Red Sox Catcher Injuries: A View From Pawtucket
A series of toppled dominoes have rearranged the catching depth chart in the Boston Red Sox organization. As a result, Juan Apodaca and Daniel Butler are now making their new home for the Pawtucket Red Sox, the Red Sox’ triple-A affiliate.
Neither 23-year old figured in the equation as one of the top five catchers in the Sox’ system when the year started, yet both are now getting an opportunity to carve out a more permanent role in Pawtucket.
With mainstays Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Josh Beckett inactive, Red Sox Nation had enough injuries to agonize over prior to starting catcher Victor Martinez being bitten by the injury bug.
The ripples of those injuries are reaching all levels of the organization. “It’s not the ideal moment for us but we have been dealt the cards and we have to play them,” said Pawtucket head coach Torey Lovullo. “But what it does is provide a chance for some younger players to shine and we are looking for them to do that now.”
The Red Sox regularly carry two catchers on their active roster, and with Boston’s normal starting catcher Martinez being placed on the 15-day DL Tuesday with a broken thumb, Red Sox captain Jason Varitek will assume the role of starting catcher. In the aftermath of Martinez’ thumb injury, the focus shifted to Pawtucket to find Vartiek’s new backup.
In the event of an injury to either Martinez or Varitek, the opportunity for the backup job would normally fall in line to either Dusty Brown or Mark Wagner, the third and fourth ranked catchers in the organization. However, both catchers are currently injured and are on the seven-day disabled list- Brown with a sprained thumb ligament and Wagner with a broken bone in his hand.
The latest report from management is that both players are within 15 days of returning to the active roster. Brown is scheduled to have his cast removed in a week, and both he and the team were pleased with the news that no surgery would be required. Wagner will be returning to a hitting program in a few days and would be getting live at-bats a few days after that, according to Lovullo.
Despite missing out on an opportunity in 2010 with the big club, Brown appeared in seven games over two stints for Boston in 2009. In his first season of major league action, Brown went 1-for-3 with his lone hit being a homerun against the Indians.
As a result of the injuries to Brown and Wagner, Gustavo Molina was the next in line for a promotion and he is now serving as Jason Varitek’s backup in Boston.
“Talk about another great story with Gustavo getting called up and backing up now for the Boston Red Sox,” said Lovullo. “Unfortunately for Brownie and Wags they’ve been hurt but that’s what this game is all about- being in the right place at the right time.”
Prior to his promotion, Molina had 19 games of major league experience spanning two seasons with three teams: in 2007 he played a combined 17 games with the Chicago White Sox and the Baltimore Orioles and in 2008 he appeared in two games for the New York Mets.
When asked if he was surprised at Molina’s call-up this early in the season, Louvello said he wasn't. “He put himself in a great situation by doing a great job in spring training, impressing the major league scouts, running some great ballgames and putting together some great at bats,” the head coach said.
Though, Lovullo was quick to acknowledge that the timing of the injuries to the regular triple-A catchers did pave the way to Boston for one of the less heralded minor league catchers. “Unfortunately with Wagner getting hurt and Dusty Brown getting hurt it wasn’t how it was supposed to be written up,” said Lovullo. “But it’s a game of opportunity and we are looking for [Apodaca and Butler] to impress just as Tito [Terry Francona] will look for Molina to impress in Boston”.
Juan Apodaca will be the new everyday starter for the PawSox in light of the revolving door at catcher in the Red Sox organization. “The past couple days he has done a great job of following a game plan, running a ballgame and reading swings. We are very pleased with what we saw.”
Apodaca has recorded a hit in each of his first four games with Pawtucket, including a blast to left field in his fourth game that went for his first triple-A homerun.
The backup backstop for Pawtucket will be Butler, who was called-up from Greenville Drive (A) of the South Atlantic League. In Greenville, he was hitting .316 in 55 games with five home runs including .382 over his last ten games.
Short of that, the scouting report was thin on Butler when he was called up to Pawtucket. “I’m just going on some scouting reports and some eyes that have seen him and they have said he is much like Apodaca,” said Lovullo. “He came from Greenville and he has got a long way to go between there and here with maturity and baseball knowledge but if you want to talk about the raw talent, he’s got it.”
Butler skipped over double-A for Portland, playing no games for the Sea Dogs, and a large part of that has to do with his ability as a game-caller not a sweet-swinger.
“He is not a ding-dong who can’t run a baseball game and that was the one reason he was chosen to come here,” said Lovullo. “He can block baseballs, control a pitching staff and run a baseball game, and we are looking for him to do that while he is here.”
Lovullo has had to work hard to manage Pawtucket’s roster amid all of the injuries and he has worked ever harder to find the silver lining in all of the shuffling the PawSox roster has endured over the past few weeks.
“It sends a smoke signal to the rest of the guys in the organization that at any point in time you can be sent to another level to help contribute,” Lovullo said. “For these guys, there is nothing better than that: having hope.”
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