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Position Preview: Catcher

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Phil “The Hitman” Clarke is in the Toronto organization now. Who will replace him as the starting backstop?

College World Series - Michigan v Vanderbilt - Game One Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images

With 13 days before first pitch in the MLB4 Tournament in Arizona, we continue our position previews with the one position other than Second Base which will likely me manned by a senior: Catcher.

*Click here for the First Base Preview, Shortstop Preview, Second Base Preview, and Third Base Preview.

Returning Starters

#20 Sr. C Ty “The Jaguar” Duvall (.275/.418/.413)

When Duvy decided to return for his senior season, catcher went from one of the biggest question marks to a position of certainty at starter, and admirable depth behind him.

His defense is damned near immaculate, as though it would seem difficult to replace Philip Clarke’s .990 fielding percentage, Duvy had a .996 fielding percentage last year while serving as Mason Hickman’s personal catcher. He can frame, block, and throw with the best of them, and his senior leadership will be invaluable to such a young pitching staff.

At the plate, Duvy saw time in 63 games, and was the starter at either C or DH by year’s end. Though he was not quite the contact or power hitter Clarke was, he has great plate discipline, and was 3rd on the team in drawing walks, with 42. Ty rarely hurt the team, as well, as though he is no burner on the base paths, he only hit into one double play on the season.

Most telling, though, is that once SEC play began, and we faced tougher pitching, Duvy’s offensive numbers actually improved quite significantly. Against SEC pitching, Duvy put up a fantastic slash line of .310/.459/.464 with 7 of his 11 total doubles.

He will be the weekend starter at catcher, though I would be shocked if Corbs doesn’t rest him at least once per week (and certainly day games after night games). If I had to guess, I’d say he starts around 75% of games at catcher, and the remaining 25% at DH.

Like Harrison Ray, I fully expect Duvall to bat higher in the lineup than the 8 slot he mostly found himself in last year. Like Ray, again, here’s to hoping the power comes in 2020.

Departures

#5 So. C Phil “The Hitman” Clarke (.308/.388/.480)

This was the one loss to the draft that hurt the most. Not because we couldn’t replace him with a seasoned veteran (see above), but because Clarke was a professional hitter who was fully figuring out every aspect of his job behind the plate. No one will be able to convince me he wouldn’t have been able to help his draft value had he returned—he was a draft eligible sophomore, so he would have retained leverage even if he returned for his junior year. He was poised to become the best college catching prospect in the country, but instead, he took $500k to join the Blue Jays’ system. Again, not a one of us can fault him, but the frustration over what might have been is real.


Though starter is likely sorted, who will vie for backup role?

The Sophomore Option

#12 So. C/1B/DH/UTL Dominic Keegan (.227/.320/.273)

Keegan played sparingly last season (15 games; 0 starts), and registered 5 hits in 22 at bats. With catcher Ty Duvall returning for his senior year, Keegan is likely to find few options to play behind the plate, but he will have a good shot to get playing time at 1B and DH. He’s a right handed power bat who can generate excellent exit velocity,

The sophomore power bat went 5-12 with a HR, 3B, and 3 RBI in three pre-season exhibition games—splitting time at catcher with freshman C.J. Rodriguez.

The Freshmen

#5 Fr. C C.J. “Chi-Chi” Rodriguez (N/A)

Not sure how many of you know this, but Coach Corbin chooses the numbers for his players—not the other way around. As such, it is quite telling that Rodriguez, and not Duvall or Keegan, has been given the #5—the number worn by the past three starting catchers: Philip Clarke, Jason Delay, and Spencer Navin.

Based purely on the small sample size of Fall Ball games, I completely see what Corbs sees in Chi-Chi.

Behind the plate, he looks like a natural. At the plate? Well, he went 2 for 3 against Michigan.

#55 Fr. C Maxwell “Max Power” Romero, Jr. (N/A)

I know much less about Max Power—except that he got his name from a hair dryer—as he did not see action in any of the three preseason exhibition games against Michigan and Okie State. He did play in the Black and Gold series, and went 1 for 4. If I had to guess, I’d put him in the “likely to redshirt” camp.


The Conclusion

It’s Duvy’s job, but Rodriguez and Keegan are likely to compete for the scraps at backup catcher, first base, and DH. I’d give the early nod to Chi-Chi as the backup backstop.