Marson says he's a backup in name only

Marson says he's a backup in name only

Marson says he's a backup in name only
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Lou Marson does not worry too much about being labeled early in his career as a backup catcher. Simply put, Marson does not really consider the term backup catcher accurate in describing what he does for the Indians.

"I guess I'd call it a second catcher," Marson said on Tuesday.

That is because Marson's situation is different than most of the second-tier catchers who reside on other organizations' depth charts. Cleveland has created a catching tandem that includes Carlos Santana serving as the top choice, but Marson is close behind in terms of innings caught.

When each catcher is used in a way that brings out their individual strength, the Indians feel they boast a duo who can be both solid in the batter's box and beneficial for the pitching staff. It is a unique blending of backstops that Cleveland believes will be solid once again this year.

"If you take a look at his numbers last year," said Indians manager Manny Acta, referring to Marson, "they don't go with the backup numbers games-wise or at-bats-wise. We feel fortunate to have a guy like Lou. That being said, he's still young and he still needs to continue to improve offensively."

That is what has stopped Marson from becoming a full-time option up to this point.

Last year, Marson hit .230 with one home run and 19 RBIs, but he appeared in 79 games and collected 243 at-bats along the way. A typical big league backup catcher might see around 40-50 games in a season with fewer than 200 at-bats.

Marson's career batting average in the big leagues sits at a paltry .218, which is why the Tribe has searched for ways to get the most out of his bat when he is in the lineup. The approach, which will remain the same this season, has been to use Marson mostly on days when a left-handed pitcher is on the mound.

That strategy has a two-pronged effect. First, it provides some rest for the legs of Santana, who can slide to first base or serve as a designated hitter when he is not behind the plate. Beyond that, though, it gives Marson the best opportunity to succeed at the plate until he shows signs of improving against right-handed pitching.

Asked what Marson needed to do to accomplish that task, Acta smiled.

"He's not going to be out there," Acta said. "Don't worry about it."

The 25-year-old Marson wants to show he can find a way to improve against righties, though.

For his career, the right-handed-hitting Marson has posted a .285 average with a .763 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties, while putting up a .188 average with a .529 OPS versus righties. Last season, the catcher hit .297 with a .793 OPS against left-handers, but only .191 with a .474 OPS versus right-handers.

During the offseason, Marson lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., which is a short drive to the Indians' training site in Goodyear. He checked in at Cleveland's complex on occasion, but he spent the winter months doing the bulk of his training at the Athletes' Performance Institute or at his old stomping grounds at Coronado High School.

Marson would head to his old school and have one of his former coaches, Scott Kirchheimer, throw to him during batting practice sessions. The pair have known one another since Marson was a Little Leaguer on area teams.

"It's cool to be here and be close to family and friends," Marson said.

With Spring Training well under way, Marson is doing all he can to make strides with the offensive side of his game. Cleveland knows it has a sound game caller and defender in Marson -- he has thrown would-be basestealers out at a 40-percent clip over the past two years -- but the club is still waiting for his bat to reach expectations.

Marson knows the key is to improve against righties.

"I've always been successful against left-handers," he said. "Why it's like that? I just see them better and kind of have more time to see the ball. My timing is inconsistent against right-handed pitching. That's one thing I'm really trying to work on is getting ready super early against right-handers.

"I'm really focusing on my timing and that's it. Let it go. Take an aggressive swing."

In the meantime, Marson is not assuming anything in the way of job security.

"I've still got to make the team in my mind," Marson said. "I've still got to come out and perform. There's other catchers here who are coming in trying to take my job. They're not just going to hand me anything, so I've still got to come out and perform."

Other catchers in camp this spring include Matt Pagnozzi, Luke Carlin and Michel Hernandez, but that trio is viewed more as experienced depth for the organization. The Indians plan on entering this season with Santana as the starter and Marson as the reserve option behind the plate.

It is a situation that Marson enjoys.

"Absolutely," he said. "Carlos can move over to first or DH. He's a pretty athletic kid and obviously he's a very dangerous hitter from both sides of the plate. We need a bat like that in the lineup, so I'm just going to be ready for when my name is in the lineup."

And his name will be in the lineup more often than other "backup" catchers.

"If I catch 80 games a year, I don't think you're really considered a backup," Marson said. "An everyday catcher should be catching 130 games a year. I have so much respect for guys that can catch every day like that. It's definitely one of my goals -- to one day be able to do that."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.