The catcher position will be a key position to watch during the Detroit Tigers spring training. It was clear that Alex Avila was hurt in 2012 and
that effected what he was able to do with the bat. Although it is being reported that Alex is pain free this year the question remains whether he can match his numbers from 2011. That is why the Tigers signed Brayan Pena to a one year contract in the off season. This gives the Detroit Tigers a solid major league veteran to rest Avila during the dog days of summer. Pena played 140 games for the Kansas City Royals over the last two years and was a serviceable back-up. He hit .236 with 2 HR and 25 RBI over 212 AB in 2012. Pena’s .994 fielding percentage behind the plate will help the Tigers maintain defensive consistency when the back-up enters the game.
It is fair to ask whether or not fans should even expect Avila to return to the 2011 form of .295 19 HR 82 RBI. A year that earned him a silver slugger and a spot on the American League All-Star team. In fact, 2011 represented career highs for the Tigers backstop in nearly every offensive category. He has only hit double digit home-runs one other time (f12 or AA Erie) and over .290 one other time (.305 for A West Michigan). It is difficult to expect Avila to match his career year when he has not even come close to those numbers in any other year he has been in the majors.
That is why the Tigers move to get Pena was brilliant. Pena’s durability and reliable defense might be just the thing Jim Leyland needs to feel better about resting Avila. With a healthy Avila playing 120 games and Pena picking up the rest it is safe to project the duo should post a .265 average with 14 HR and 75 RBI. That would be good production for the eigth spot in the batting order and help the Tigers end the scoring drought that occurred in the bottom third of the order last year.
So what about Bryan Holaday and Ramon Cabrera? They are on the 40 man roster but don’t look for them to come north with the team. With Avila and Pena taking most of the ABs at catcher, Tigers Brass will probably opt to have Holaday and Cabrera start the season on the farm. Bryan Holaday doesn’t show much promise never hitting much over .250 in the minors with little power. He is young though and could develop with playing time. However Cabrera is developing into quite a catching prospect. Originally from, the Pittsburgh organization, the 23 year old Venezuelan has .292 minor league batting average to compliment a .991 fielding percentage. Barring an injury, the Tigers will want these players to hone there skills in the minor league system.
In closing, the catcher position is pretty well set for Detroit Tigers spring training and with the combo of Avila and Pena we should have solid production and defense throughout the season. More importantly we will have a healthy Alex Avila for the play-offs, something that the Tigers have had to do without the last two postseasons.