Today is the first installment of a position-by-position look at the Pittsburgh Pirates camp battles in spring training.

We begin behind the plate, which was a sore spot both offensively and defensively during the 2010 campaign. Teams stole bases on the Pirates pitchers and catchers at an alarming rate a season ago. It was so alarming that it prompted Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington into making some midseason changes.

Ryan Doumit started the season as the Pirates’ primary backstop, but his defensive struggles prompted Huntington to acquire Chris Snyder at the trade deadline.

However the catching situation plays out, the production must increase both offensively and defensively.

Let’s take a look at who’s in camp.


Chris Snyder

2010 Stats: .207 AVG, 15 HR, 48 RBI

2011 Salary: $5,250,000

Snyder does a better job handling the pitching staff and will likely open the season as the starter. He has the best arm of the current Pirates catchers ready for the big leagues, and the Pirates pitchers should respond to having Snyder behind the plate for an entire season.

Offensively, Snyder offers up a little pop with the bat, but don’t get too excited about it, since he’s never hit more than 16 home runs in a season. He also puts up decent numbers against left-handers.

Fantasy Value: Very little. You can take a chance on his modest power and chance at regular playing time. He may reward you with a 20-homer season, but that career lifetime .229 average should drive fantasy owners away.

Overview: Snyder will be the Pirates’ primary catcher. Any offense they get from him will be a bonus. His job is to help turn this pitching staff around. Given the choices, he’s the right guy for the job.


Ryan Doumit

2010 Stats: .251 AVG, 13 HR, 45 RBI

2011 Salary: $5,100,000

Calling Doumit a huge disappointment throughout his Pirates career would be being kind. Entering his seventh season in the majors, we are still waiting for any glimpse of what the Pirates felt Doumit would become.

Defensively, Doumit is way below average as a catcher. He can’t handle a staff. He’s inadequate calling a game and he has a subpar throwing arm. Passed balls have also become commonplace with Doumit, as he’s not off to a good start this spring catching the ball either.

With the bat, Doumit has underachieved as well. The Pirates always were excited about what he could do with the bat, but the facts are that Doumit has only hit above .275 once (.318 in 2008), only hit 15 homers once (15 in 2008) and only driven in more then 46 runs once (65 in 2008) in his entire career.

Granted there have been some injuries, but it’s more likely the Pirates face the fact that Doumit isn’t an everyday major league player.

Fantasy Value: A trade would likely help Doumit’s fantasy value. When he gets going, which hasn’t been often enough for the Pirates, he can hit. A change of scenery could be good for a guy like Doumit. He has eligibility at catcher even if he’s dealt and winds up playing another position.

Overview: It looks more likely that Doumit will open the season with the Pirates. His versatility is a bonus, though he doesn’t play any one position really well. Within time though, Doumit will certainly be traded. It makes sense to move his salary and finally just part ways with him. 

To start the season though, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle will likely find some at-bats for Doumit, so he will be given an opportunity to produce.


Jason Jaramillo

2010 Stats: .149 AVG, 1 HR, 6 RBI

2011: Salary $97,500

If the Pirates elect to keep three catchers, Jaramillo will likely find himself with a bench role. If they only elect to keep two, then it may be down to AAA for a bit for Jaramillo.

Jaramillo is an average backup catcher. He will do an average job defensively and offer up nothing with the bat.

Fantasy Value: None.

Overview: Jaramillo is well liked in the Pirates clubhouse, but it’s no big deal if he doesn’t make the club. Even if he doesn’t and Doumit is dealt, the Pirates could still look for a No. 2 catcher that offers up a little more value.


Other Catchers In Camp

There are three others in camp, but they have little chance to make the club. That includes Wyatt Toregas, who caught 19 games with the Cleveland Indians in 2009; and Dusty Brown, who caught 13 combined games in 2009 and 2010 for the Boston Red Sox.


Key Stat

This is looking at the pitchers as well, but the Pirates were last in the majors in throwing runners out a season ago. Pirates catchers allowed 116 stolen bases a season ago and threw out runners only 22 percent of the time. That’s one area that they must make drastic improvements.


Keep an Eye on

Tony Sanchez: Sanchez is the Pirates catcher of the future and could arrive sooner, rather than later. An injury slowed him down a bit last season, but keep an eye on his progression. If everything goes well, Sanchez could arrive and be the Pirates’ primary catcher sometime in 2012.

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