Hector Gimenez Might Actually Have a Chance

(First things first: as many of you know, I write weekly – sometimes moreso – at Baseball Prospectus, mainly in the fantasy section. On Thursday at 1pm ET / 10am PT  I’ll be doing a live chat, talking about anything and everything. Free free to come on by and lob softball Dodger questions at me. As my drunken friends have been all too happy to point out to me today, you can preload the queue with questions at any time, so I can’t imagine what will be awaiting me.)

As you probably know, I spend an absurd amount of time reading, writing, and obsessing over baseball. That being the case, it’s not all that often when someone threatens to make the 25-man roster who I know very little about; the last time it happened, it was Ronald Belisario‘s out of nowhere ascent in 2009. This year, it’s catcher Hector Gimenez, who despite just two MLB plate appearances for the 2006 Astros, was added to the 40-man roster over the winter. At the time, the decision seemed odd; at 27 in 2010, Gimenez was only a AA player for the Pirates last year, and he seemingly was taking up a roster spot that far more deserving players should have been in contention for. With Dioner Navarro and A.J. Ellis supposedly each competing for the right to back up Rod Barajas (even though we all know Navarro is getting the job), adding a career minor-league catcher who is out of options seemed odd.

While I would still consider it unlikely that Gimenez makes the roster - Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts pegs his chances at 10% today – there’s signs piling up that makes it more possible than we’d thought.

Consider the facts:

1) Gimenez is having a good spring, at 304/.370/.478. I feel like I should have a macro at this point that explains “yes, spring stats are useless”, and they are, but as I said about Tony Gwynn at BP today, don’t underestimate the power of a newcomer making a good first impression on a team with a new manager.

2) Clearly, the Dodgers saw something they liked in the first place that we didn’t, or else they wouldn’t have put him on the 40-man roster when most of us had never heard of him. They’re not burying him on the bench, either, since he’s had five starts at first base, and he’s seen time behind the plate as well. That “something” may be the impressive .305/.384/.533 line he put up at AA Altoona last year, though I hope it’s something more than just that, since he’d never had offensive production anywhere near that level before. At first I thought maybe Altoona was Coors Field of the Eastern League, but the Curve – yep, that’s their name – hit a more reasonable .268/.339/.388 as a team. Gimenez was reportedly once a plus defensive catcher – I suppose he’d have to have been, given his lack of offense – but he’s been victimized repeatedly on the bases this spring.

3) Russ Mitchell, supposedly in competition for the 25th spot, has been sent to minor-league camp. So has John Lindsey, Jamie Hoffmann, and a host of others. Yet Gimenez remains, having survived the first round of cuts. As Don Mattingly mentioned (paraphrasing since I can’t find the link), now is when the innings get harder to come by, so you lose the fluff and keep only those who are on the team or have a good shot at making it. 

4) Gimenez is not only a switch-hitter, he’s the rare catcher with experience at both 1B and 3B. (Given my known fetish for lefty-swinging third basemen, that immediately gets him points in my book.) Mattingly seems to like the idea of having a third catcher, since one of the things he pointed out about Mitchell was that he could potentially be an emergency catcher. With Gimenez and Navarro both on the bench (and maybe Aaron Miles, too), he’d have more than one switch-hitter to deploy without worrying about being short on catchers. That’s, you know, if either Gimenez or Navarro can hit, which they probably can’t.

So I don’t think it’s likely, but you could make the case that he’s got a chance to make the roster. Let’s do the math, here. Miles seems more and more certain to beat out Juan Castro for the 2nd infield spot (hooray, no Castro! Boo, Aaron Miles), thus potentially dooming both Gimenez and Xavier Paul to the waiver wire. However, I think that the team will start the year with an extra bat off the bench, taking advantage of Jon Garland‘s injury to not staff a 5th starter until it’s absolutely necessary. That would seem to open the door for Paul – I hope, because imagine the shitstorm if they lose Paul in order to keep Gimenez? – once again leaving out Gimenez… unless Jay Gibbons‘ unholy disaster of a spring (flu, vision problems, poor performance, good showing by Gwynn) leads to him being cut or disabled.

It’s a complicated path, requiring more than one injury, but it’s possible. It’s also seemingly a temporary one, since room will have to be made for Garland, Vicente Padilla, and possibly Gibbons. Will Hector Gimenez make the Opening Day roster? Sure, maybe. Will he last all year? Not a chance.

******

Over at ESPNLA, Ramona Shelburne makes the point that with free agency looming, this may be the last chance for the vaunted young core of Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton, & Andre Ethier to make a run together. She’s probably right. But what caught my eye from the story was this quote from Don Mattingly:

 ”But I’m pretty sure we had one of the top offenses in 2009. So I have no reason to think this isn’t the same offense. We’re just going to have to go out and prove it.”

Thus far, I’ve been a fan of Mattingly’s, and that he’s not going to bash the team in public, but… Don.. come on. In 2009, Manny Ramirez hit .290/.418./.531, despite the hoopla of the PED suspension. If you add up the batting averages of all three members of JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr., I’m not sure they’d match that. In 2009, Casey Blake had a career year, hitting .280/.363/.468. Somehow I doubt that 37-year-old Blake, coming off a bad year and already battling injuries, is coming anywhere near that. In 2009, Orlando Hudson had a .357 OBP. What do you think Juan Uribe is going to do this year? In 2009, Russell Martin was into his decline but still put up a .352 OBP. Rod Barajas won’t sniff within 50 points of that.

I get that his point is that Kemp and Ethier are still around and the hope is that they’ll bounce back, but let’s be realistic here.

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