It seems like once a week I get a message on Twitter from someone asking why catcher Mike Ohlman is still with the Double-A Springfield Cardinals. Cardinal fans, both St. Louis and Springfield, are starting to take notice of the 24-year old former Baltimore Orioles farmhand.
The Cardinals acquired Ohlman in February from the Baltimore Orioles for cash considerations after the Orioles designated him for assignment. Aaron wrote about the deal HERE and had some interesting quotes regarding Ohlman's swing. As Aaron put it, "Ohlman was a smart acquisition at a minimal cost." Aaron's prediction appears to be coming true as the catcher is thriving in Double-A.
After a rough 2014 season with the Orioles Double-A team in Bowie, Maryland, the Cardinals sent Ohlman to their Double-A club in Springfield and it paid off as he has excelled this season. Here is a breakdown of his two Double-A stints:
If you take a look deeper into Mike Ohlman's career, you see that 2015 appears to be closer to the norm than 2014. In 2012 with the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds, Ohlman had a wRC+ of 142 and in 2013 with the High-A Frederick Keys, Ohlman improved his weighted runs created plus to 159 over 424 plate appearances. Looking back, it's somewhat surprising the Orioles DFA'd him, but as mentioned in Aaron's article, the Orioles had a surplus of young catchers.
Why hasn't he moved to Triple-A?
Mike Ohlman's biggest enemy is the depth chart. The Memphis Redbirds have three catchers on their roster, Cody Stanley, Ed Easley, and Travis Tartamella. Easley and Stanley join Ohlman on the St. Louis Cardinals' 40-man roster and the first two have both made their MLB debuts this season. While they may not be having Mike Ohlman-like years, it's fair to say the Cardinals aren't releasing Stanley or Easley mid-season. I suppose they could swap Ohlman with Tartamella, but playing time for the three catchers would be limited. Before we move on, let's take a look at how Easley and Stanley are looking for Memphis:
As you can see, Easley and Stanley have very similar numbers and are both performing well below Mike Ohlman, but does that mean the Double-A catcher should jump these two? Probably not, but something should happen to allow Ohlman to move up, and that something should be the release of Tony Cruz. Over 73 at bats in the major leagues in 2015, Tony Cruz has a wRC+ just 12 points higher than you or I. Yes, he is at 12 for the season, which is roughly 88 percent lower than AVERAGE. Tony Cruz is speed bump in the road holding up Mike Ohlman.
A quick Youtube search pulls up several long balls throughout Ohlman's career, but I want to bring your attention to two that show you his awesome plate coverage, likely thanks to his 6'5" frame. Notice where the catcher's mitt is when contact is made.
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Yes, the pitch was over the plate, but it was at knee level or below. Now take a look at the second one:
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Notice the catcher's glove is at least belt high and probably higher when contact is made.
Ohlman's advanced plate coverage shows he is ready for a higher level, plus his 0.60 BB/K ratio is the best of his career dating back to 2012.
What does the future hold for Mike Ohlman?
My likely scenario of a Cruz release followed by a promotion of Easley or Stanley allowing for Ohlman to be promoted is not likely to happen. The Cardinals don't make moves like that, just ask Pete Kozma. This likely means Ohlman is stuck with the Springfield Cardinals until late August. At that point, Easley or Stanley could join the big club as a September call up and that would allow Ohlman to see Memphis.
An unlikely(er) scenario would be Ohlman seeing a September call up, but there are two things working in his favor. First, he is already on the 40-man roster and second, the Cardinals like to reward minor leaguers who are performing at high levels. However, I don't see the club jumping Ohlman over Stanley or Easley.
For 2016, the Cardinals should non-tender Tony Cruz and give Mike Ohlman a long look during spring training. If he can out perform Ed Easley and Cody Stanley, why not make him Yadier Molina's back up?