Rob Brantly and Detroit’s Organizational Catching Depth

Everyone knew the Detroit Tigers were bound to make a trade for a second basemen and a starting pitcher before the deadline, and they did just that a few days ago, shipping prized pitching prospect Jacob Turner, Minor League-reliever Brian Flynn, and impressive catching prospect Rob Brantly to the Miami Marlins in exchange for second basemen Omar Infante and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

In the short-term, it’s kind of tough to come to terms with your favorite team’s top pitching prospect being dealt away for players that can may or may not help you in the short-term (and you better believe I’ll be singing a different tune if Detroit is hoisting a World Series trophy before it’s all said and done).

However, another element of this trade that concerns me is the loss of impressive catching prospect Rob Brantly.

March 10, 2012; Lakeland, FL, USA; Detroit Tigers catcher Rob Brantly (71) against the Washington Nationals during a spring training game at Joker Marchant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

People think I’m nuts for saying this, but I’m going to go ahead and say it: I’m not 100% sold that Alex Avila is Detroit’s long-term answer at catcher.

Sure, he had a fine 2011 campaign in which he started the All Star game, hit .295 with 19 HR, and knocked in 82. Additionally, his game-calling behind the plate was another facet to Detroit’s ability to win their first AL Central Division title.

However, as the season wore on, Avila’s knees buckled like a cheap folding chair, and he was completely ineffective at the plate in the playoffs (barely recording a batting average of .063 in 16 at-bats.)

Avila hasn’t been able to match his numbers of last year so far this season (hitting .241 with only 6 HR and 27 RBI as I write this), plus, he’s already had a fairly lengthy stay on the disabled list this due to knee issues.

Which brings me back to my original point: if Avila is already hampered by knee injuries at the young age of 25, how long can his career as a catcher last? Will he ever be the Avila of 2011? Was it smart to trade Brantly?

Drafted in the third round of the 2010 Draft by Detroit, Brantly is hitting .294, with 3 HR and 33 RBI this season, which began in Class “AA” Erie.

He eventually moved on to Class “AAA” Toledo before being traded to the Miami organization, where he’s currently playing for the New Orleans Zephyrs of the Pacific Coast League.

Is Brantly the next Johnny Bench? Probably not, but he’s shown the ability to hit for average to all fields, and has a solid, disciplined approach at the plate.

He’s not a defensive savant, but he’ll improve as his professional career advances. He appears to be a very coachable player, especially after starting off slow last year in Class “A” Lakeland, so his ability to manage a pitching staff should only get better.

Detroit’s organizational catching depth hasn’t bottomed out with the loss of Brantly, but outside of James McCann, there isn’t much there.

James McCann was drafted out of the second round by Detroit in 2011. McCann played collegiately at the University of Arkansas.

Last season, McCann only appeared in 14 games in the Minor Leagues, splitting time between the Gulf Coast League Tigers and the Class “A” West Michigan Whitecaps.

He began the 2012 campaign in Class “A” Lakeland before being promoted to Class “AA” Erie. In 45 games in Lakeland, McCann hit .288 with 0 HR and 20 RBI.

Unfortunately, after being promoted to Erie, his average plummeted to .162 (in 28 games), with 2 HR and 13 RBI.

McCann had a solid career as a Razorback, and was a semi-finalist for the Johnny Bench Award (given to the top catcher in Division I baseball). Hopefully, he’ll put his offensive woes behind him and approach the .306 mark he put up in his last year in a Razorback uniform.

Behind the dish for the Toledo Mud Hens is Bryan Holaday, who had a brief stint up in the Majors this season back in June while Detroit seemed to have two players a night go down due to injury.

Holaday isn’t really expected to crack Detroit’s roster anytime in the near future, if at all.

He was drafted out of Texas Christian University by Detroit in sixth round in the 2010 Draft. The rest of that season, he played in Class “A” Lakeland and hit only .220, with 3 HR and 12 RBI in 44 games.

Last year, at Class “AA” Erie, Holaday hit only .242, with 7 HR and 42 RBI. This year, outside of his brief stint in Detroit, he’s been up at Class “AAA” Toledo, hitting .264, with 1 HR and 17 RBI.

Holaday’s calling card is definitely his defense, and was drafted as a defense-first catcher, so if he continues to call a good game down in Toledo, perhaps he can make spot starts up in Detroit (if Avila or whomever should go down to injury) in the future.

Over in Class “A” West Michigan is a player whose last name should sound familiar to baseball fans—Patrick Leyland, the son of Tiger’s manager Jim Leyland, was drafted in the 8th round of the 2011 MLB Draft out of Bishop Canevin High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Leyland may be the beneficiary of nepotism more than anything else—Jim Leyland tried to convince GM Dave Dombrowski and Tigers Vice President Al Avila (the father of Alex) not to draft his son, but they went ahead and did it anyways.

And plus, the whole nepotism thing seemed to work out nicely for Tiger fans and Alex Avila (at least during 2011).

He hasn’t put up great stats, and honestly, I don’t expect him to stick around for very long, although he’s hitting a fairly-respectable .256 with 2 HR and 16 RBI in 43 games.

Hopefully, Avila’s knees can hold up for the stretch run for Detroit, because now that Rob Brantly is in Miami’s system, Detroit’s organizational catching depth is thin.

McCann has the skills to be a Major League catcher someday, and hopefully he can get his offensive struggles ironed out if his services are needed in the case of a long-term injury for Avila.

It’s too early to tell whether Detroit or Miami will benefit in the long-run from their recent trade, but while most Detroit fans bemoan the loss of Jacob Turner, I was hesitant to see Detroit part with Brantly.

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For more on the Detroit Tigers, check out Motor City Bengals

Topics: Al Avila, Alex Avila, Anibal Sanchez, Brian Flynn, Bryan Holaday, Dave Dombrowski, Detroit Tigers, Jacob Turner, James McCann, Jim Leyland, Miami Marlins, Omar Infante, Patrick Leyland, Rob Brantly

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  • BigDguy

    Holaday was the 2010 Johnny Bench Award winner by the way. You mentioned the other catcher as a runner up for the award but forgot to mention an actual winner of the best catcher trophy. That guy has a future with the Tigers after laird leaves the organization. Avilas knees will eventually hurt him and that’s where Holaday comes thru big in Detroit.

  • Joseph

    Thanks for the addition, BigDguy, I did not catch that Holaday was the Johnny Bench Award winner. He seems like he’s very good defensively, and I hope he can swing the bat well enough to warrant a good look at the Major League level. It’s so dang hard to find quality catchers today. It’s amazing to think that, at one time, catchers with offensive skills were almost unheard of—now, it’s almost a requirement!

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