The demand for high quality catchers is higher than the supply. With final cuts looming in the next two weeks, the Padres have some decisions to make regarding the makeup of their catching staff and with Luke Carlin impressing with his defensive skills, the decision on whether to keep Carlin or Rob Bowen is becoming increasingly more difficult.
2006 Offense (Triple-A Portland): .266 in 244 AB, 14 doubles, 4 HR, 29 RBI, 49 BB, 54 SO, .392 OBP, .381 SLG, .773 OPS
Carlin's 49 walks and .392 OBP last season proved his ability to mesh well with the Padres more moneyball-esque approach to things. The switch hitting catcher does better batting from the right side of the plate but his success and numbers from 2006 were heavily reliant on his ability to hit well from the left side as well. Last season in Portland, Carlin worked with hitting coach Jose Castro to improve his coverage of inside pitches. Moving closer to the plate and becoming more comfortable with the inside pitch has given Carlin greater success and cut down on the number of balls he chases out of the zone.
2006 Defense (Triple-A Portland): .991 Fielding Percentage was second among all catchers in the Pacific Coast League. He caught 36% of runners attempting to steal (24 of 66).
Carlin is like a brick wall behind the plate. His part-time catching role in Portland was sometimes staggered however Carlin performed with unwavering consistency. The 26 year-old calls a good game and challenges hitters and pitchers alike by calling for pitches on the inside portion of the plate. Carlin's pick-off move to first has seen a lot of improvement.
2006 Offense (San Diego): .245 in 94 AB, 5 doubles, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 13 BB, 26 SO, .339 OBP, .394 SLG, .733 OPS
Bowen's offensive opportunities in 2006 were so limited it may be better to use his 2005 Triple-A stats from Rochester when comparing him to Carlin. Ironically, those stats are a spitting image of Carlin's 2006 numbers from Portland. The following are Bowen's 2005 numbers and Carlin's 2006 numbers:
Batting Average: Bowen .267, Carlin .266
At Bats: Bowen 262, Carlin 244
Home Runs: Bowen 6, Carlin 4
RBI: Bowen 25, Carlin 29
Walks: Bowen 37, Carlin 49
Strikeouts: Bowen 68, Carlin 54
OPS: Bowen .767, Carlin .773
2006 Defense (San Diego): Bowen caught in 65 games for the Padres in 2006 for a total of 202 innings and allowed 3 passed balls, 8 stolen bases and caught just one man stealing (12% ).
Bowen is a victim of the old adage "if you don't use it, you lose it." He averaged only three innings per game he appeared in (which was roughly one-third of all games). He simply didn't see enough action last year to expect good numbers.
Defense: Luke Carlin
Carlin is a solid rock behind home plate. Nothing gets through him. A quick release of the ball, decent pick-off move to first and above-average success at nabbing runners puts Carlin far above Rob Bowen defensively. Carlin has been tabbed by many as the organization's best defensive catcher and his abilities wouldn't be compromised when making the jump from minor to major leagues. Handling a major league pitching staff would indeed be a change for Carlin, a guy used to catching prospects at AA and AAA who have been bread to fit the Padre mold, but he has proved to be very adaptable and coachable which is why the transition could go smoothly.
Offense: Bad news, it's a tie.
Defensively, Carlin could make a seamless transition to the bigs, however predicting his ability to figure out major league pitching when he's up to bat is nearly impossible. A slight edge could be given to Carlin since he has been a quick learner throughout his career. However, Bowen and Carlin could just be offensive twins as their Triple-A numbers showed in which case we could expect the same mediocrity at the plate from Carlin as we saw from Bowen in 2006.