I have been asked more than once why I thought minor league catching prospect Juan Centeno received a non-roster invite by the Mets to Spring Training.
I’ll admit that I was initially puzzled by the move, but after a minute of deliberating it wasn’t really as surprising as one would think. A quick look to the left and you see the underwhelming and overpriced John Buck, while at the right you have two catchers picked up from the proverbial scrapheap in Anthony Recker and Landon Powell. Not exactly a group that would inspire any confidence until Travis d’Arnaud finishes simmering in Las Vegas.
Centeno doesn’t get much respect when the discussion turns to Mets prospects, but that’s why fans can only speculate about top prospects while front office executives make real life decisions about them based on what their scouts and coaching staffs tell them. That’s why I always pay close attention to what people like DePo, Natera, Valdes, Malek, Backman, etc. have to say about our prospects. It helps me to filter out the noise and focus on the substance.
Last season, we heard a lot of good things about Centeno and then when you see the Mets select him for spring camp, you understand that they really weren’t just blowing smoke up our asses. MMO was privileged to see Centeno a half dozen times in person at the many games we covered last season, and I can tell you that my people all said he has the best defensive catching tools and instincts of anyone they’ve seen in the last two seasons – including the 7-8 catchers we’ve had on the major league roster. If nothing else, Centeno is a real defensive backstop in every sense of the word. Casey Stengel would be proud.
The 23-year old Centeno was originally a 32nd round pick in 2007, so right from the start you knew he was going to be flying under the radar, and for the most part he has. But don’t think for one second that this kid is merely just a defense-only catcher, Centeno can hit and has a great batting eye.
After taking a slow boat to China, err Binghamton, Centeno batted .285 in 79 Double-A games last season and that was after batting .315 for High-A St. Lucie in 2011. The kid can make contact, but has virtually no power to speak of. However, that’s okay when you can play a premium position like catcher as exceptionally good as he does. I can think of very few catchers who can throw out runners at better than a 40% clip.
Now after all that, lets add some perspective to this. During any normal spring training, your average major league team will need at least five catchers to catch all those bullpens, play in all those split-squad games, and get the most of the 25-35 pitchers who are all in camp to compete.
It could very well be that Centeno is one of the first cuts in camp after the bulk of his work in spring training is done and he’s no longer needed. It may sound unfair, but that’s just the way it goes. I can assure you that for a player like Centeno, this will still be the biggest thrill of his career as a pro – at least until he gets his first cup of coffee. Additionally, you can’t underestimate the impact this experience will have on both his confidence and his development. Everybody wins.
Send your questions to me at GetMetsmerized@aol.com or hit me up on Twitter at @Metsmerized. I’ve been getting a ton of questions on the minors this Winter. Keep them coming and I’ll try to answer as many as I can or pass them on to one of my minor league minions.