Bryan Anderson was drafted in 2005. He was a much hyped offensive potential for a backstop who others thought would develop power down the road. When that power projection didn’t come to fruition, Anderson took a big hit in the eyes of analysts. Each year, it seems like I make an obligatory “Bryan Anderson is still good/useful/prospecty” post regarding his value.
Acknowledging that Bryan Anderson is a valuable commodity or future MLB backstop didn’t always translate to advocating him in the majors. It did always advocate for him being ahead of Matt Pagnozzi on any proverbial depth chart though. It seems like the Cardinals have firmly committed to that decision — whether that was always the internal ranking or if all parties involved believed in that assessment is a different story and not one I’ve been privy to — with their release of Matt Pagnozzi, per Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
This winter the club intends to seek more from the role after Jason La Rue announced he would retire following three years in the role. Left unsaid is a desire for the next backup to take on more of the catching load; Yadier Molina has ended the last three seasons with knee issues.
If ever there was a prescription for giving Anderson some playing time it’s the above quote combined with a very good 2010 performance in Memphis. Anderson’s spent time working with Mike Matheny and while he won’t win any gold gloves, he’s not such a liability that he can’t catch a game or two a week.
Anderson is a left-handed hitter. Molina is a right-handed hitter. While Molina’s past offensive production and superb defense argue against a strict platoon, the opportunity to leverage off days in ideal situations both for starts and late inning pinch hitting is ideal.
Anderson’s heaviest workloads came in 2006 & 2006 when he accumulated over 400 PAs as the primary catcher for Quad Cities & Springfield. (Anderson skipped Palm Beach altogether.) Since then he’s seen significant though pronounced split time behind the plate with a co-catcher at Springfield & Memphis. So while no one would expect him to take on a full catching load in 2011, he’s also used to being in the game sporadically.
The downside is that Anderson might benefit from more playing time than he’d see with Yadier Molina. The manager and many of the pitchers would almost certainly have a definitive preference for Molina, who has shown little desire to remove himself from games even when it is prudent to do so. If the concerns regarding Molina’s knee are significant (and based on his missing time in 2010 and reduced offensive production, there has to be some concern even if it’s inappropriate to decisively link his offense to an injury), the task falls to the manager to effectively integrate a young catcher who is still learning how to call a game but who also has as much offensive potential as any backup catcher since Yadier Molina was protege to Mike Matheny.
Anderson put up a .270/.341/.448 line in Memphis last season over 300 PAs. That’s a tick better than average offensive production without regard to position. Anderson’s climb to the majors would likely reduce that production at the beginning and it would be misleading to indicate that he’ll be better than a .290-.300 wOBA hitter in a good season. But a .290 wOBA hitter is better than the Cardinals have had as a backstop since 2004 with Yadi when he hit .267/.329/.356 behind Matheny. A .290 wOBA hitter is 1 WAR player from the catcher position over a full season (assuming neutral defense).
The bar simply isn’t set high for offensive production from a backup catcher.
So getting increased offensive production, even if your not a Bryan Anderson believer, is a very low bar relative to recent catching performances. If Anderson puts together a .270/.315/.360 he’s achieved a .290 wOBA performance. Anderson has a history of hitting for average and drawing walks. If the bulk of his opportunities are against right handed pitchers, there is a strong case to be made that he can achieve these levels of production.
None of this is meant to indicate that Bryan Anderson is a world beater. He’s a useful role player right now and the Cardinals would be prudent to see what, if anything, he can be long term. Yadier Molina’s team friendly contract is up in 2012 (option year at $7M) and the team may wind up looking for more than a backup catcher. It’s still an open question how productive Anderson will be at the majors but he’s tailor made for the Cardinals current needs. He comes at minimal monetary cost and, potentially, could play a larger role on the team in the future. 2011 should be the year of Bryan Anderson, backup catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.