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A’s backup catcher competition heating up

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Aramis Garcia, or Austin Allen?

Milwaukee Brewers v Oakland Athletics
The Masked Hitter
Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have most of their Opening Day roster in place, but there are still a few final spots in question. One of them is at catcher, where there are multiple candidates competing for a secondary job alongside primary starter Sean Murphy.

There are several catchers still in MLB spring camp, but only two of them are already on the 40-man roster: Aramis Garcia and Austin Allen. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t see a surprise non-roster invitee nab the position, but for now we’ll assume the overwhelmingly likely case that it’s between the two rostered players.

Big picture, Garcia and Allen are similar as sluggers with a lot to prove. Allen has shown more aptitude for making contact in the upper minors, while Garcia is the better defender with a potentially plus arm, but both have power in their bats. They’ve each briefly played in the majors, but neither has set himself apart yet.

Let’s start with their spring stats.

  • Allen: 6-for-22, HR, 3 doubles, 1 BB, 7 Ks
  • Garcia: 6-for-18, 2 doubles, 3 BB, 9 Ks

They have the same number of hits in almost the same number of plate appearances, but Garcia has gotten on base a couple extra times and Allen has shown slightly more power. They’ve both struck out too much. Add it up and their OPS marks are .850 and .873, and it doesn’t really matter which is which. It’s a tie by this measure.

Any hints from manager Bob Melvin?

Alright, good progress for Allen on defense.

How about Garcia?

While Allen is pure bat-first with the hope of improving on defense, Garcia already draws praise for his work behind the plate. Melvin cites Garcia’s throwing arm, his framing skills, and his ability to work well with pitchers, saying, “He can really catch.” But after striking out in 46.8% of his MLB plate appearances so far in his career, and then missing 2020 to injury, the eye is on his bat in the Cactus League as he tries to tap into his power. So far he has a 42.9% strikeout rate this spring.

So who will get the Opening Day roster spot?

“It’ll play out to the end,” said Melvin.

More Melvin, via insider Martin Gallegos: “Performance is certainly part of it. But there are some other variables in play. Murph’s health is a part of it. There are also things behind the scenes.”

There are now seven spring training games left on the schedule. One way or other, we’ll find out soon!

Hot takes

Entering the spring, my personal hunch was Garcia would get the job out of camp. I’m sticking with that guess.

My primary reason is that he’s the superior defender, which is always the top priority for a catcher. I don’t know for sure if either will hit in the majors, but I know Garcia will at least be adequate or better behind the plate. That’s the tiebreaker for me.

You could also choose a different tiebreaker, which is that Allen is the left-handed batter while Garcia is righty. That gives Allen the platoon advantage, pairing with the righty Murphy. But that’s a luxury consideration at the catcher position, not something to base the decision on. If they were equal defenders then perhaps, but reports indicate there’s a significant difference on the more important side of the ball.

And anyway, Murphy doesn’t need a platoon partner so much as just a time-share. He’ll hit against anybody, so the playing time can be distributed in such a way as to maximize whoever gets the secondary job alongside him. Personally, the L/R distinction is meaningless to me in this particular battle.

I’m going with Garcia. Who’ve you got? Vote in the poll! With apologies to NRIs Carlos Perez and Francisco Peña, who are still in camp but would require costly transactions in order to join the 40-man roster (more info on them).

Poll

Who do you think will be the second catcher on the A’s 2021 Opening Day roster?

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    Austin Allen
    (149 votes)
  • 66%
    Aramis Garcia
    (302 votes)
451 votes total Vote Now

Extra note: Over in Texas Rangers spring camp, Jonah Heim is 1-for-15 with a walk and a strikeout. The former A’s prospect was expected to be Oakland’s second catcher this season, before being traded to the Rangers in the Andrus/Davis deal that also brought Garcia to the green and gold.