Given Yadier Molina's propensity to catch "all of the innings" for the Cardinals over much of the last decade, the rest of the catchers on the 40 man roster have generally been mostly an after thought. Sure, there's usually the veteran, defense-first catcher that ends up being the backup on the MLB roster, your Jason Larue's and Craig Paquette's, but those are also the players that the Cardinals generally go running for in the event of an injury as well.
We saw this in 2014: With Ed Easley and Audry Perez having career years at the plate while splitting time at AAA, they weren't given much more than a passing thought before the club went plunging through the depths of the veteran catcher catacombs. First there was dog-love George Kotteras, who stuck around about as long as an adorable beagle at the puppy pound, being displaced by clubhouse rottweiler A.J. Pierzyinski, fresh off being released after pissing in enough punch bowls on the last place Red Sox to make his outright release palatable to Ben Cherington.
It's hard to fault the Cardinals for doing this: Pierzyinski is a solid major league player in the twilight of his career and he added bench pop from the left side of the plate when Yadi Molina returned from injury. The story makes sense (even if I don't like the player much). It's just that the extraneous on the 40 man roster haven't mattered much at all over the last decade since Yadi and his veteran backup catch all the innings and as soon as there is an injury the team just goes and gets some freely available talent off the waiver wire.
Part of this is the fact that the Cardinals haven't had very much talent holding court behind the dish in Memphis for most of Molina's career. Here's a list of players, see how many you know off the top of your head:
- Rob Johnson (2013)
- Travis Tartamella (2013)
- Bryan Anderson (2008-2012)
- Nick Derba (2012)
- Matt Pagnozzi (2007-2010)
- Mark Johnson (2008)
- Brian Esposito (2006-2007)
- Danny Ardoin (2007)
- Michel Hernandez (2006)
- Mike Mahoney (2004-2005)
Cody Stanley, 5'11", 190 pounds, Age 26
2014 Springfield: .283/.340/.429, 15.7% K, 8.1% BB, .145 ISO, 119 wRC+
Stanley was a 4th round selection out of UNC-Wilmington in 2010 and is one of the more athletic backstops the Cardinals have had since I've been following the farm system. He's stolen 30 bases in his minor league career as well as legging out 12 triples. Stanley runs well for a catcher, and while his defense is just average, his skills offensively help to make up for some of his deficiencies behind the dish. Stanley could certainly be an average catcher in the big leagues defensively, if the Cardinals were at all okay with average defense at that position -- that doesn't seem likely.
The best comp I can come up with for Stanley is the aforementioned Brian Anderson: Left handed hitter with some decent gap power and occasional home run juice who makes a lot of contact, isn't afraid to take a walk, and is just so-so defensively. Adjusting for league, the numbers between the two through AA are pretty comparable -- but Anderson was doing it while being 3 years younger at just about every level than Stanley has been thus far, although Anderson didn't have the injury struggles that plagued Stanley in 2012 either.
Here's two videos of Stanley homering last year:
Notice the quick bat -- Stanley hits from a solid frame with good balance and can lose one if you miss in place where he can drive the ball. Here's a slow motion version from Moore Baseball:
Seems like he should probably hit for a bit more power than he does currently, so that's something to keep an eye on at Memphis this season.
Stanley is probably a backup in the big leagues at best, but given that he's left handed and makes good contact he has a better than average chance of sticking around for at least a little while, given that he's better defensively than Brian Anderson was.
Ed Easley, 6'0", 205, Age: 28
Easley is a right handed swinger who has had a bit of a weird career. He was drafted in the first round out of Mississippi State in 2007, failed to find his groove at the plate through most of the minor leagues, then had a breakout in 2013 in one of the better hitters parks in the minors (Reno): .334/.394/.478. Easley came to the Cardinals as a minor league free agent and continued to hit again last year, in one of the tougher home parks in the high minors: .296/.359/.473.
He'd topped a .700 OPS just twice in the minors before last year and there's no real injury history to speak of, so it's hard to say what happened between 2012 and 2013 other than just finally becoming older than everyone else at the level he was on. Still, it's hard to explain those kind of numbers away with just age-relative-to-league, especially given the fact that he once upon a time was a supplemental first rounder out of college.
I got to watch him a couple of times last year, including this game at Iowa in July:
Here's another video of him hitting a home run against El Paso on a hanging breaking ball:
And here's an interview with Easley prior to last season:
Hard to know what to think, honestly, but with Rene Rivera coming on last year at age 30, it wouldn't be completely unprecedented for someone like Easley to come out of the woodwork. Not likely, but not unprecedented. Given that he didn't get a shot at the catching job in July of last year, it's hard to see how the organization would hand him the keys if something were to happen to Tony Cruz.