Majors, but the Tigers seem to love his leadership and defensive skills. He spent much of last season in West Michigan and Lakeland. It's hard to say where he ends up this year, but I'd have to imagine Lakeland or Erie.
Adrian Casanova: Started last year in Lakeland, only to mysteriously sit out several games before heading back to Oneonta. I have a feeling he's gone at the end of Spring.
Kris Rochelle: Drafted last year, but only got to play a couple games before breaking his finger. If he shows he's healthy, he could be in West Michigan at the start of the season. Otherwise, it's back to Oneonta to try again this summer.
Devin Thomas: The seventh round pick last year and favorite to get most of the playing time at West Michigan.
Derek Lehrman, Brandon Harrigan, Craig Maddox: It's hard to tell these guys apart. Harrigan was drafted last year, while the others were picked up to take some of the playing time in the GCL. None of them jump out at me as guys likely to be playing this year.
Jordan Newton: A disappointment after being drafted in 2006's sixth round. There had been reports of a possible outfield move, but he appears to be staying at catcher. I'd bet he gets one more shot at Lakeland or West Michigan in what will be a big year.
Angel Flores: A possibility to get some time at West Michigan, but nothing special.
Finally, I'll post the projections. I'll change these as things change or more information comes out over the course of the spring.
Max St. Pierre