With both Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek set to be free agents following the 2010 season, Boston could find itself looking for a new backstop in 2011. With Joe Mauer likely signing an extension to stay in Minnesota, the Red Sox may have to look to their farm system for a replacement.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, their catching situation in the minor leagues looks to be in strong shape.
"We had a pretty good year as far as the development of our young catchers," Red Sox assistant general manager Ben
Cherington told WEEI's Alex Speier.
"If you look at who the everyday catchers are today in the big leagues,? Cherington continued, ?a lot of them don?t look that different from a lot of the guys we have in the system right now."
The two catchers in the Red Sox system closest to the major leagues are Dusty Brown and Mark Wagner. Brown made his major league debut in September of 2009, cranking a home run and even making a brief appearance on the mound.
The 27-year-old has below-average power but possesses strong plate discipline and fundamental defensive skills. If there is ever a need for a backup catcher during the 2010 season, Brown figures to be the man.
Joining him in Pawtucket will be Wagner, 25. He has a higher offensive ceiling than Brown and also has a gun for an arm, throwing out a ridiculous 18 of 29 would-be base-stealers. Jason Varitek's 13 percent rate in 2009 pales in comparison to Wagner's 62 percent. Wagner is young enough to still develop into a solid starting catcher, but all indications point to him being a strong backup.
Still, it's the two younger catchers in the Red Sox farm system that have many excited.
The first, Luis Exposito, was signed out of high school after being a draft-and-follow player (a practice since abolished) in 2005. Fluent in both Spanish and English, Exposito may have the most raw power of any right-handed hitter in the minor league system, according to Red Sox farm director Mike Hazen.
Exposito is expected to open the season in Double-A Portland. Last year, the 23-year-old hit .337 in Portland with a .371 on-base percentage and .489 slugging percentage, albeit in just 92 at-bats. His numbers weren't as strong — but still quality — for Single-A Salem, where he spent the bulk of the year.
He also headed to the Arizona Fall League after the conclusion of the minor league season. The AFL is considered a showcase for a team's best prospects, so competition is stiff. His .314 average and .795 OPS indicates he more than held his own.
When Exposito was promoted to Double-A, Tim Federowicz took his place in Salem. The seventh-round pick in the 2008 draft was already considered a strong defensive catcher coming out of the University of North Carolina. Since joining Boston, however, he has received high praise for his leadership skills and has shown he is no slouch with the bat.
In 55 games for Single-A Greenville last season, he hit an impressive .345 with 10 home runs. He continued his slugging ways in Salem but still has to work on plate discipline to approach Exposito's level.
As the Red Sox transition out of the Varitek era and seek their new long-term answer behind the dish, their answer might be right in the farm system.