View From The Bleachers

April 2, 2012

Player Preview: Steve Clevenger

Filed under: Featured,General — Joe Aiello @ 3:00 am

Who is Steve Clevenger? I can break it down in three simple words…..Not Koyie Hill. I kid despite the fact that I liked Koyie, but it’s been a long time since we’ve had a backup catcher with potential to actually hit the baseball. Let’s get to know the guy who will fill that role to start the season.

Since the Cubs released Hill this off-season, we knew there would be a competition in spring training for the backup role. Clevenger and highly rated prospect, Wellington Castillo did not disappoint. Both played very well in spring training and made the decision very tough. I thought the Cubs made the right decision to give the job to Clevenger. Let’s take a look a few things regarding the choice to understand what to expect.

Clevenger is not the long term solution – It’s important to curb your expectations a little when looking at Clevenger. Just because he beat out Castillo for the job out of spring training does not mean he’s suddenly vaulted ahead of him in the prospect rankings. This fact, in my mind, explains why Clevenger gets the first shot. The Cubs believe in Castillo’s talents. They feel like he can challenge Geo for the starting job and do it very soon. To do that, he has to get at bats on a regular basis and that can’t happen on the Major League team unless we see an injury. Clevenger doesn’t have that type of ceiling so you’re not really retarding his development by playing him in a backup role.

Clevenger is versatile – I’m not saying he’s Brandon Inge, but he can play other spots on the diamond beside catcher. In his minor league career, he’s seen time primarily at catcher, but also played at first and second and even got a couple looks at third. It’s probably not the route the Cubs will go, but anytime you can have more players with a least a hint of versatility, you do yourself a favor. You never know when an injury or two creeps up in the middle of the game and puts you in a bind. Versatility helps in that area.

Clevenger is not offensively anemic – What I mean by that is that he can hit for average and hold his own overall at the plate. He’s not going to hit for power, but seeing him hit in the .280 range is a reasonable expectation. He’s a career .308 / .369 / .421 hitter in the minor leagues, so a switch to less than regular at bats should cause those numbers to drop a little, but not enough to make him worthless. The key is going to be that he won’t be an automatic out when he plays, which is basically what Hill was.

Baseball America scouting report:

Clevenger took a circuitous path to the majors. He began his college career as a shortstop at Southeastern Louisiana in 2005 and planned to transfer to Texas, but a credit snafu led him to Chipola junior college, which made him draft eligible a year earlier than expected. The Cubs signed him for $150,000 as a seventh-rounder in 2006, and quickly found his infield actions lacking and converted him to catching in instructional league that fall. It took him six years to climb through the minors before he reached Chicago late last September. Clevenger excels at putting the bat on the ball. He controls the zone, rarely strikes out and has a career .308 average as a pro. He’s not a big home run threat, but he can drive balls to the gaps and has done so more frequently in the last two years. As his legs have gotten stronger from catching, he has added power. He has developed nicely behind the plate, with Tennessee manager Brian Harper (a former big league catcher) calling Clevenger one of the best receivers he has ever seen. He has solid arm strength and makes accurate throws, though he erased just 23 % of basestealers in 2011. He has improved his ability to block balls and manage a pitching staff. Clevenger has below-average speed but has more than most catchers and runs the bases intelligently. He also offers versatility, with the ability to play first or third base if needed. Clevenger profiles more as a quality backup than as a regular, and as a lefthanded hitter, he’d be a perfect complement to Geovany Soto in Chicago.

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Joe Aiello is the founder of View From the Bleachers and one of the lead writers. Growing up in Chicago, he fondly remembers attending games in the bleachers before that was the popular thing to do. Currently Joe resides in North Carolina with his wife and three kids and helps people protect their assets as an independent insurance agent. Connect with Joe via Twitter / Facebook / E-mail

  • Buddy

    I’m also an enthusiastic member of the Not Koyie Hill fan club!


    Me 3. Neifi Hill was getting to be too much

  • Tom_C

    These player previews are excellent.  Much better than the Trib & Sun Times articles about how Soriano feels “good” this spring and is poised to have “a big year.”

  • Doc Raker

    Excellent profile. A career .308 hitter as a pro, that’s pretty good. Maybe he has a ceiling on his power but anyone who can hit close to .300 is starter potential for me. This could be a possible righty lefty platoon also, not just a back up situation.

  • cap’n obvious

    he has all his digits, and could be called on in late inning pinch hitting situations.  I remember hoping they’d use Zambrano over Koyie Hill in those spots.

  • Norm Bothwell

    Considering catchers hit 244/312/388 last season, I think Clevenger can hit slightly better than most catchers. Good back up to have on a good team.

  • Noah_I

    I think the questions with Clevenger as a starter or part of a strict platoon are mostly on the defensive side.  Baseball America’s quote from Brian Harper is one of the most positive I’ve heard about Clevenger.  Not that he’s supposed to be awful defensively, but I’ve heard more fringe average.  You could deal with that more from the guy who hits on the right side of the platoon, but since the lefty would play 3/4 of the games that would make him the de facto starter. 

    Great guy to have as your backup, though.  If his defense is where Brian Harper says it is, he’s going to end up a starter somewhere.

  • Chuck

    I can live with a fringy defensive backup catcher who can hit better than the pitcher.  This, hopefully, will mean that Soto can get more regular rest to stay healthy.  A good byproduct of this is that maybe Soto can get some time at 1B.
    Now we only have auto-outs at 3B and P.  I still can’t believe that Ian Stewart is going to be the starter at 3B.

  • Doc Raker

    Ian Stewart is not the long term guy, be patient.

  • Jedi

    A catcher with 10 fingers = upgrade.  (Wow the bar is low right now!)

  • Jedi

    You’re so narrow-minded Doc, wanting hitters to actually hit.

  • jswanson

    When did the whole ‘receiving’ thing regarding catchers come about?  The ability to catch a ball seems like a requisite.  The other one that keeps popping up is ‘hit tool.’  I feel old.  

  • ipstaff

     I’ve always been under the impression that a good “receiver” is one who can intelligently call a ballgame for his pitcher – looking for the right pitches in the right situations – rather than just being capable at catching the ball.  Weird choice of words to use, to be sure.

    The “hit tool” thing is a bunch of people trying to talk like pro scouts – a “five tool” player is one with – hit, power, speed, defense, arm.


    I don’t understand why managers always automatically hit pitchers 9th. I said for many years Bozo should have been hitting 8th when automatic outs and rally killers like Neifi, Macias, Hill, Izturis or Cedeno were in the lineup. I remember Piniella saying he didn’t want to do it because it would show up the hitter. Since when does respect trump winning? And heck, when Transition Tony did it, he didn’t even do it because the pitcher was a better hitter. He wanted more guys on base when his boppers came up

  • Doc Raker

    I know, I still value someone based on their batting average, gasp!

  • Drdecarlo

    We have at least 5 tools here at the View, not not naming names though.

  • Lizzie

    Always somewhat frightening to me when you fellas start discussing your tools.

  • jswanson

    There goes Lizzie, flaunting her innuendo tool.  

  • Doc Raker

    No no Lizzie, as in “The Capn and Seymour are tools.” Sorry to disappoint you Lizzie, not discussing anyones tool. Maybe Mrs Seymour and Mrs Capn can post about their respective tools but I am sure it would be a short post.

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