Monday, February 15, 2010

I'm impressed with Riggans

First let me make my position clear, I felt this team absolutely needed to enter the season with a solid veteran catcher. This staff has the potential to be very good but they also could implode as they did last year, therefore; I felt the catching position was one of the essential holes to fill.

Blanco really is their best option, but not only has he not been relied upon as a starter I'm concerned that if he's over used his shoulder could act up. I can see him working with the problem pitchers, in which he could end up catching Ollie, Maine and Pelfrey. Meaning that the other catcher might only need to be the light end of a platoon, catching Johan and whoever ends up being the 5th starter.

Even with such light responsibilities I'm not comfortable with Omir Santos, the bottom line for me, is that Omir is a AAAA call-up who should not be relied upon for a roster spot, unless someone else is injured. The best Santos has ever been considered is #47 in the 2006 Yankees system.

But I'm very impressed by what I've found in regard to Shawn Riggans and I believe with a strong spring training he could take Santos spot as the lighter half of the platoon.

As I said at the time of his signing John Sickels ranked him #19 in 2007 which made him the highest ranked catcher in the system and I respect the Rays scouting ability. From 2004-2006 he was ranked by Baseball America as the top defensive catcher in the Rays system.

In 2008 the Rays page of Scout.com reviewed every catcher in the system entering spring training and projected Riggans to be the back-up catcher based on his defensive skills. When Riggans initially came through the Rays system he was known as a defensive catcher with a weak bat. But from 2003-2005 he spent the bulk of his time in AA, the extended stay seemed to allow his bat to catch up as he hit .310 in 2005 and now carries a .289 lifetime minor league BA.

In 2006 in his first exposure to AAA he hit .293 and the next season .281 at that level. In 2006 his performance in AAA earned him a cup of coffee with the big league team, his defensive skills were never a question and his hitting no longer was, but Mgr. Madden wanted him to work on game calling. This BrandentonHerald.com article describes the preparation he had already started using in 2004 which began to pay off by 2008. In 2007 sounding like a veteran catcher, the recently called-up Riggans is quoted discussing the pitchers who were coming up, by the way all three were big contributors in 2008 ( source Tampabay.com) .

Entering 2008 spring training after two cups of coffee in the majors in 2006-2007, (13 games where he hit .150) he was slated as the back-up catcher for the big league team. He spent the entire year with the team until a freak injury in Sept., somehow he acquired a staph infection in his knee that required surgery without an open wound. He played in 44 games in which he hit .222 but for those who only look at a players BA he did show some positive signs.

Rem. he was first known as a defensive catcher and a tireless preparer, by August of 2008 as a rookie his reputation for handling struggling pitchers had grown to the point where he had become Matt Garza's personal catcher (source Tampabay.com). Also if you read through the MLB.com fantasy tracker for 2008 it appears the more he played the better he produced offensively.

Entering 2009 Riggans was a lock for the Rays opening day roster as the back-up catcher. There are two great articles on Riggans which show his preparation, clubhouse attributes and development as a catcher, here for MLB.com and here for Tampabay.com.

Unfortunately the season was a wash Riggans spent most of the year injured with shoulder tendinitis and with Navarro injured or struggling most of the year he tried to rush back. Hitting .200 in the minors and .143 ( 7 games ) in the majors, this was mostly attributed to the tendinitis. Still early in this off-season he was looked at as the back-up catcher in which they hoped he bounced back, the Rays decided to trade for Kelly Shoppach as a sure thing instead of going with two risky catchers.

Picking between Santos and Riggans to help Blanco isn't a perfect situation at all, but it's the situation they put themselves in. Santos was never ranked anywhere, or considered the best defensive catcher in a system, nor was he slotted for anyones roster until the Mets at 29 y/o old. I can live with a catcher hitting .225 if he lowers the pitchers WHIP which essentially as good as a hit with this rotation.

Just on a side note, I found this article at Yahoo sports in which Riggans gives an interveiw introducing, the then unknown Rays to the world. It does hasve some interesting background on him but what really struck me was that he was a rookie. As a rookie he seemed incredibly polished and must have had a great repore in the clubhouse to give this article.

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