2014 San Jose Giants Season Preview: Catcher

By Joe Ritzo

2014-Season-PreviewThe San Jose Giants season preview series continues this week with a look at the catching position. After achieving career-high totals in doubles (26), home runs (13) and RBI’s (61) while doing a stellar job of handling San Jose’s talented pitching staff, last year’s starting catcher Jeff Arnold is almost certainly headed to Double-A Richmond this season. In 2014, the San Jose catching position could be filled from a group of four players who saw time behind the dish in Augusta last season, three of which already have experience in the California League.

Ben Turner is the most likely candidate for the starting catching position in San Jose to begin this season. Turner was a 21st round draft pick in 2012 out of Missouri, where he was a two-time Big 12 All-Academic selection. He spent all of last year in Augusta seeing significant time at both catcher and first base. In 100 games overall, Turner hit .249 with 19 doubles, two home runs and 38 RBI’s. After splitting time between the two positions in the first half, Turner was almost exclusively a catcher after the All-Star break as he settled into a regular role on the team.

Turner is unique in that he’s taller than most catchers (listed at 6’5″). While he didn’t produce much power a season ago, Turner is an excellent defender. In fact, he didn’t commit an error the entire year from behind the plate while also throwing out an impressive 35 percent of attempted basestealers.

Another strength of Turner’s game is that he’ll put the ball in play. Turner finished the 2013 campaign as the toughest player to strikeout in the entire South Atlantic League (one strikeout ever 17.2 at-bats). There was even a stretch over the middle portion of the season that saw Turner go a remarkable 90 consecutive at-bats without a strikeout.

Turner was a non-roster invitee to big league camp this spring, but he’ll need a big year in 2014 to achieve top prospect status. In all likelihood, Turner will bring his top-flight defensive game and contact skills to the California League where he’ll bat in the bottom portion of the lineup and handle another excellent pitching staff.

Two players who served as San Jose’s back-up catcher last year in Eric Sim and Eliezer Zambrano are candidates to return this season. Sim began 2013 in Augusta splitting time behind the dish with Turner throughout the first half. Despite batting just .193 in 63 games with the GreenJackets, Sim received a promotion to the Giants in July. He performed much better offensively in the California League (albeit in a more part-time role as Arnold’s back-up) posting a .276 batting average with 10 RBI’s in 17 games. Sim, who was born in South Korea and spent most of his youth in Canada, was a 27th round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2010. He hit .352 with six home runs in the Arizona Rookie League during the 2011 season.

Zambrano played in 28 games with San Jose last season serving as Arnold’s back-up through July before switching teams with Sim. Zambrano, now 27 years old and entering his ninth professional season, notched a .242 batting average with one home run over 95 at-bats in a Giants uniform last year. He then hit .230 in 20 games with Augusta.

It’s unlikely that both Sim and Zambrano would find themselves on San Jose’s opening day active roster as Turner’s back-up, but the possibility certainly exists that one could return to the California League this year.

The fourth catcher on Augusta’s team a season ago was Trevor Brown, who was profiled in detail on our middle infield preview. A 10th round pick two years ago out of UCLA, Brown was drafted as a catcher by the Giants. He caught in his first pro season with Salem-Keizer, but saw substantially more playing time at second base in 2013, first with Augusta and then down the stretch in San Jose. Brown almost certainly is headed back to the California League, where he could return to the role he filled during the playoffs last year as the club’s primary second baseman. But given his history at the catching position (he caught 14 games overall in 2013), it would not be a surprise if he continued to work some at that spot. If nothing else, Brown’s inclusion on San Jose’s roster would give manager Lenn Sakata added flexibility.

Other catching candidates for San Jose this season including the organization’s top two catching draft picks last June: 12th rounder Ty Ross and 15th rounder Geno Escalante. Ross, out of collegiate powerhouse LSU, hit .243 with 11 doubles in 31 games last summer for Salem-Keizer (Short-Season). Escalante, who was drafted out of Mount Olive College where he was the 2013 Division II National Defensive Player of the Year, split time with Ross in Salem-Keizer batting .300 with eight doubles and one homer in 39 games. Catcher Leonardo Rojas, a 15th round pick in 2012 out of Miami-Dade CC, could also jump to San Jose after batting .306 in 17 games with Salem-Keizer last summer, mainly as a DH.

2014 San Jose Giants Catching Candidates
(2013 regular season statistics are listed)

Trevor Brown, 2B/C
– San Jose: .172 AVG, 0 HR, 4 RBI, 0 SB
– Augusta: .250 AVG, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 10 SB

Geno Escalante, C
– Salem-Keizer: .300 AVG, 1 HR, 19 RBI, 0 SB

Leonardo Rojas, C

– Salem-Keizer: .306 AVG, 1 HR, 9 RBI, 0 SB

Ty Ross, C
– Salem-Keizer: .243 AVG, 0 HR, 8 RBI, 1 SB

Eric Sim, C
– San Jose: .276 AVG, 0 HR, 10 RBI, 0 SB
– Augusta: .193 AVG, 2 HR, 20 RBI, 2 SB

Ben Turner, C
– Augusta: .249 AVG, 2 HR, 38 RBI, 4 SB

Eliezer Zambrano, C
– San Jose: .242 AVG, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 0 SB
– Augusta: .230 AVG, 0 HR, 6 RBI, 2 SB

The 2014 San Jose Giants preview series will conclude next week with a look at the bullpen.

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