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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Candidate for Promotion: Chris Herrmann

If you want to see Chris Herrmann playing
for the Rock Cats, my advice would be
to get a ticket soon
Catching depth in Minnesota is . . . interesting. In fact, I'm not sure that "depth" is the correct word. There's Joe Mauer. And then there's a pretty big drop off. Ryan Doumit can catch, technically, but he is not good defensively. And Drew Butera can call a good game, but I'll be surprised if he can hit above the Mendoza line, and most fans acknowledge that his best role is one in which he doesn't accumulate more than 250 plate appearances per season.

Over in Rochester, there is J.R. Towles, who is 28 years old and batting .183 in 21 games, and Rene Rivera, who you probably remember as one of several bad catchers that were given a shot last year. Rivera, who will be 29 in July, is hitting .193 in 28 games.

There's no perfect back-up catcher currently playing for the Twins, or on the Red Wings. Either the player is not predominately a catcher, is past his athletic prime, is an offensive liability, or is some combination of those things. All of this brings me to Chris Herrmann. Herrmann, 24 years old this season and a native Texan, is in the middle of another solid season in the Twins' minor league system. I'm just going to focus on this season and last season for reference. In 2011, Herrmann was called up to AA New Britain mid-season and appeared in 97 games. His batting line was solid: .258/.380/.392. He had 14 doubles, 5 triples, 7 home runs and 46 RBIs in that time. In 2012, again in New Britain, Herrmann started off very cool, struggling in the first month of the season to get the average above .200. But then, as with the New England weather, Herrmann heated up. As of today, here is Herrmann's slash line: .260/.310/.410, with 14 doubles, 4 home runs and 17 RBIs in 44 games. As you can see, although he has some work to do with the on-base percentage, the power has been increasing. As I mentioned, he has been playing better lately, recording 4 hits in consecutive games last week. Over his last ten games, Herrmann is .324/.405/.405 with 3 doubles and 5 walks (he has 13 walks on the season, so it's nice to see him showing more patience at the plate recently).

It's also worth noting that Herrmann has frequently stayed in the lineup on days he doesn't catch, either serving as designated hitter or playing left field. I have seen him in left field, and he did not appear to me to be a defensive liability. I'm not sure how baseball professionals would describe his defensive ability at catcher, but he seems, at the very least, solid to me. He does have a good arm.

I'm not sure how much more Herrmann has to do to earn a promotion to Rochester, or even to Minnesota. It's clear that Towles and Rivera are nothing more than minor league depth. At 24, Herrmann has a lot of baseball in his future. Clearly, there is room for improvement in his game, but I'm not certain that sticking it out in New Britain the rest of 2012 is the best thing for Herrmann's development. I've (sort of) jokingly been calling Herrmann "Mauer's 2013 backup," but he really could be more than that.

Most people reading this post are prudent enough to realize that Joe Mauer won't be catching full-time by 2014 or 2015. In Herrmann the Twins have a young catcher, capable of playing multiple positions, who has the ability to hit and get on base, and has shown more than occasional power. As much as I have enjoyed watching Herrmann at New Britain Stadium, I think it's time to see what he can do at the next level. In fact, by the end of this summer, I think it's time to see what Herrmann can do at Target Field.

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