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Catching Fire: Peter O’Brien headlines precocious group of Arizona Diamondbacks catchers

LISTEN: Tony La Russa, D-backs Chief Baseball Officer

Stocked with young, emerging talent, the competition to earn the starting nod at catcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks on Opening Day figures to be one of the more hotly-contested battles waged during Spring Training. Tuffy Gosewisch, Oscar Hernandez, and highly-touted Peter O’Brien are the primary combatants, but it’s the latter who has created a wave of anticipation following an impressive stint in Double-A last season.

Acquired from the Yankees in last summer’s deal that sent Martin Prado to New York, O’Brien batted .251 with 24 home runs and 55 RBI in 287 Double-A at-bats in 2014, and is currently ranked as the No. 9 prospect in the D-backs organization.

Though a shin injury stemming from a foul ball curtailed his Minor League season, O’Brien’s power numbers have caught the eye of D-backs brass, including chief baseball officer Tony La Russa. Defensively, however, questions remain as to how quickly the 24-year old prospect can develop into a well-rounded backstop.

“I’ve seen a guy who is very smart, very tough, very talented, and has a fierce desire to work and learn, which are great traits for a catcher,” said La Russa Wednesday morning to Doug & Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “He got short-circuited because of the [shin] injury, but then comes to Arizona and plays in the Fall League and got extensive work. He literally improved daily.

“Here we are now getting ready to play the Rockies and Peter is going to be catching and hitting fifth [to open Spring Training].”

Viewed as perhaps a future power compliment to D-backs first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, O’Brien’s ascension is certainly worth noting. Yet neither La Russa, nor manager Chip Hale, is going to hand the reins to O’Brien simply based on tantalizing Minor League potential. Gosewisch — who appeared in 41 Major League games last season, batting .225 with a home run and seven RBI — and Hernandez — who hit .249, belting nine home runs with 63 RBI with Single-A Bowling Green in 2014 — will be given every opportunity to win the job, leaving La Russa with an overwhelming sense of optimism as it pertains to at least one half of his battery.

“The catching situation here is really fascinating,” he said. “You had Tuffy [Gosewisch] who did a great job in five innings [against Arizona State] getting a big hit in a hit and run, and then Oscar [Hernandez] came in there and just wowed everybody by throwing out a guy he had no business throwing out. He was picking balls out of the dirt like a first baseman.

“We’ve got a lot of talent at that catching position and it’s going to be an exciting competition.”