When the Orioles claimed catcher Luis Martinez last week, placing four catchers on their 40-man roster, I received a number of inquiries about why the organization needed to protect so many backstops.
It is rare to have that many, but the Orioles have been looking to improve organizational catching depth this offseason.
Keep in mind that last year, the club’s catching was thin enough that non-roster invitee Ronny Paulino, who arrived to spring training three weeks late, made the Orioles' Opening Day roster as the backup catcher.
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When you have one of the best catchers in the game in Matt Wieters -- a Gold Glover who averaged more than 130 games behind the plate the last two seasons – it is easy to forget about the importance of the depth behind him. But the Orioles made a push to improve by adding Martinez.
Now, the Orioles have four different catchers who could conceivably be on the major league roster with Wieters, primary backup Taylor Teagarden, Luis Exposito and Martinez. All have major league experience.
And Martinez should push Exposito for the organization’s No. 3 catcher. He’s shown to be a fine defensive catcher in the minors, throwing out 31 percent of would-be basestealers and recording a .986 fielding percentage in his minor league career. Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette also likes Martinez’s .362 career on-base percentage in the minor leagues.
Both Exposito and Martinez could begin the season in Triple-A -- both have minor league options -- and it will be difficult for the Orioles to commit four 40-man spots to catchers as roster spots get tight this spring, but given Teagarden’s history of injuries, having depth is wise.
-- Cuban defector Henry Urrutia, whom the Orioles signed in July, is still in Haiti unable to get a visa. The Orioles remain optimistic, but at this point, it’s becoming unclear whether Urrutia will be ready to join the team for spring training.
The Orioles signed Urrutia to a $778,500 bonus in the summer with the hopes that he could be ready to contribute at the major league level by 2013. Nearly six months later, he has yet to join the organization, which has obviously stalled his progress.
He will need seasoning in the minors and was projected to begin at the Double-A level, but the Orioles had hoped Urrutia would be ready to possibly attend major league spring training in five weeks.