Put on your art deco and barf tinted glasses and this could be Opening Day 2012.
The catcher position saw the departure of two Depth Chart giants this offseason in Ramon Hernandez and Yasmani Grandal. Though Hernandez - among other reasons - had to walk in order to clear space for Mesoraco and pick up a compensation pick, Grandal's departure via the Latos trade was a serious blow to the depth behind the two MLB starters.
But the state of the backstop union is still strong - due not only to the ascendancy of Mesoraco, but the reliability of Ryan Hanigan. Hanigan has found an even keel where he can be counted on to get on base at around a .360 clip, hit a smattering of home runs, and throw out base runners over 1/3 of the time. While there's a big drop-off after #2 on the list, Navarro can't completely be dismissed as filler.
Here's a look at the line of succession at catcher entering the 2012 season. I put these in order major league readines, with a "Starter/Backup" column to indicate how the player would factor on the MLB club, even if hypothetically. If Dioner Navarro joined the team, aside from meaning something bad had happened, I'd expect him to be a starter and play at least 40% of the time. However, if Corky were called up, I'd expect him to play 1/3 of the time or less alongside...whomever was still standing after the Catcher Flu Pandemic of late June 2012.
|| 40 man?
||Zips projected OPS+
||S/BU?||PT (%)||Expected level on OD 2012
Ceiling: 60% of MLB starts
Hanigan was signed by the Reds 10 years ago this August and played behind Miguel Perez at AA Chattanooga in his mid-20s. It's been a long road to the top of the chart, but it made for a good montage sequence. RyHan's ability to get on base, with a walk rate that peaked above 13% in 2010, makes him a bargain at $1.2M. And he's also valuable for harder-to-quantify reasons, which include an intimate knowledge of the pitching staff and apparent skill at framing pitches.
While there's injury risk (most recently with his back last season,) and concerns about durability (he's never made more than 73 starts in a season), I don't see why he can't maintain his current production at least through the end of his contract in 2012. Even playing half the time, he can be equal to a league average full-timer (at 2-3 WAR). With Hernandez gone and Mesoraco easing into the big leagues, I would expect Hanigan to get at least half the starts, though 90-95 appearances is probably his upper limit.
2012 ceiling: 75% of MLB starts
It would be a shock if the nearly-consensus top prospect in the system didn't break camp with the big league team after appearing in 18 major league games last season. The much more burning question facing the Reds is how much he plays. If, for some reason, there's a reluctance to start him at least once every three days, then there would also be a temptation to limit his service time by stowing him in the minors. But I don't think Hanigan's durability or the win-now strategy will let either of these things happen. Not to mention that's there's a good deal of excitement surrounding the Kid, who's gotten out with the people at a number of events including the Winter Caravan.
The normal Dusty Veteran rules don't apply here, given his preference for preserving his catchers and giving them a pretty even playing time split - but that may depend on how quickly Mesoraco makes the adjustment this season.
2012 ceiling: 35% of MLB starts
Navarro comes over from the Dodgers, where he spent most of the season backing up Rod Barajas. Before that, you may have heard of him as a former Tampa Bay Ray, where he made his name as an all-star in 2008. It's been a steep downfall from there, as he's seen his at bat count decline every year since then, resulting in a stint in AAA in 2010 in the Rays system. Barring a significant injury in the spring, that's likely where he'll go again this year, where he looks to get most of the time behind the plate for David Bell's Bats squad, with some DH (and possible 1B) appearances thrown in for good measure. He's due $800K if he makes it to the majors this year, but until that happens, he's a solid insurance policy to have at AAA. It's also nice to have 2 veteran catchers handling the pitching staff in AAA who can offer advice on major-league hitters and other things of that nature. Essentially another coach.
2012 ceiling: 10% of MLB starts
There aren't too many Reds more beloved than Corky Miller, and for good reason. He's basically Crash Davis with a cooler mustache. He's most valuable working with young pitchers in AAA, and that's where we expect him to spend most of his summer. If he's starting for the Reds, there's either a lot of injury problems or the team is a lot of games out of 1st place. I don't think a September callup is out of the question for the Corkster, but only if someone gets injured.
2012 ceiling: 1% of MLB starts
Admit it, when you saw the spring training roster for the first time, this was the guy who made you say "who the hell is that?". He's longtime minor leaguer Brian Esposito, and he's in camp for roster filler. From now on, I plan on calling him "lame Corky Miller", because that's basically what he is. Drafted by the Red Sox, he's spent times with the Angels, Rangers, Cardinals, Rockies, and most recently the Astros. He's seen major league time in 2 separate seasons, in 2010 with the Astros and in 2007 with the enemy Cardinals, so he's no stranger to the NL Central. Or maybe he is, whatever. He'll likely be gracing the brand new team in Pensacola with his veteran presence.
2012 ceiling: 0% of MLB starts
By now you're likely familiar with what Tucker brings to the table, but after Mesoraco, he's the next best catching prospect in the system. The reason why he's so low on this depth chart is that he's that far away from the big leagues, but is promising nonetheless. He'll likely take his talents to Bakersfield.