Rays excited about defense of new catcher Hanigan

Published Dec. 29, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — New C Ryan Hanigan hasn't caught a game for the Rays yet, but he already has the pitching staff pretty pumped.

"Have heard he's an excellent teammate," starter Alex Cobb said. "And a genius behind the plate."

Hanigan, 33, acquired from the Reds last month in a three-team deal with the Diamondbacks, comes with a reputation as a top game-caller and a defensive stalwart. Though the Rays expect Hanigan, who hit .196 in an injury-plagued 2013 season, to improve offensively, a big reason they signed him to a three-year, $10.75 million deal (with 2017 option) is his ability to work with pitchers and control the running game.

Reds manager Bryan Price saw that dynamic up close as Cincinnati's pitching coach the past four seasons.

"People like to throw to him, and that typically comes with trust and success," Price said. "He has a great feel. He's a guy that's good with reports and adjustments. He wants to do something early or come out of character, to make an adjustment, if he sees something. He's a very crafty guy. He's really good.

"You can put him behind home plate and by the first at-bat he'll have some understanding of strengths and weaknesses" of the hitter.

What will also endear Hanigan to pitchers is how he shuts down attempted base stealers. The Rays struggled in that category last year, throwing out 33 of 152 runners (21.7 percent). Hanigan, expected to be the Rays' primary catcher, has gunned down 42.3 percent over past two years, second best in the majors to Cardinals All-Star Yadier Molina.

"He's very quick, and he's very athletic," Price said. "But more than anything, he's as accurate a guy as I've seen. He's terrific."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: Though the Rays aren't likely to be major players for recently posted free agent RHP Masahiro Tanaka, the Japanese sensation can still affect their offseason plans. Some of the potential suitors for Tanaka might also be looking into trading for ace LHP David Price. … The Rays' three-year, $21 million deal with 1B James Loney is expected to finally be announced this week. … Rays free agent OF Sam Fuld is reportedly weighing five minor-league contract offers, and a return to Tampa Bay hasn't been ruled out. … In addition to doubling his salary, former Rays RH reliever Jamey Wright won't have to enter spring training on a minor-league deal for the first time in nine years, thanks to the one-year, $1.8 million contract he signed with the Dodgers last week.

Joe Smith can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.