Well, you shouldn’t care about J.R. Towles, really, because he’s terrible. The 29-year-old backup catcher hit .187/.267/.315 in roughly a full season of play spread across five years with Houston between 2007-11. After putting up a .280 OBP for Minnesota’s Triple-A team in 2012, he had 71 reasonably productive plate appearances for St. Louis’ Triple-A club this year before being released last week. It’s not clear why he was cut loose — this tweet by his wife certainly seems like it was unexpected — but this Cardinals blog indicates that there were too many catchers to go around in Memphis.
Towles is likely headed to Albuquerque to take the place of another failed catcher who once had promise, Jesus Flores, who was cut loose last week after hitting just .164/.218/.233 for the Isotopes. That means that yet another non-prospect catcher who can’t hit, 27-year-old Matt Wallach, is likely headed back to Double-A Chattanooga once again as soon as Towles arrives to caddy for Tim Federowicz. When Wallach gets back to the Lookouts, he’ll rejoin Gorman Erickson, who briefly had some interest among prospect hounds thanks to a nice 2011 but is now 25 and deep into his second consecutive disappointing season at Double-A.
You’re probably asking yourself at this point not only why you bothered to read about the sorry state of catching in the upper level of the Dodger organization, but why I’m even devoting a post to it in the first place. The answer is simple — because for all of the cries we constantly hear from people about how the Dodgers are committing some grave injustice by retaining the past-his-prime Ramon Hernandez instead of promoting the likely superior Federowicz… this is what’s behind those choices. Federowicz has options, and can be sent to Triple-A without his consent. Hernandez would need to be designated for assignment, and even if he made it through waivers unclaimed, it seems unlikely he would go to Albuquerque and would instead become a free agent.
The obvious reaction there is, “well, so what, he’s awful,” and that’s probably true. But the toughness of A.J. Ellis has masked how brutal being a major league catcher can be. Last year, he played through a bad knee that eventually required surgery; even just in the last week or so, he’s been run over at the plate and hit by a pitch. If you cut Hernandez and Ellis gets hurt, you’re suddenly looking at Federowicz and Towles in the big leagues, and that’s a really, really bad spot to be in.
I say that, by the way, completely agreeing with those who prefer Federowicz to Hernandez on both sides of the ball. But I also think the hype surrounding Federowicz has become a bit overblown, because as absurd as a .429/.500/.870 Triple-A line is, it’s in fewer than 100 plate appearances… and comes with a .543 BABIP. (The PCL is just the best.) Sure, he’s better than Hernandez, but backup catchers rarely make much of a difference — we’re talking, what, one win at most? — and making that move depreciates the already non-existent catching depth you have.
The way the last two seasons have gone, injuries should be expected, not just considered. The fact that Ellis has avoided the DL this long counts as a minor miracle. If the outrage over the existence of Hernandez means that a decent-but-not-elite prospect like Federowicz plays every day in Triple-A while depth is maintained, well, I really can’t get too upset by that.