Iannetta's health, production vital to Angels' success

Veteran may eclipse career high in starts as main man behind plate

Iannetta's health, production vital to Angels' success

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Tempe, Ariz., by Feb. 19, it's time to dissect the Angels' 2015 roster. This is the first of a seven-part Around the Horn series taking a position-by-position look at projected starters and backup options heading into the season. First up: Catchers.

ANAHEIM -- Chris Iannetta's career high in starts behind the plate is 105, done for the 2011 Rockies team that dealt Miguel Olivo to basically hand Iannetta the everyday job.

This could be the year Iannetta blows past that mark.

The Angels traded Hank Conger to the Astros on Nov. 5, parting ways with Iannetta's platoon mate to attain young starter Nick Tropeano. General manager Jerry Dipoto has nonetheless said the Angels plan to keep Iannetta's playing time around where it has been the last couple of seasons -- 92 starts behind the plate in 2014, 102 in '13 -- but that could change.

The Angels also acquired Carlos Perez in that deal, a defensive-minded catcher they like, but also a 24-year-old who has yet to play in the Major Leagues. They acquired Drew Butera from the Dodgers on Dec. 9, but he's a career backup with a .183/.239/.268 slash line. Jett Bandy has moved up in the Angels' depth chart and had a nice showing in winter ball, but he hasn't played past Double-A.

Iannetta throws out Rosales

So even if Iannetta's workload doesn't increase significantly, the Angels really need him to remain healthy and productive.

The 31-year-old was his typical high-on-base, occasional-power self in 2014, batting .252/.373/.392 with seven homers and 43 RBIs in 373 plate appearances. His OPS-plus of 122 was tied for sixth-highest among Major League catchers. He tied his career high with 22 doubles, posted an .880 OPS with runners in scoring position and contributed 2.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball-Reference (same as 2013).

Most encouraging to the Angels, though, was Iannetta's caught-stealing percentage, which went from an abysmal 19 percent in 2013 to an above-average 30 percent in 2014 -- a credit to Iannetta, but also to Angels pitchers doing a better job of holding runners.

The Angels will greatly miss Conger's pitch-framing ability. Conger led the Majors in turning balls into strikes last year, while Iannetta ranked 45th. But they should nonetheless get above-average production behind the plate if Iannetta stays healthy.

Iannetta's two-run shot

The real question is 2016.

Iannetta's three-year, $15.55 million extension expires at the end of this season and the Angels -- like most other teams -- don't have a wealth of catching talent in their farm system. Matt Wieters, John Jaso, Alex Avila, Dioner Navarro and former Angel Jeff Mathis are also slated for free agency after this season, but the Angels will be in a much more favorable position if Perez and Bandy take big steps forward this year.

Beyond the active roster: Butera has the most experience and is out of options, making him the favorite to start the season as Iannetta's backup and likely pushing Perez and Bandy to Triple-A. … Perez has batted .277/.359/.393 and has thrown out 33 percent of would-be basestealers in his Minor League career. Bandy holds a career .257/.337/.410 line while throwing out 35 percent. … The Angels also have Jackson Williams, who was claimed off waivers in October and outrighted off the 40-man roster in November. Williams, 28, played in seven games with the Rockies last year. … Charles Cutler and Stephen McGee will join Williams as non-roster invites at Spring Training.

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.