I think it's fair to say that the American League West has the worst group of catchers of the three divisions in the Junior Circuit. Here's my ranking of the five projected starters in the West along with the teams' futures odds at sportsbooks.
1. Stephen Vogt, Oakland A's
I don't think Vogt was the best catcher on the A's when the season ended. That would have been Derek Norris. However, as part of his offseason purge of the roster, A's GM Billy Beane traded Norris to the San Diego Padres for young pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez. Interesting deal considering Norris was an All-Star last season in hitting .270 with 10 homers and 55 RBIs. Beane likes to sell high on his players and he probably did that with Norris, who did struggle in the second half of last season. So that means Vogt should get the majority of starts behind the plate. He only started eight games at catcher last year, mostly platooning as a first baseman or outfielder. Vogt hit .279 with nine homers and 35 RBIs in just 269 at-bats. He had foot surgery in October and admitted that he may not be 100 percent by spring training, but said he expects to be ready for Opening Day. Vogt will lose some at-bats to John Jaso and Vogt still likely will see at-bats at first, DH and the outfield. FanGraphs projects Vogt to hit .261 with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and 54 runs scored in 502 at-bats. The A's would take that.
Current Athletics MLB odds to win AL pennant: +4000
2. Jason Castro, Houston Astros
I'm taking a bit of a leap of faith here in putting Castro second among AL West catchers as I think he might return to his 2013 All-Star form. That year, Castro hit .276 with 18 home runs and 56 RBIs with a very solid .350 on-base percentage. Those were all career-high numbers. Last year Castro slipped to a .222 average, .286 OBP, 14 homers and 56 RBIs despite 30 more at-bats than the previous season. There was talk Castro was on the trading block this offseason because he turned down an extension around $10 million that would have covered his final two arbitration years in 2015-16, plus two more option years covering his first two potential years of free agency. Those two option years would have been worth around $15 million combined. If Castro is betting big on himself, that could mean he's poised for a big season. He is projected to hit .230 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs and 49 runs in 108 games. I expect more.
Current Astros MLB odds to win AL pennant: +5000 at Sportsbooks
3. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners
Also taking a small leap of faith here in expecting that Zunino can actually make contact with the ball more often. Last season was his first full year in the majors and Zunino hit just .199 but did slug 22 homers and knock in 60 runs. He also struck out 158 times in 438 at-bats and had a terrible on-base percentage of .254. Zunino was among the major-league leaders in being hit by 17 pitches. The guy was the No. 3 overall pick of the 2012 draft for a reason, so I expect a much better average. His projections are: .219 average, 19 dingers, 55 RBIs and 49 runs in 452 at-bats. Those feel a bit low to me.
Current Mariners MLB odds to win AL pennant: +700
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4. Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels
Iannetta, who will be 32 around Opening Day, had one of his better all-around seasons in 2014 except from a power perspective. In 306 at-bats, Iannetta hit .252 with seven homers and 43 RBIs. His on-base percentage of .373 led all American League catchers and he threw out a career-best 30 percent of base stealers. He might play more this season because the Halos traded his former backup Hank Conger to Houston. Iannetta's new backup will likely be Drew Butera, who was acquired in a deal from the Dodgers. Iannetta is projected to hit .224 with 10 homers, 40 RBIs and 46 runs in 416 at-bats.
Current Angels MLB odds to win AL pennant: +400 (favorites)
5. Robinson Chirinos, Texas Rangers
Chirinos is 30 but 2014 was his first full season in the major leagues in a 14-year pro career. He wasn't projected to play a whole lot, but J.P. Arencibia and Geovany Soto both struggled. The Rangers still would like to add another veteran catcher to share the workload so prospect Tomas Telis can gain more experience in Triple-A. One of the team's top prospects is catcher Jorge Alfaro, but he's not likely to be in the mix until 2016. Chirinos hit .239 with 13 homers and 40 RBIs in 306 at-bats in 2014 and threw out 40 percent (29 of 73) of runners attempting to steal, which is very good. Chirinos is projected to hit .236 with 14 homers, 46 RBIs and 44 runs in 423 at-bats.
Current Rangers MLB odds to win AL pennant: +1800