Player Preview: Steve Clevenger
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.