In a transaction that coincided with wonderful news for a certain Purple Row writer who shall remain nameless, the Colorado Rockies last week signed catcher Cameron Garfield to a minor league contract ahead of 2016. Garfield, 24, will head to Spring Training with the organization, as he confirmed on Twitter:
Happy to announce I'll be joining the Colorado Rockies organization for next year. Exited to see what the future holds. #gorockies— Cameron Garfield (@CAMgGARFIELD) December 17, 2015
The catcher, drafted in the second round in 2009 out of a southern California high school, is a product of the Milwaukee Brewers' system and spent his first seven professional seasons there, reaching High-A ball for their affiliate in Brevard County, Florida. During the middle of the 2015 season, the Brewers released Garfield, and he caught on with Rockford of the independent Frontier League in August.
Now, the Rockies will bring the catcher in on a minor league deal as depth, most likely to begin in High-A Modesto or Double-A Hartford considering his lack of playing experience in the high minors during his time with Milwaukee. Let's meet Mr. Garfield, who some believe may not play well on Mondays.
Scouting Cameron Garfield
The Murrieta Valley High School product has appeared in 525 career professional games, slashing — for a catcher — a respectable .252/.298/.364, but has nevertheless failed to crest High-A despite seven seasons in professional baseball. Now 24 and not yet to Double-A, time is running out on Garfield, who needs to impress the Rockies in Spring Training to be considered a serious candidate for the Yard Goats' roster.
His career stats:
Of course, levels alone don't tell the story of a player; after a solid start to his career in 2009 and 2010 between rookie ball and Low-A, Garfield missed most of 2011, playing just 15 games that season, and followed it up by repeating Low-A in 2012 while logging just 66 games (257 plate appearances) that summer.
Entering 2013, he was 22 and playing at High-A Brevard County for the first time. That year, he slashed just .250/.280/.379 and struck out 99 times in 420 at-bats. He repeated the level in 2014, had an OPS of just .572 in 95 games, and repeated the level again in 2015. After slashing .233/.267/.306 with a .572 OPS over 55 games this past summer — now a year and a half older than the average player in the Florida State League — the Brewers cut him loose on July 11, when he caught on with the independent Rockford Aviators.
Now, the man drafted just fifteen slots behind Nolan Arenado — and five ahead of DJ LeMahieu — must try to prove he's ready for Double-A this March in his first Spring Training away from his original organization.
Here are a few videos of Garfield as a minor leaguer:
And here's Garfield discussing his offseason approach and career nearly five full years ago, when he was playing for the Brewers' minor league affiliate in Appleton, Wisconsin:
Garfield's best comp on the Rockies
It's tough to give a comp to player who has yet to even play a game in Double-A, of course, but Garfield's ceiling is probably most similar right now to that of Jackson Williams. As Williams has shown over the last several years with both the Rockies and the San Francisco Giants, you can make a career out of bolstering an organization's catching depth in the high minor leagues; the challenge for Garfield, now, is to find sustained and effective time in the high minor leagues.
At 24 years old (he'll be 25 in May), Garfield is beyond his days as a second-round pick-turned-big league catching prospect. But if he starts 2016 at Hartford, he's not necessarily beyond his days at having a shot to be somebody's fourth or fifth catcher on the depth chart. As we've seen now two years in a row with Williams, that's a legitimate path to the big leagues.
What to expect in 2016
Spring Training will be of more importance to Garfield than for an average minor leaguer in the Rockies' system; an old-for-his-level organizational newcomer fresh out of independent league ball will need quite the "show-me" spring to gain the Rockies' attention and push him in the right direction for the season.
That being said, having a look at the Rockies' organizational rosters, the club is light on mid-minors catching depth aside from prospect Dom Nunez, who ought to spend the majority of the season as High-A Modesto's starting catcher. Behind him, Wilfredo Rodriguez, Troy Stein, Ashley Graeter, Abel Baker and Jan Vazquez figure to compete for time between central California and Hartford, and none are special (or, in general, significantly younger) to the point where Garfield is out of a job on paper before the spring sessions begin.
Cameron Garfield most assuredly will not see time in Denver or Triple-A Albuquerque in 2016, but he's got as good a chance to find a gig as any of the Rockies' other mid-minors options behind the plate. A second-round pick who also showed the Rockies something to make them pluck him out of indy ball conceivably has some sort of trait that could play in the high minors for a few more seasons.
At the very least, it's a credit to Garfield to push through the indy league grind and come out back in affiliated ball. We'll see whether his perseverance is rewarded this spring.