The Chicago Cubs have had problems throughout the lineup so far this season -- including the catcher's position. With 2012 all but lost, the Cubs need to start looking ahead. Who has earned the starting catcher position for the remainder of the season and beyond? I cast my vote for rookie Steve Clevenger.
The 2008 National League Rookie of the Year looked set to be the Cubs' #1 catcher for many years. Geovany Soto batted .285 and belted 23 home runs while driving in 86 runs that year and was a huge reason the Cubs won the division. Since then, however, Soto has not produced the same results. His closest season was 2010 (.280, 17 HR, 53 RBI), but he slipped in 2011. So far in 2012, Soto has hit a disappointing .161 with only three home runs and six RBI in 93 at bats. I keep rooting for his return to 2008 form, but I am getting more realistic. Soto went on the disabled list on May 19 with a left knee injury, and we do not yet know when he might return.
Other 2012 catchers
Since Soto's injury, the Cubs have tried four other catchers including backup Steve Clevenger and prospect Wellington Castillo. The Cubs called up Blake Lalli and re-signed Koyie Hill to fill in while Clevenger and Castillo recovered from their own injuries. Entering play on June 6, Castillo, Lalli, and Hill have combined for 12 hits in 72 at bats plus three walks for an average of .167 and an on-base percentage of .200. Only Castillo has gotten on base more than 20% of the time. Backup and replacement catchers' first job is defense, but they do need to hit better than this.
Rookie Steve Clevenger beat out Castillo for the backup position, and he has proved his worth so far. He recently came off the disabled list himself and became the starter by default. Overall through June 5, Clevenger has hit .357 with six doubles in 42 at bats. He does not have the power that Soto has, but he puts the ball in play much more often. He has struck out only three times, and he could have more than six RBI if he had runners on to drive in. The Cubs have not scored much at all the entire season (with a few exceptions).
Defensively, Clevenger is okay. Although he has made no errors, runners are 10 for 10 against Clevenger. The other catchers have not done much better. Clevenger's throw-outs will come, and he handles the pitching well. He has only one passed ball and two wild pitches allowed in 86 innings.
Earned the starting role
I do not know what manager Dale Sveum will do when Soto returns from injury, but I hope he keeps Clevenger in the starting lineup. I like Soto, but I really like the offense that Clevenger has provided so far. Now, let us see if the rest of the lineup can produce this much from here on.
Cubs Press Release, Cubs Place Catcher Geovany Soto on 15-Day DL, Recall Right-Hander Randy Wells from Triple-A, cubs.mlb.com, May 19, 2012.
Major League Baseball, Sortable Player Statistics, cubs.mlb.com as of June 6, 2012.
Raymond grew up in Florida and began watching the Cubs on WGN in 1982. He became a fan in 1984 when Ryne Sandberg hit the two famous game-tying home runs off Cardinals closer and former Cub Bruce Sutter. Raymond then solidified his team loyalty when the Cubs won the division later that season and has been a fan ever since. Follow Raymond on Twitter @RayBureau.
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