Wednesday, February 08, 2006

John Buck a Choice for the End Game

Of all the obvious late-round desperation picks at catcher, Miguel Olivo, Yadier Molina, J.D. Closser etc., none is necessarily a better play than Kansas City Royals catcher John Buck. For whatever reason Buck might turn out to be a bust, it certainly won't be for lack of on-the-job training. Though Buck repeatedly demonstrated last year that he was severely overmatched by major league pitching, Kansas City's commitment to him was conspicuous as they gave the 25-year-old backstop appearances in 118 games, good for 401 AB. The strategy may have worked. Buck batted only .228 before the All-Star break, but then hit .258 the rest of the way largely on the strength of a more than .300 clip in September. Moreover, Buck put his 6-foot-3, 210-pound body behind his swing and came up with a neat 17 homers for the season. It's important to remember that when the Royals traded superstar Carlos Beltran to the Houston Astros in a three-team deal (with Oakland) in '04, the key component they wanted among the three prospects they received was Buck, the so-called Astros catcher of the future. Then 23, Buck was hitting .300 with a .507 slugging mark for the Astros farm club in New Orleans when the trade came down at the end of June. And it was none other than ex-All Star catcher Tony Pena, then Royals manager, who liked so much what he saw in Buck that he told the Royals front office that Buck was the player to grab.