Joe Mauer at First Base: 5 Players Who Could Become the Best Catcher in MLB

John McKelveyContributor IIIJuly 7, 2011

Joe Mauer at First Base: 5 Players Who Could Become the Best Catcher in MLB

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    Most catchers make the move to first base later in their career.

    Catchers such as Johnny Bench, Mike Piazza and Yogi Berra all spent time as first baseman and outfielders when they got older.

    It is somewhat surprising that Joe Mauer is making this move so early, being only 28 years old. He is having by far his worst ever year batting .229 and surprisingly low .282 on-base percentage. Previous career lows are .293 and .372 respectively. He also hasn't shown any power this year with no home runs and only 4 doubles.

    While Mauer was never much of a power hitter he has been able to get at least nine HRs 5 of his six seasons in the big leagues. He also has steadily improved his doubles over the last few years, getting over 30 in the last three seasons, including a career high 43 last year.

    He has only played in 27 games so far this year, but these stats are still should be troubling to Twins fans.

    In today's division battle against the Chicago White Sox Mauer will take the field at first base. If this move becomes commonplace in the Twins lineup, it will leave open the spot for best catcher in MLB that Mauer has held for so long. There are still many talented players behind him, but which ones will step up their play now that they see the opening that was closed for so long.

5: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

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    Bryce Harper probably will not play catcher in the big leagues, that's why he's No. 5 on this list, but he has the bat that could make some headlines.

    Harper will not take over right away as he is still in AA, but he could be a stable in the Washington National's lineup for a long time. He is only 18 years old, but is hitting .325 with 14 HRs and 17 doubles in 72 games.

    He does have some attitude issues getting ejected, for arguing balls and strikes, and suspended in his last two games for the College of Southern Nevada. He also famously blew a kiss in a minor league game to the pitcher after hitting a HR, which drew a lot of criticism.

    The Nationals are playing harper at outfielder to extend his career and get him in the majors faster. However, Ivan Rodriguez is getting really old and there will be an opening for Harper once he leaves. If harper can get the position he has the talent to surpass Mike Piazza's numbers and be the best hitting catcher of all-time.

4: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

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    Brian McCann has the most power of all the catchers in the majors, hitting 107 HRs in the five years before 2011.

    He is on pace for his best season since 2006 hitting .314 with 14 HRs through half a season so far. He also has 48 runs-batted-in and 146 total bases, which are both on pace for career highs. He has collected four Silver Slugger awards in five full seasons in the big leagues.

    However, it is not McCann's offensive numbers that will keep him from taking over the crown of best catcher, it it his defensive numbers.

    McCann is throwing out only 21 percent of base runners allowing a league high 60 stolen bases. His 30 percent caught stealing percentage in 2010 was the highest he ever had. A little too low for someone who wants to be the best catcher in the league. He also has four errors, which is too high for a catcher during the first half of a season.

    McCann signed a six-year contract for $26.8 million in 2007 with a club option in 2013. Whatever happens in 2013 will likely shape the catcher's career. If he stays with the Atlanta Braves, he could go down as a legend there if he continues on this HR pace.

3: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    This list goes from a player who needs to work on his fielding, Brian McCann, to a player who needs to work on his hitting in Yadier Molina.

    It's not that Molina is that bad of a hitter, he is batting .282 and has 17 doubles with 5 HRs in 2011. It's that .282 doesn't win many battle titles, which is what Mauer was known to compete for every year. He also has a remarkably low on-base percentage every year when compared to his batting average. In 2008 he hit a career high .304 but only had a .349 OBP. In  2011 he has continued that trend with a .332 OBP.

    Molina has three Gold Glove awards in the last three years and a career 45 percent caught stealing percentage. His best year was in 2005, here he caught an unbelievable 25 out of 39 base stealers. He has also had a career low 5 errors in each of his last two seasons and only four pass balls in 2009.

    He has also shown a knack for winning as Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra and Molina are the only three catchers to play in two World Series before the age of 25.

    He is 28 years old, which means he will have only a few years as the top catcher. He signed a four-year $15.5 million contract in 2008. There is a $7 million club option in 2012 with a $750,000 buyout clause.

    While it is not likely that Molina will find his inner Mike Piazza and belt 20 HRs a season, he can continue to make a lot of money as one of the top defensive catchers in the league, until he retires.

2: Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers

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    2011 has been Alex Avila's coming out party.

    The 24-year-old catcher has career highs in a .291 batting average, 10 HRs and 46 RBIs. He also has a career high 17 doubles, 29 runs scored and 68 hits so far. One of his pitfalls will be his high strikeout count, 67 K's in 72 games.

    Another problem is his three errors so far this season, although he could be just growing into the position as he only had 104 games played in 2010, his first real season in the majors. His 37 percent caught stealing is good enough for now, but should improve over the next couple of years.

    Avila is on his way to a big paycheck if he can keep up 2011's pace as he is only earning $425,000 in 2011. He is an unrestricted free agent and will be one of the top players on the market. Meaning there could be some big teams in play for him.

1: Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

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    Anybody who has watched Matt Wieters defensively this year has seen quite a lot.

    The 25-year-old has not had a pass ball all season, despite having one of the youngest pitching rotations throwing to him. You don't run on Wieters. He has caught 30 of 45 base runners this year with only two total errors.

    His blocking of home plate might be what's best in his about his defensive play. He creates the illusion to the baserunner that they have half the plate free, then slides his foot over pushing the player to side so they miss their slide, while he tags them. It works very well as Nick Markakis and Adam Jones have 16 outfield assists combined.

    Wieter's is a switch hitter and is hitting a respectable .269 with eight HR and 14 doubles in 2011. His most remarkable stat is that he is hitting .425 with runners in scoring position as of July 3rd. He also has limited his strikeouts with only 46.

    Wieters is only making $452,250 and will be a free agent in 2012, meaning it will cost a lot to keep him around. The Orioles will do whatever is possible to keep him in Baltimore, and it seems like he wants to be there.

    He is probably the best catching prospect in the big leagues, but he will certainly need to improve his numbers a bit if he is to take over Mauer's job.