There are few positions less sexy than backup catcher, but there are perils to literally chucking away ABs on no-stick retreads (like Ken Huckaby in 2005 and Jason Phillips in 2007) and running your regular guy out more often than you'd like because the alternative just isn't major league-calibre.
Rod Barajas may have won the starting job for 2009, but he's not durable enough to carry more than 70% of the playing time behind the dish. With cheap, internal options ranging from underwhelming to the extreme (Curtis Thigpen), just plain imprudent (rushing Arencibia or Jeroloman), or desperation (Erik Kratz), enter Quebec-born hard luck guy Pierre-Luc, aka "Pete", LaForest, who was recently given his walking papers by the Phillies after a lost season. (Hat tip to at Batter's Box.)
LaForest, 30, is a prototypical lefty Canuck slugger I've long been interested in. Despite showing bursts of extreme power in the minors (when healthy he slugged .567 and .578 in extended AAA stints for the Rays in the International League and .544 in the 2007 PCL trip that saw him knock 29 dingers in 296 ABs), LaForest just hasn't caught a sustained break in the big leagues. Granted, he didn't acquit himself well in 3 of his 4 short major league tours, but, uh, that doesn't mean you shouldn't see LaForest because of the trees?
More importantly, though, is that Marcel projects him to put up a .267/.345/.411 line in limited duties next year. (BA Barajas hit .249/.294/.410 last year). I'm intrigued by his minor league line to the point that I wouldn't mind seeing him used in a platoon with Barajas, recognizing that the latter has the defensive skills that will lead Cito to give him the lion's share of playing time.
Catchers don't always follow a linear path of development, as we all know. Ernie Whitt was 28 before he became an everyday player in the bigs and didn't become a "good" hitter until 30, Gregg Zaun was 33 when he found steady work in Toronto, just to cite a few local examples. LaForest might not amount to anything--there are thousands before him who couldn't translate god-given talent into a successful major league career--or he might turn out to be a bargain basement surprise for someone in 2009.
There are veteran FA options like Josh Bard and Michael Barrett who do have superior major league track records and might be worth a look for the right money despite poor years in 2008. JR House is another career minor leaguer who is pretty likely to hit better than internal options.
But maybe coming "home" (for the bare minimum, which is key) and getting a shot at finally proving himself at the highest level would light a spark under LaForest.
-- Johnny Was