Around the Horn: Catcher
Jaso, Norris, Vogt all candidates to earn roster spots
A's pitchers and catchers are scheduled to gather for their first Spring Training workout in less than a month, making it a good time to begin dissecting the club's roster. This is the first of a seven-part Around the Horn series that will take a position-by-position look at Oakland's projected starters and backup options heading into the 2014 season, starting with catchers.
OAKLAND -- The platoon system has been very kind to the A's, who have utilized it aggressively and successfully under manager Bob Melvin's watch at multiple positions in recent years. The formula is simple and, specifically at catcher, rather strict.
John Jaso was one of general manager Billy Beane's most prized offseason acquisitions last year, but it was known early on that he'd almost exclusively start against right-handers. His splits were that drastic.
Jaso never made a single start against a lefty in an injury-shortened 2013 season, getting all 55 of his starting assignments vs. right-handed starters, batting .276 with a .386 on-base percentage against them. Derek Norris took care of the southpaws, posting a .320 average with all nine of his home runs against them, including three in the pinch.
Even when Jaso sustained a concussion that would prematurely end his season last July, the A's kept the platoon alive, bringing in Stephen Vogt to complement Norris. Kurt Suzuki was thrown in the mix, too, and by season's end, A's catchers ranked fifth in batting average (.266) among all American League backstops and third in on-base percentage (.351).
The system wasn't sexy, but it worked well enough for the A's to bring it back in 2014, and as many as three catchers could land on the Opening Day roster.
Oakland's front office staff has long believed that Norris has the tools to be an everyday catcher, but his performance in 158 big league games suggests he still may be best suited for a platoon.
The 2013 campaign was Norris' first full season in the Majors, and he appeared in 98 games, hitting .246 overall with a .345 OBP in 308 plate appearances. Of those, 135 came against right-handers, who limited him to a .149/.184/.445 slash line.
Norris needs to greatly improve on those numbers to warrant any consideration as an everyday player. Still, the A's have watched Norris develop in several areas since his arrival from Washington. His defensive skills have bettered, and the same could be said of his plate discipline. Consistency, though, has eluded him.
Norris will continue to get his at-bats against lefties this year, while it may be Vogt getting the majority vs. right-handers in a lineup that could feature Jaso as the designated hitter.
That's where the A's may be most comfortable batting Jaso, who needed months of recovery following his midseason concussion. He worked his way back to game action in the instructional league in October but never once put on a catcher's mask, seeing all of his at-bats at DH.
"There is certainly the potential to get John some more at-bats in that DH role," Melvin said in December. "It depends on what we feel like the lineup's going to be on a particular day."
Jaso, 30, doesn't boast typical power associated with this position, but he gets on base often and is equally valuable as a baserunner, something he worked on when hitting leadoff with Tampa years ago. Moreover, defense has never been his strongest asset.
Vogt, also a Tampa import, was a feel-good story last season, making significant contributions to a division-winning club in his first lengthy big league opportunity, having bounced around the Minors in his previous six seasons. The 29-year-old made 39 of his 40 starts against right-handers, and an additional five in the American League Division Series, batting .252 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in the regular season.
"Stephen Vogt comes out of nowhere and ends up doing big things for us," Melvin said. "He definitely deserves to be in the conversation going forward."
But Vogt will have additional competition in camp, with Chris Gimenez -- yet another former Rays player -- added to the mix in December. He's considered a strong defender, having thrown out 25.6 percent of attempted basestealers, but Gimenez has yet to produce at the plate on a Major League stage, batting .199 in 143 career games. He spent most of 2013 at Triple-A Durham, hitting .224 with three homers and 22 RBIs and reaching base at a .350 rate.
It's likely the 31-year-old begins 2014 in the Minors if he can't supplant Vogt with a big spring, though it's worth noting he also brings versatility to the table, with experience at first base and both corner outfield positions.
No matter the outcome, he adds to the kind of depth that gives the A's plenty of options at catcher. It's surely a position that should draw significant intrigue in Spring Training.
Jane Lee is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.