Last season, the catcher position turned out to be a terrible weakness. With one significant upgrade the prognosis for 2012 is better.
Joe Mauer appears to be healthy and preparing for a good year. He is speaking more publicly than was typical for him in the past and that is another indication that he intends to prove that last year was not what can be expected for the rest of his eight-year contract now going into its second year.
Mauer is projected right now to be the starting catcher and the hope is that he will be playing 130 or so games there. Depending on how other players, particularly Justin Morneau, rebound from a disastrous season, Mauer may play a few or a significant number of games at first base and probably will DH some as well.
Ryan Doumit is the significant upgrade noted above. He will be a real improvement offensively as the backup to Mauer. On defense he may be suspect, but that will not be a major problem if Mauer is able to play consistently.
As of today, I’m still projecting the Twins will carry three catchers on their opening day roster to allow for the most flexibility in keeping Mauer and Doumit in the lineup on a fairly regular basis. Having Drew Butera available as the defensive replacement and very occasional starter should help the other two stay healthier and minimize the negative impact of his very weak bat.
The catching situation is one that I think might be somewhat fluid yet. Spring training will be used for evaluation of Mauer’s status and Doumit’s health and defensive strength. There is even an outside chance that if Kurt Suzuki remains available he could be added to the Twins and Butera sent to Rochester, where he belongs based on his overall skill set.
Even now I still find it hard to believe the Twins allowed themselves to go into the 2011 season so thin in the catcher position, especially when Mauer’s health was obviously not very good. The good news this year is going into the spring the Twins are much better positioned to field a decent catcher even if Mauer is not fully ready to play on a daily basis or is needed as the regular first baseman, a less than optimum scenario.