Kreuter, LoDuca, and Peña look to continue the Dodger catching tradition
When the Los Angeles Dodgers did not pursue a free agent catcher this off season, many people began to worry about the Dodger catching situation. During the winter the general manager Kevin Malone said their focus was on improving the pitching. Without good catching staff pitching will not reach its potential. Though Chad Kreuter, Paul LoDuca, and Angel Peña are not well known or considered as offensive threats, they have good defensive skills. Since 1948 the Dodgers have had good catchers, and Kreuter, LoDuca, and Peña hope to continue the great Dodger catching tradition.
Before the 1990s the catching position was considered as a defensive position. If catchers could call a good game, block balls in the dirt, block the plate, and throw out stealers, most teams were thrilled no matter what the catchers’ offensive production. Roy Campanella, Yogi Berra, and Johnny Bench were known for their defensive skills, and everybody marveled at their offensive ability. In 1991 the Texas Rangers promoted Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez to the major leagues. Rodriguez had both great defensive and offensive skills, including base stealing. The Dodgers introduced Mike Piazza to major league baseball fans in 1993. Not known for his defense, Piazza could and can hit for high average and with incredible power. Both Rodriguez and Piazza helped to revolutionize the catching position. Because most teams want to get good offensive production from their catchers, many are concerned about the limited offensive potential from the Dodger catchers. However, the Dodgers want their catchers to concentrate on their defense and not worry about producing offensively.
Since 1948 the Dodgers have had good catchers. Roy Campanella, a Negro League veteran, established the standard for the Dodger catchers. He handled pitchers beautifully, blocked balls in the dirt with excellence, blocked the plate well, had a strong arm, and had great offensive production. He won three National League Most Valuable Player awards and established a record for the most home runs by a catcher, which stood until 1996. After Campanella retired, John Roseboro was the primary Dodger catcher. He handled and worked with Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, and he won two gold gloves.
During the 1970s Joe Ferguson and Steve Yeager provided the Dodgers with reliable catchers who were good targets for the pitchers. During the 1980s and the early 1990s Mike Scioscia gave the Dodgers an excellent receiver who blocked balls and the plate maybe the best of any catcher in the modern era. Mike Piazza was an offensive force in the Dodger lineup until the Dodgers traded him in 1998, and he caught two no-hitters by Ramon Martinez and Hideo Nomo. Since Piazza left, Charles Johnson and Todd Hundley tried to perform up to the lofty Dodger standards, but they did not.
During his thirteen-year career Chad Kreuter has not been an everyday catcher, except in 1999 with the Kansas City Royals. With a career batting average of .239teams do not choose Kreuter as their backup catcher for his offense. Though he batted .264 in 2000 with the Dodgers, he gave them more valuable services. His knowledge of handling pitchers helped to turn Chan Ho Park from a struggling pitcher who had trouble concentrating into a dominating starter. His defense was superb in 2000, especially throwing out 15 of 34 stealers. Though this spring he has only two hits, Kreuter has a guaranteed place on the opening day Dodger roster. Jim Tracy plans to have Kreuter to work with Park and Darren Dreifort in 2001. The Dodgers hope Kreuter can help to turn Dreifort into a dominating pitcher.
Paul LoDuca figures to catch three out of five days. Though he spent much of the 1999 season with the Dodgers, most people consider him as an inexperienced catcher. Because LoDuca is a small man, many people worry if LoDuca has the endurance to catch regularly over the entire major league season. Not known for power, he has hit .300 at every level in the Dodger minor league system. He has good bunting skills and has speed. Defensively he has all the skills necessary to be a good defensive catcher. This spring he has hit well and showed his good defense. LoDuca finally has his opportunity to be a regular catcher in the major leagues, and hopefully he will make the most of it.
Angel Peña might make the opening day Dodger roster because he is out of options. If he does not make the Dodgers this April, other teams can claim him off waivers. Once the Dodgers labeled Peña as the catcher of the future, but he lost favor within the Dodger organization. Peña has a happy-go-lucky personality, which is not an asset to a baseball player. His work ethnic has been questionable. He has had difficultly controlling his weight. This winter he went to Duke Weight Center and lost ten to fifteen pounds. Peña has a good throwing arm and has displayed power in the Dodger minor league system. This spring it has been rumored the Dodgers might trade Peña.
Though the Dodgers do not have well-known catchers, Kreuter, LoDuca, and Peña seem able to continue the proud Dodger catching tradition.