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Around the Horn: Catchers

Durable Molina leaves little for backups

The following is the first in a series of weekly stories on MLB.com examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Catchers.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Some ballclubs debate whether to keep two catchers or three on their active roster. With the Giants, one catcher often seems to be enough.

Bengie Molina avoids days off like fashion models avoid milkshakes. Even as the Giants entrenched themselves in last place in 2007, his desire to play never flagged. Molina ultimately started 125 games, rendering backups Eliezer Alfonzo and Guillermo Rodriguez virtually irrelevant.

It marked the sixth time in Molina's eight full Major League seasons that he had appeared in at least 117 games, reflecting a durability he cherishes.

"Nobody thought I could make the big leagues at first when I signed," Molina said. "Then, when I reached the Major Leagues, everybody thought that I wouldn't stay for a long time."

Of course, since catching is baseball's most grueling position, it behooves the Giants to have an able successor on hand should Molina be sidelined. Alfonzo and Rodriguez appear primed to compete for the backup role, since each has performed well in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Still, Molina proved himself difficult to replace as he joined the Giants last season. He established himself as the team's best clutch hitter, batting .338 with runners in scoring position and two outs (.315 with RISP overall). That proficiency largely accounted for his career-high 81 RBIs, the most by a San Francisco catcher excepting Dick Dietz's 104 in 1970.

Molina also hit 19 home runs, including two in one inning on May 6 against the Mets. This was only the sixth such occurrence in franchise history and first since Willie McCovey did it on June 27, 1977, at Cincinnati. "I'm not a home run hitter at all," Molina insisted.

Nevertheless, as the Giants' lineup currently stands, Molina likely would be the team's cleanup hitter, sandwiched by Randy Winn batting third and newcomer Aaron Rowand hitting fifth.

Molina also led by example with his ceaseless, sincere effort, making him an obvious choice for the 2007 "Willie Mac" Award as the team's most inspirational player. Late in the season, Molina openly challenged his teammates' focus on winning, underscoring both his frustration and his willingness to send a necessary message.

San Francisco Giants
Catchers: Molina's durability a plus
Corner IF: Ortmeier has edge at first
Middle IF: Second base up for grabs
Outfielders: Youngsters to compete
Starters: Youth is served
Bullpen: Youngsters will be key
Bench: Roster crunch in outfield

Thrust suddenly into the primary catcher's role when post-concussion syndrome sidelined Mike Matheny in 2006, Alfonzo finished that season with a .266 average, 12 home runs and 39 RBIs in 87 games. A sprained left knee limited Alfonzo to 26 games with the Giants last season, but his performance for Caribes in Venezuela (.267, 15 homers, 47 RBIs in 53 games as of Dec. 30) indicated that he had regained his power.

Like Alfonzo, Rodriguez contributed offensively in his scattered opportunities, driving in 14 runs in 87 at-bats last year while hitting .253. He has continued to hit proficiently for Zulia in Venezuela, posting a .291 average in 49 games through Dec. 30.

The Giants' most productive catcher in the Minor Leagues was Adam Witter, who amassed 18 home runs and 74 RBIs in 102 regular-season games for Class A San Jose, which proceeded to win the California League title. The organization also was enthusiastic about securing University of Oklahoma catcher Jackson Williams with its fifth selection (43rd overall) in the First-Year Player Draft.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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