After last week’s trade of Hank Conger to the Houston Astros, the Angels suddenly have a void to fill behind the plate. The duo of Conger and Chris Iannetta started all 162 games in 2014, with Conger starting 70 of those games. Many speculate that GM Jerry Dipoto will be on the hunt for a veteran backstop on a one-year deal. Likely it will be a solid defensive catcher who can handle somewhere between 50-70 starts over the course of the season. Personally, I think this will be the most probable outcome, but personally, I think that’s pretty bland and the thought of Gerald Laird doesn’t get me the littlest bit excited.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s say Dipoto doesn’t sign a veteran. Or, god forbid, one of our big league catchers goes down with an injury. Then what happens? The Angels would have to rely on their farm system to get the job done. The top two catching prospects in the Angels’ farm system currently are Carlos Perez and Jett Bandy. Perez is ranked as the #10 prospect in the Angels’ system (by MLB.com) and Bandy is unranked, although he put up exceptional numbers last year in Double-A. Let’s match them up and see who would come out victorious in the Battle of the Backups.
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Carlos Perez – As you probably know by now, Perez was acquired along with RHP Nick Tropeano for C Hank Conger earlier this offseason. Although Conger was a fan favorite among the organization and is known for his strong framing skills, he was worth all of 0.4 fWAR in 2014 and I believe Dipoto got a strong return for a backup catcher. Perez played in 88 games last season for Houston’s AAA affiliate where he batted .259/.323/.385. When you consider he played in a hitter’s paradise, known as the Pacific Coast League, those numbers are incredibly underwhelming, even for a catcher. In Perez’s defense, he was just 23 last year and that was over three years younger than the average batter, so he definitely has time to shape up. He walked in 8.5% of his plate appearances and struck out in 15.8% of them, which are decent numbers but nothing special. Lucky for us, offense is not Perez’s calling card. He is known to be a defensive-first catcher and scouting reports are high on his abilities behind the dish. He threw out 32% of would-be base stealers last year, which is not too shabby for a 23 year old. If he does make the squad next year, it would purely be from his glove work and we know the plausibility of that (see Jeff Mathis, Bobby Wilson).
Jett Bandy – Probably one of the more underrated prospects in the Angels’ farm system. The former 31st round draft pick had a breakout season in 2014 for the Arkansas Travelers, batting .250/.348/.413 in 363 plate appearances. He crushed 13 long balls and walked over 9% of the time he stepped up to bat. His OBP increased significantly from .303 in 2013 and his SLG also jumped by 37 points. Just to put it into perspective, the average slugging percentage in the pitching friendly Texas League in 2014 was .373, so Bandy clearly has above average power potential. I am a little hesitant to declare Jett an offensive threat as his previous two years were not nearly as productive, but hopefully 2014 was a step in the right direction. As if his resume wasn’t impressive enough, Bandy has also been a force behind the plate. He gunned down a jaw dropping 40% of potential base stealers, which is outstanding for any level of play. Preventing stolen bases has been a major issue in the Angels’ play the last few years and I’m sure Bandy’s presence would be felt if he is allowed to play with the big squad.
So between the two young backstops, who comes out on top? While Jett Bandy looks like the stronger prospect, it’s a little difficult to compare the two. Bandy had a breakout year while Perez had a pretty normal season when you look at his career numbers. Perez was up against much older and tougher competition whereas Bandy competed with players closer to his age and skill level. Ultimately, I think if a veteran catcher isn’t signed as a clear backup to Iannetta this winter, Spring Training will be the final measuring stick for the job. If you recall, J.B Shuck won the fourth outfield spot in 2013 and Collin Cowgill dethroned him for the position in 2014, both because of strong performances in Spring Training. I am positive that both catchers will be invited to play in the Cactus League in February and how they perform could decide which team they play for in the spring.
Final Decision: Barring any veteran signings, I would give the nod to Jett Bandy. I like his combination of patience and power and his sterling defense doesn’t hurt either. The offseason is still in it’s infancy and we have a long way to go before we can make final conclusions about the roster, but as it stands right now, Jett Bandy is my pick over Carlos Perez for the backup catching gig.