Every year, an inordinate number of catchers are invited to spring trainings all across Major League Baseball. The practice seems odd, but baseball fans understand that it is little more than a numbers game; with so many pitchers in camp, the team needs more catchers to handle the heavy workload. It is very rare that a non-roster invitee catcher makes a big league roster, and 2015 does not project to be one of those years for the Tigers. Alex Avila is the odds-on starter, James McCann will look to carve out as much playing time as he can, and Bryan Holaday is a solid third option should one of the other two suffer an injury.
The Tigers have four other catchers with them in Lakeland right now. Here are the players with the most thankless job at Tigers spring training.
Gonzalez is a new addition to the organization after spending seven years with the Chicago White Sox. They signed him as an amateur free agent out of Venezuela when he was a teenager, and he made his stateside debut in 2009. He hit well in rookie ball but spent two years at Single-A Kannapolis, where he hit just .231/.283/.294 in 562 plate appearances. He continued to progress through Chicago's farm system despite poor offensive numbers, and made his MLB debut against the Tigers on September 10th, 2013. Gonzalez went 2-for-9 in five games with the major league club that September. He spent the entire 2014 season in the minors, hitting .253/.306/.384 between Double and Triple A.
Gonzalez will likely bounce between Double and Triple A in the Tigers' farm system as well, but he looks to be a clear #4 on the organizational depth chart behind Avila, McCann, and Holaday. Gonzalez is regarded as a solid defender, but, as indicated above, his offensive numbers are lacking. Barring a Yadier Molina-esque offensive breakout -- Gonzalez is still only 24, after all -- we probably won't hear much from him going forward.
Green was the Tigers' 13th round pick in the 2013 draft, and he has done nothing but hit since he signed his contract. He split time between short season Connecticut and Single-A West Michigan in 2013, hitting .252/.325/.360 in 123 plate appearances between the two levels. The Tigers assigned Green to Advanced-A Lakeland in 2014, where he hit .263/.306/.432 with 15 home runs and 53 RBI in 433 plate appearances. Now 25, Green probably won't be much more than an organizational player. He will likely start the year at Double-A Erie.
The unquestioned "prize" of the group, Greiner is our #11 prospect in the Tigers organization for 2015. He was drafted by the Tigers in the third round of the 2014 amateur draft. After signing, Greiner put up some impressive offensive numbers before injuring his left hand. He had surgery this offseason to repair the fractured bone, but appears to be back to 100 percent this spring.
Here's what I had to say about Greiner on our top prospect list.
A massive catcher out of South Carolina -- think Joe Mauer tall -- Greiner's defense is his calling card. Normally, six-foot-six catchers are moved to other positions, but Greiner displays solid athleticism and good receiving skils, leading many to believe he will stick at the position. He doesn't have the bat to play elsewhere at the moment, but he may yet add some power onto his massive frame. He has a long swing, but a good approach at the plate. The bat will determine how high Greiner's stock rises, but an .839 OPS in 104 plate appearances at West Michigan in 2014 is a good start.
Pina is a 27-year-old Venezuelan catcher who started his minor league career with the Texas Rangers. He spent five years in their system after signing as an amateur free agent in 2004. The Rangers traded him to the Royals in 2009, where he progressed to the upper minors. He made his MLB debut with the Royals on August 3rd, 2011. Two days later, he went 0-for-3 against Rick Porcello and the Tigers. Pina has three hits in 16 career at-bats at the MLB level. Like Gonzalez and Green, Pina provides more catching depth in the high minors.