I wrote recently about Rockies rookie reliver Marcos Carvajal, who's off to a hot start, and I thought that today I might go in the opposite direction in more ways than one by taking a look at J.D. Closser, who plays catcher and isn't finding the big leagues as easy. Closser is hitting a lean .160 while playing in about two-thirds of the Rockies' games. He's also thrown out only 1 of 11 attempted base stealers for a Piazza-like .091 average. Not much can be said so far for his game-calling as Colorado pitchers have rung up a 6.23 ERA on his watch.
Jeffrey Darrin Closser, born 1/15/1980, is 5'10" and weighs 175. He's a switch-hitter who was drafted out of high school in Indiana by the Diamondbacks in 1998. The Rockies acquired him in a trade for lefty reliever Mike Myers before the 2002 season. Closser is a career .281 hitter in the minor leagues, with an impressive .383 on-base percentage. His double and homer totals have risen as he's moved along. He's not likely to become a big-time home run hitter, but his mixture of on-base and gap hitting skills makes him a useful offensive player, especially for a catcher.
Defensively Closser is more of a question mark. At Colorado Springs last season he only nabbed 22% of basestealers. Baseball Prospectus's defensive metric rates him as very slightly below average as a defensive catcher, scoring him a -4 (0 is neutral) in AAA last season. The Baseball America Prospect Handbook notes that work with well-regarded SkySox pitching coach Bob McClure has improved Closser's game-calling.
Despite his slow pace out of the gate, Closser is one of the best candidates on the Rockies' roster for long-term success. His batting eye should sustain him through slumps like this -- right now, despite the ugly average, his OBP is a slightly less ghastly .250 -- and he's certainly demonstrated ample ability to hit the ball in the minor leagues. Catcher is one of the most difficult, technical positions, and Closser at 25 has plenty of time to develop the footwork and release technique to keep opposing runners from going wild on the bases against him. None of the references I've checked suggests he doesn't have the arm strength to eventually be a first-rate backstop. The pressure is on pitching coach Bob Apodaca to build a productive relationship between Closser and the Rockies' corps of young arms.