09/12/11 6:01 PM EST
Despite fewer starts, Iannetta hopes to stay
Solid catcher has taken back seat to top prospect Rosario
By Thomas Harding / MLB.com
The Rockies are taking a long look at their top prospect, Wilin Rosario, which means Iannetta's case for future starts and playing time in purple pinstripes is essentially closed. Manager Jim Tracy has promised to try not to space Iannetta's playing opportunities so far apart that he has little chance of success when he does play.
Iannetta, 28, has a .233 batting average, fifth among National League catchers with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Iannetta's .367 on-base percentage ranks second, and his .401 slugging percentage is fifth at the position. In his most consistent defensive year to date, Iannetta has thrown out 26 runners on steal attempts, second most in the league to the Cubs' Geovany Soto, who has 29.
Iannetta has one year and $5.25 million left on his three-year contract, and the numbers say he has performed well enough to have value in the industry. The open question is whether Iannetta has secured a future with the Rockies. The answer is partly dependent on factors beyond Iannetta's performance, such as the structure of the lineup for next season and trade opportunities.
"As for my future being discussed, that hasn't happened at all," Iannetta said. "I can't control what they think -- how they view my season, if they're happy with it, if they're OK with it, if they're disappointed with it. So I can just focus on the last couple weeks, what I can do. Then everything else is going to be up to them, if they think they can win with me.
"But this is the place I want to be. I've said that time and time again. I came up with these guys. I believe in the organization. I believe in what they have to offer. I believe we can win."
Iannetta is at least in better shape than last year, when he lost the starting job to Miguel Olivo early and finished with a .197 batting average.
"From an offensive standpoint, the home run side of it  and the average side of it, I would have liked to have been a little bit higher," Iannetta said. "But I think it's definitely a year that I can build off of. It's not a year when I'm going to go into the offseason like I really struggled."
Rockies manager Jim Tracy expressed happiness with Iannetta, especially his advancement defensively in his last six weeks as a starter, when he informed Iannetta that he needed to see Rosario on a regular basis. Rosario, 22, rated the organization's top prospect by MLB.com, hit .249 with 21 home runs at Double-A Tulsa before joining the Rockies.
"I had as good a conversation as I've had with Chris Iannetta since 2009," Tracy said. "I lauded Chris Iannetta, especially because of his body of work over the last six weeks, and I'm specifically talking about what I'm seeing behind the plate from an improvement standpoint.
"We have a real good feel for where Chris Iannetta is at right now and the additional strides that he can take moving forward. I really firmly believe that's in there, too."
Simply staying in the lineup helped, Iannetta said.
"The actual catching stuff, throwing, was probably the best that it's been," Iannetta said. "A lot of that has to do with just being in there more. The rhythm and timing of it all really helped.
"Things are going to get better with more time, so it's not like I am just content with that."
Iannetta's ability to draw walks is partly because of his strike zone discipline, but it's also a function of batting eighth in the order. On many occasions, he comes up with two outs and runners on base.
"So I'm getting the idea of how aggressive I need to be," Iannetta said. "Should I expand my strike zone, which is usually pretty small, and not let the pitcher hit with two outs? Or do I let the pitcher hit, and turn the lineup over? It's not that I have it figured out, but I became more comfortable with the idea mentally."
The adage is if a team is depending on the offense of a catcher -- essentially a defensive position -- it is in trouble. Much of the Rockies' power and run production comes from a non-traditional source, their shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki. However, the Rockies received little production from third base, they aren't looking for power from center fielder Dexter Fowler and they realize that though first baseman Todd Helton is productive from an average standpoint, his years of power are behind him. So it would be nice to find offense where teams usually don't.
Of the five contending teams in the NL, four have catchers with high offensive production. As of Monday, the Cardinals' Yadier Molina, the D-backs' Miguel Montero, the Phillies' Carlos Ruiz and the Braves' Brian McCann all have averages at or above .277. McCann, Montero and Molina have slugging percentages of .460 or above. The Brewers' Matt Lucroy is hitting a respectable .269.
But the Rockies made the World Series in 2007 with Yorvit Torrealba hitting .255 with a .323 on-base percentage and a .376 slugging percentage. Offense often is a bonus when the catcher is a solid defender and leader. Those are the categories in which Iannetta is receiving high marks from the Rockies.
"I'm becoming more of a veteran player now," Iannetta said. "After the season, it'll be five [full] years. I'm getting close to where I'm more of a veteran catcher."
Thomas Harding is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Hardball in the Rockies, and follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.