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MLB spring training 2017: Carlos Perez & Martin Maldonado are the Angels’ defense-first backstop duo

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Pitchers and catchers report to Tempe, Arizona tomorrow, and while we’ve discussed the former quite a bit, we’ve been way more quiet on the latter. Catchers are important, too, right? Right. So let’s take a quick look at what we’re working with here.

One of the bigger threads that fans followed throughout the offseason was “Where will free agent catcher Matt Wieters end up?”, and with good reason. The Angels were a little underwhelming at catcher, and Wieters would have been a solid bat in the lineup. Alas, Billy Eppler and crew didn’t really feel the need to go after him all that much, apparently, but that doesn’t mean they were entirely quiet on the catching front. I mean, they did acquire Martin Maldonado, by trading away the young Jett Bandy.

Carlos Perez is still on the roster, too, so between him and Maldonado, you have right there your 2017 Angels backstop battalion. What can we expect? Well, probably some pretty good defense and pitch framing, while the hitting ranges from “OK” to “nonexistent”.

Carlos Perez

Perez will be in his third year with the Angels, and like the previous two seasons, he’ll most likely end up splitting time with his battery mate, Maldonado, almost evenly down the middle (Perez played in 86 games in 2015 and 87 in 2016). This time last year, I was talking up Perez a bunch; I was quite bullish on his 2015 season, both with the glove and the bat, and I thought a breakout was imminent. Well, that didn’t quite happen.

Instead, Perez slunk to some nasty depths at the plate ( he slashed .209/.244/.325, compared to 2015’s .250/.299/.346) but at least his defensive attributes remained relatively stable (he caught 25 batters stealing in ‘15 and 21 in ‘16, while having seven passed balls in ‘15 to four passed balls in ‘16).

I think we can definitely depend on Perez to be a serviceable-to-good catcher in 2017, but hopefully he fixes whatever funk he was in at the plate last season and gets that average up a bit, at the very least. He was a 1.0 fWAR player just two seasons ago, in his rookie year, and the arrow was trending up. Hopefully Carlos gets back to that type of play, and not the other direction.

Martin Maldonado

We all loved Jett Bandy, because his name was Jett Bandy...oh, and he was actually one of the better home run hitting catchers in the league. What was not to like about the dude? Plenty, if you’re Billy Eppler, I guess. Bandy was shipped to Milwaukee and now we’ve got Maldonado in his place. Maldonado is a career .217 hitter who averaged just .202 last season with the Brewers...ugly.

Maldonado’s the vet of this catching tandem now, and he’s been in the league long enough for us to realize he’s just not going to be a threat in the batting order. So what’s the allure? Pitch framing. In the past four seasons, Maldonado has averaged 6.42 framing runs saved per season, which is pretty good! Carlos Perez, for comparison’s sake, had -2.5 framing runs saved last year.

Billy Eppler believes in pitch framing; he believes in it’s ability to loosen up the pitching staff’s ability to work the corners, and to not only save runs but to make each pitcher’s outing as efficient as possible. He believes this will help win games, and help pitchers stay healthy and spry. Make no mistake: Maldonado was brought here to improve the pitching staff, which could look like a genius move at the end of the season, if it all pans out the way he’s thinking.

Your appreciation of Martin Maldonado is going to depend on how much you believe in the power of pitch framing, but the Angels are sold on it, and sold on strong defense, so that’s why you have a backstop duo of Perez and Maldonado leading the Halos’ catching pack.

Who else?

Well, for a team that drafted a ton of catchers over the previous three or four years’ drafts, they are remarkably thin at that position. Well, at least in terms of guys who are ready to go in case of a Perez or Maldonado injury. This winter, Eppler picked up two guys who should provide some emergency depth at C, and not little else: Francisco Arcia and Tony Sanchez.

Sanchez was actually pretty decent in the 26 games he played for the Pirates in 2014, but he’s had little-to-no playing time since then. Arcia is a guy that was in the Yankees system since 2008, before going to the Marlins organization a couple years back. Eppler most likely knows about him from his days working for New York, and thus picked him up as AAA depth.

Intriguing guys like Michael Barash and Taylor Ward will be reporting tomorrow, but they are pretty far from hitting the major league team, with Ward being the one who is closer of the two and probably another season and a half or so, minimum, from making his pro debut.

Let’s all cross our fingers and hope Perez gets his stroke back, but otherwise, when you’re looking at the dismal slash lines for Perez and Maldonado, just remember that it’s all about defense and pitch framing. Repeat it over and over again, and who knows? Maybe Eppler’s master plan and backstop vision will pay off.