San Diego Padres: Thoughts on the Friars’ Backup Catcher Spot

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 20: A.J. Ellis /

Here we are, exactly two weeks away from Opening Day baseball and the San Diego Padres have seen both of the realistic candidates to be the Opening Day backup catcher play well this spring.

San Diego Padres GM AJ Preller went out and signed the veteran, and former Los Angeles Dodgers backstop, A.J. Ellis to a minor-league deal in February.

Heading into the spring, fully knowing that they would be releasing Rocky Gale shortly thereafter, the Friars’ front-office knew they had to make an addition and a smart one at that.

Signing the consummately-professional and well-respected Ellis was just the smart move that most fans were hoping was made. Well, short of Preller making a splashy addition in free agency or via a trade, at least.

Ellis is a career .237/.337/.353 hitter serving as mostly a back-up for the Dodgers during his 10-year MLB tenure. His offense hasn’t exactly been his calling card, as he’s been praised for his game-calling abilities, as well as his handling of young pitchers over the course of a game (or season, for that matter).

Luis Torrens figured to be part of the competition but has not seen much playing time this spring while battling an oblique injury, only getting four at-bats so far. Torrens was optioned to Double-A San Antonio yesterday.

Padres pleasantly surprised with the play of Raffy Lopez

What the San Diego Padres did not plan for was the emergence of Rafael Lopez this spring. Signed to a minor-league contract in January, the Friars were likely hoping that Lopez would provide some added competition in Peoria and some depth at the minor-league level.

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I think it’s fair to say that his performance so far this spring was a bit unexpected. In twelve at-bats Lopez has five hits. One of those hits is a double and two are home runs.

He’s also taken four bases-on-balls, giving him a 1.563 OPS to go along with his .417 batting average.

While neither of these marks should be considered realistic or sustainable for a player like Lopez, owner of a .274/.357/.406 slash line in seven MiLB seasons.

He may still have some work to do before being tabbed as the backup catcher in San Diego.

While his potential has certainly made itself a little clearer this year against pitchers who are likely at his level or even in some cases MLB-caliber, Lopez may not be there just yet.

Ellis should start the season as the backup catcher

The decision for Preller and the Padres comes down to one vital variable; experience. Unless Ellis can’t get his average above the Mendoza line (.200) in his limited at-bats, the question really shouldn’t even be that much of a tough one.

Just the valuable wisdom he’s going to bring to this pitching staff (and Austin Hedges) would justify his roster spot. He would have to be really struggling for the Friars to consider making a change.

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Raffy Lopez has clearly made his case to be the next man up in the case of an injury to Hedges or Ellis, though.