Chris Iannetta, Michael McKenry good targets for Red Sox

MLB: Mets vs Rockies APR 14

No doubt, by now many of you are aware of my current employment with the Colorado Springs Sky Sox, AAA affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.

While it has had few tie-ins with the Red Sox up to this point, it has really been exciting hearing the rumors on and other sources pertaining to the Red Sox scouting of Chris Iannetta.

Though I must remain tight-lipped on what may or may not be occurring with respect to the demoted catcher — in order to avoid a conflict of interest. — I can confirm the obvious occurrences as well as what has been reported in other sources.

Iannetta looks terrific. He is raking. He has handled his demotion in a very professional manner. He would be an excellent fit for the Red Sox for the future.

–End of Analysis as a Sky Sox Employee —

Resuming the article as a Fire Brand analyst from Boston’s standpoint, there is no better time to target Iannetta as a trade candidate. He possesses an extraordinary bat, is a great defensive backstop, and is cheap. Signed through 2012 for roughly $3 million per year (with a $5 million team option in 2013), he’ll be easy on the ledger. Having just turned 27, he could be the team’s feature backstop for the next four to five years.

He won’t be cheap to acquire, however. Offensively gifted catchers who excel behind the plate don’t grow on trees. Though the Rockies have depth at catcher in their system — including fellow Sky Sox backstop Michael McKenry — Iannetta is a very rare asset that will likely be difficult to wrest from the Denver management’s fingers.

Still, he has drawbacks. Though he hits for incredible power, he’s accomplished it primarily in high-altitude ballparks. Though he posted OPS’ of .895 and .804 in 2008 and 2009, respectively, he’s a high strikeout, low BABIP guy, meaning that power is his primary offensive tool. Though this isn’t of concern in 2010, the fact that he’s a catcher means that Iannetta’s power will probably decline early on in his career.

Catching places an incredible amount of strain on a player’s knees — legs being perhaps the most critical component of a batter’s power output — meaning that Iannetta may face challenges hitting for power late in his career after his legs have gone.

As a contrast to Iannetta, an example of a catcher’s offensive game that will probably age well is Joe Mauer’s (assuming he were to stick behind the plate).

Though he’s got a big frame and will have leg problems when he gets a bit older, his game is built upon contact and going the opposite way. He’s already incredibly valuable hitting 10 home runs in a season, so when his legs go (taking his power with him) when he hits his 30s, he’ll still be able to serve single after single the opposite way — allowing him to maintain high batting averages well into the twilight of his career.

In addition, his opposite-field hitting approach will age better that a batter who likes to pull pitches. As his bat speed declines, he won’t have to make as stark of an adjustment to catch up to fastballs. Papi is a textbook example of what happens to an aging lefty slugger who feasts on inside pitching: his bat speed drops, he stops hitting lefthanders, then he struggles against inside fastballs, then he starts cheating on these pitches which makes him vulnerable to offspeed pitches away. Mauer won’t struggle on pitches away and, considering how few pitchers truly “live” inside, Mauer will have plenty of pitches on the outer half to feast upon.

But I digress.

Iannetta’s game being based on power, it likely won’t age that well if he is not given a good amount of time out from behind the plate. His bat is good enough to hold its own elsewhere on the diamond and it would help his longevity to teach him first base a la Victor Martinez: spell the infield, improve his versatility and prolong his career.

As for fitting him in this year, it’s an achievable initiative — but still a challenge.

First off, there isn’t enough playing time available for three catchers. The only way everyone could get their at-bats would be to trade away Mike Lowell. Iannetta would then take over for Lowell’s playing time both directly and indirectly.

Directly, Iannetta would fulfill the right-handed side of the DH platoon with Ortiz, which Lowell has been fulfilling to this point.

Indirectly is where it gets interesting. To get Iannetta and Varitek their due reps behind the plate — as well as filling in Lowell’s vacated backup third base role — Victor Martinez would move out to first base more frequently. Slating in V-Mart at first base, Youkilis would move over to third when spelling Adrian Beltre. There wouldn’t be very many at-bats to go around, but it would allow the team to make a seamless transition from Lowell to Iannetta — as long as they can find a trade partner for Lowell.

Though not a perfect solution to the playing time conundrum, it would allow the team to acquire a premium catcher while not sacrificing the club’s offensive capabilities.

Did I mention that he’s from Providence? What a perfect fit for the 2011-2013 Red Sox.

As an aside, while the Sox are looking in the direction of Colorado Springs, they would be wise to do their due diligence and also take a look at Sky Sox catcher Michael McKenry.

An excellent defensive backstop, McKenry also has a good amount of pop to go along with maturing plate discipline. An underrated prospect who deserves far more attention in mainstream prospect coverage, McKenry is, in many ways, a younger version of Iannetta. Possessing a stocky frame, good power for a catcher (though not at Iannetta’s level), and a quick, powerful arm from behind the plate (he has thrown out 40 percent of basestealers in his minor league career), McKenry is a well-balanced backstop who excels in every area of the game.

A nice guy (I and others in the organization can personally attest to this) and still just 25, the Sox could place McKenry atop their catching prospect rankings should they be so lucky to acquire him.

He’ll get his chance in the Majors somewhere and, if it’s in Boston, the Fenway Faithful will love every minute of it.

Still, it is all speculation to this point and anything could happen. Who knows? With the way Iannetta is hitting, he may not be in Colorado Springs when I arrive at work in the morning.

And, with the way V-Mart has turned his season around in recent days, the Boston brass may change their mind on acquiring a catcher for the 2010 stretch run.

It’s all up in the air at this point.