Young backstops look to catch on with Rockies
Garneau, Murphy look to build off big league experience in 2016
DENVER -- After a couple of early offseason moves, the Rockies are short on experienced options to back up regular catcher Nick Hundley. There's the rest of the offseason to add a veteran or two, but Dustin Garneau and Tom Murphy hope their debuts at the end of 2015 could lead to roster spots next season.
Garneau, 28, was promoted from Triple-A Albuquerque on Aug. 20 after nearly seven Minor League seasons. Murphy, who turns 25 on April 3 (the day before the opener) is the team's top catching prospect. He was called up on Sept. 11 after Hundley was sidelined for the final days of the season with a neck injury.
Garneau appeared in 22 games and struggled to a .157 batting average, but he had two homers and three doubles among his 11 hits and earned high marks defensively. Murphy hit .257 in 11 contests, with three home runs and a double among his nine hits.
Since the end of the regular season, the Rockies outrighted experienced backup Michael McKenry, who missed a month-plus because of left knee surgery, and designated for assignment former starting catcher Wilin Rosario, who spent 2015 as a first baseman and pinch-hitter. Near the end of the '15 campaign, manager Walt Weiss did not rule out having one of the inexperienced players as part of the catching picture.
"As long as they can go out there and do the job, handle the demands of the position -- which are many -- it doesn't matter a whole lot to me," Weiss said.
A 19th-round pick out of Cal State Fullerton in 2009, Garneau has been considered a strong enough defensive catcher to advance. Simplifying his offensive approach in 2015, which resulted in a .274 batting average, 15 home runs and 61 RBIs in 81 Triple-A games, made him a candidate for the Majors.
"It hasn't really translated yet up here, but down in Triple-A I learned that just staying within myself is good enough," Garneau said at season's end. "I don't need to go above and beyond to be a big leaguer."
Garneau was comfortable and confident defensively.
"I knew I could play up here -- I knew I could at least catch," he said. "Pitching to a lineup is a chess match. It's a lot of fun learning how to pitch to a lineup at the big league level."
Murphy hit 22 home runs in Double-A in 2013 but a right shoulder injury limited him to 27 games in 2014. Healthy again in 2015, Murphy hit .256 with 20 home runs and 65 RBIs at Double-A New Haven and Albuquerque. He also was the regular catcher on a Team USA squad that finished with the silver medal at the Pan American Games.
"I just went in trying not to make up for lost time from last year," Murphy said. "I figure if I did that everything would pan out. Everything has been great. It's just your typical prehab-rehab stuff, nothing crazy, just enough to keep going."
Murphy also made the most of the times he wasn't playing.
"I enjoyed Getting the chance to talk to Hundley every day and picking up on little nuances of the game, especially hitters and how they change things, their approaches against us and how they change, because big-leaguers are constantly making adjustments," Murphy said. "Working with him and figuring things out throughout the game is the biggest thing, since you can't get guys out the same way every time."