August 29, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros catcher Chris Snyder (18) reacts after a call strike in the third inning against the San Francisco Giants at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
In lieu of Hank Conger’s troubles throwing the baseball so far this spring, the Angels have signed catcher Chris Snyder to a minor-league deal with an out-clause that will allow him to become a free agent if he fails to make the Opening Day roster. Snyder was released by the Washington Nationals earlier today after being signed to a minor-league contract with them just six weeks ago. The announcement of the two moves came at almost exactly the same time. The Angels had been rumoured to be sniffing around Rockies backup Ramon Hernandez as well and could still be in on him.
Conger is hitting the cover off the ball so far in Cactus League play and the 25-year-old has long been a promising prospect, but his limitations defensively have always held him back—especially since Mike Scioscia has a certain affection for slightly-above-average defensive catchers (see Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson).
Conger was to be Chris Iannetta’s primary backup this season, but he is 0-for-6 in throwing out attempted base-stealers and has committed four throwing errors. He even had trouble throwing the ball back to the pitcher this past weekend. For all intents and purposes, Conger appears to be suffering from the Yips. Or Jose Offerman syndrome. Or the Rick Ankiel disorder. Whatever it is, the Angels are clearly concerned.
Having said that, Snyder is not exactly Johnny Bench and although he has a decent Major League track record, he was atrocious in Houston last season hitting a woeful .176/.295/.308 for a 67 wRC+. No amount of good defense can excuse that kind of hitting and Snyder is no gold-glover. He couldn’t even warrant a minor-league deal with the Nationals, who were, granted, basically set at the catcher position with Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos at the Major League level and Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon expected to tandem at AAA-Syracuse.
Snyder is nothing more than an insurance pickup in case Conger’s yips don’t go away and it shouldn’t be treated as any more than that. Having said that, Hernandez is a much better option and has become expendable in Colorado with the emergence of Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco and Yorvit Torrealba still on the roster.
Conger is still only 25 and catchers tend to take a bit longer to develop than most position players due to the amount of time they have to spend on things other than basic skills (i.e. learning how to call a game, frame pitches, counsel pitchers, etc.). He still has another year of options, meaning the Angels can send him to Salt Lake to work on his defense if he continues to struggle. Plus, it never hurts to have a third capable catcher on the roster in case of injury—something that affects catchers more than most other position players. Right now, outside of Iannetta and Conger, the Angels have John Hester and Luke Carlin—not exactly the type of catchers I’d want to see getting significant playing time.
And it’s not as though Conger has done anything at the Major League level as of yet that should guarantee him a roster spot—he has a career .272 wOBA in 253 plate appearances. I understand the inclination to give him regular playing time at the Major League level, but the Angels actually have a better option right now in Iannetta. It’s not like they’re playing Jeff Mathis over him.
Either way, unless the Angels do get a more experienced backup like Hernandez, Conger is likely to see a decent slice of playing time whether Snyder makes the team out of training camp or not—unless the yips never go away.