Jon Shepherd: An adequate catcher is hard to find

A week ago, it was announced that Matt Wieters had received a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection to help his recovery for his strained right elbow. Without knowing anything about his particular case, as well as reminding you that he has not yet been scheduled for surgery, I suspected that the team would soon be welcoming another catcher because PRPs tend to be a Hail Mary sort of treatment.

The concept behind the PRP treatment is that your blood has a variety of components that assist with healing. These components tend to become more available when injury occurs and they concentrate where that injury is located through the blood. PRP tries to maximize this process by concentrating that collection of recognized healing factors and directly injecting them into tissue layers that do not have a great deal of blood supply going to them. As promising and popular as this treatment is, there are no conclusive large-scale studies showing that this treatment actually improves healing. In fact, PRP did not appear to affect the future of the last Oriole who received an injection as treatment for his arm: Dylan Bundy.

It seemed obvious to me that the Orioles would take what extra parts they had and look to deal them for a true catcher. One can argue that they probably have not found on yet even though they did acquire the Padres' third catcher, Nick Hundley, who is in his final year of team control and is able to decline his remaining options due to having over five years of service time in the majors. The problem with Hundley is that he does a couple things well and a couple of things rather poorly. That feast-or-famine collection of skills makes him a useful in selected scenarios, but a detriment if exposed in situations where he is not in the best position for success. It is a description that he has never changed throughout his professional career.

In 2005, Hundley was drafted in the second round and was noted for his power, as well as being skilled at blocking pitches in the dirt and gunning down base runners. The questions were that the bat only showed up in practice as dead pull power and he was a little clumsy in his pitch handling. That characterization followed him throughout his progression in the minors as well as his time in the majors. The current package now is a batter whose only positive attribute is power that shows as a reverse platoon split and a defender who does everything well except that he has been poor at pitch framing, on average giving up about 10 runs worth of value per year as a part-time player.

His relatively unchanging defensive skill set is not incredibly unique. In fact, several organizations will not draft catchers who have not shown proficiency behind the plate because improvement is considered quite rare. I decided to look into how often amateur catchers with poor defense graduate to the big leagues as a catcher (the full article will appear tomorrow on Camden Depot). Using the first five rounds of the draft from 2004 through 2008, I compared two groups of catchers: those who Baseball America noted were defensively proficient and those who were not. What I found was that within this data set of 65 players, defensively proficient catchers at the time of the draft find themselves with significant time in the majors 43 percent of the time. Amateurs with poor defense became Major League catchers only 18 percent of the time. That difference is enough to make many agree with those organizations that do not take chances on poor defensive catchers.

It also can shine some light on the Orioles' difficulty with catching depth. Former scouting director Joe Jordan chose only two catchers in the first five rounds of the draft: Brandon Snyder and Wieters. That translated into Dan Duquette scrambling around the past couple of offseasons to find a rather difficult commodity. He has largely tried out catchers that other teams gave up on for various reasons, such as Taylor Teagarden, Johnny Monell, Luis Exposito, Chris Snyder and Luis Martinez. Those players did not contribute much to the Orioles is in the past couple of seasons and it may be the reason why the club drafted four catchers in the first 10 rounds in last year's draft. That was a good start, but it will be at least three seasons before that catching class makes its presence felt in the upper minors. In the meantime, the club will need to continue acquiring out-of-favor catchers like Hundley.

Jon Shepherd blogs about the Orioles at Camden Depot. Follow him on Twitter: @CamdenDepot. His thoughts on the O's appear here as part of MASNsports.com's continuing commitment to welcome guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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