1998 Rookie Catchers
In terms of quantity, 1998 was an exceptional season behind the plate, with more than a dozen rookies getting chances to play, although few established themselves as regulars
The long list of rookie catchers includes Jason Varitek of the Red Sox, Robert Machado of the White Sox, Pat Bako and Joe Siddell of the Tigers, Hector Ortiz of the Royals, Javier Valentin of the Twins, A.J. Hinch of the A's, Kevin Brown of the Blue Jays, Damian Miller of the Diamondbacks, Mitch Meluskey of the Astros, Bobby Hughes of the Brewers, Bob Henley of the Expos, Bobby Estalella of the Phillies, and Eli Marrero of the Cardinals.
Among these, Hinch, Marrero and Bako made the most impact, all three moving into the lineup on a fairly regular basis. Most others enjoyed only part-time duty, as is customary with novice catchers.
Machado, 25, got more frequent work from the also-ran White Sox in late season to test whther he was ready to take over full time in 1999.
"There's going to come a time when we want the young guy to do a lot of catching." said Sox manager Jerry Manuel. "We need to get some of the kinks out about how we like to have things done."
The Phillies hoped Estalella, 24, would show flashes of the power he used in hitting three home runs in one of his first major league games in the fall of 1997. But he had a hard time getting his batting average above his weight in '98.
Marrero, 25, who overcame surgery for thyroid cancer, fared much better. He won a share of the catching job from veteran Tom Lampkin, and kept his batting average around the respectable .270 level. He also was very strong defensively, with a fine throwing arm.
The Tigers lost Paul Casanova to injury early in the season, and left most of the catching to Bako, 26, a left-handed batter. While no great shakes as a hitter, Bako is very deft defensively. He hit above expectations, however, with the Tigers, hovering around .270, though without exerting much power.
Hinch also had his problems on offense, being unable to get much above .230, but showed flashes of the hitting ability he demonstrated in 1997, his first year as a pro. He batted .309 with 20 HR in 95 games at Class A Modesto, then did even better at AAA Edmonton, with .375 in 39 games.
"I can't ever remember feeling so inconsistent," said Hinch, the 1992 national high school player of the year, about his struggles in 1998. "There were some times during the mess when I felt 'When is this going to get better?'"
The A's expect it will get better for Hinch in '99. And despite his modest showing in his first year, Hinch is our selection as the top catcher.
#23 | Hinch Bio & Stats | League Awards
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