Hanigan, Molina may evenly split playing time

Hanigan, Molina may evenly split playing time

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Leave it to the Rays to assemble one of the league's most interesting time-sharing arrangements. Usually, when teams look to divide playing time behind the plate, they get two players with complementary skills: an offensive catcher and a defensive replacement.

Tampa Bay, however, has elected to go with two players with largely the same skill set. Both Ryan Hanigan and Jose Molina are regarded as plus defensive catchers with offensive question marks. Hanigan, with a career .359 on-base percentage, may have a higher upside at the plate.

But if you ask manager Joe Maddon, he's not sure how he'll balance his two backstops. Molina and Hanigan don't have to be platooned, but they'll probably play a near-even split.

"I have not even thought about that," said Maddon about playing Molina and Hanigan. "The thing is, they're both so good defensively. It's not like you have to worry that one catcher is not able to handle a certain pitcher. They all can handle each guy out there. That may present itself differently in regards to just being focused more on offense, and then to not play either of them too many days in a row. It could be 51 percent; It could be more than that, but we're just going to let that play and not try to get too smart about it. More than likely, you'll see Hanigan more than J-Mo, but I'm not sure yet."

Hanigan, before this season, had spent his entire career in the National League, and he's coming off an injury-plagued season that saw him bat .198 in 260 plate appearances. Before that season, Hanigan had turned in four straight seasons with an on-base percentage greater than .350.

Hanigan has mostly batted out of the No. 8 hole, and he is one of very few Major League players with a higher career on-base percentage (.359) than his slugging mark (.343). Now, he has to take his walk-heavy ways to the American League and hope that his skills will translate.

It's hard enough to learn a new pitching staff, let alone an entire league. But Hanigan said that he's been around long enough that his performance shouldn't be hampered by the learning curve.

"I know a lot of these guys. I watch the games either way," he said. "I'll just do a little extra scouting. It's more about learning our staff and getting in a groove with our guys than it is about anybody else. You've just got to do your homework and be prepared. Learn as much as you can in Spring Training and try to get some knowledge of what these guys are doing and take it into the season."

And as far as when he'll play? Hanigan said he leaves that to the manager.

"I'll be ready to play when they call my name," said Hanigan. "As many games as that is."

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