Nationals Baseball: Off-Season Position Discussion : Catcher

Monday, October 17, 2022

Off-Season Position Discussion : Catcher

There will be a next year.  

Whether you want it or not, this is a fact and because there will be a next year we must plan accordingly.  Or really the Nats must plan and we must ruminate on the sidelines what those plans will be. The good news is unlike the past couple of years we have real clarity on what the Nats are doing.  The bad news is it's a complete rebuild from the ground up starting from an unimpressive base. Kids will play. We know that. But will the kids be any good? Or conversely will any of the good kids play? If the Nats aren't looking hot, why bring up a Hassell and start that clock? It will likely be a very long, very bad year. Here's to the bright spots.

Catcher this year was not quite on of these but it wasn't a problem either. Keibert Ruiz did end up the starting catcher as we thought and he was fine. At 23+ (He turned 24 around the ASG) that's a decent spot to be for a catcher. Both offensively and defensively he was about average and the combination meant he was a little better than average for a catcher. It's a hard position to fill and guys with one skill tend to fail at the other. It was a combination that fell in line with expectations. 

 He was backed up by a mix of players. Riley Adams first, who is simply an emergency catcher masquerading at the position.  Given terrible defense, he had to hit to hold onto the back up catcher role and he couldn't. Tres Barrera, who lookeddecent in the minors, got the next shot and was worse than Adams at the plate. Israel Pineda was quickly brought up after a solid showing in AA for a little over a month.  And he was even worse than Barrera.

Presumed Plan : 

Ruiz with Barrera to start with Pineda on deck whenever it seems like a good idea to flip the two.

Reasoning behind Presumed Plan : 

Ruiz was a above average major league catcher in his first full season at the position. Just barely above average but still above average. There isn't a good reason not to start him as none of the guys behind him are pushing him at all.  He's got a bunch of years before FA so there's no reason to trade him either. 

Adams seems pretty well done as a catcher, as well he should. Which leaves Barrera and Pineda. They like the younger (22) Pineda better than the older Barrera (28) but Pineda also hasn't seen much playing time over A ball.  Expect him to settle in to AAA to see if they can get his bat up to major league speed.  Meanwhile that leave Barrera to fill in the back-up role. Maybe he clicks this time.

My Take :  

Ruiz is a no-brainer. He can play now so of course he starts. The Nats really want/need him to be better though. Assuming defense remains pretty stable for a while*, Ruiz best chance on becoming a good catcher is to hit better. To do that he very simply needs to hit with more power.  His .109 ISO is low suggesting topping out in homers in the 10-15 range. That's only ok if he hits well over .300 (good luck) or walks more (he's never really done that outside of AAA time in 2021). Power, which oftern develops a little with age, seems like the most likely path forward. 

Unfortunately little in his development so far makes me think that's coming. But worse case scenario is you have an average catcher for 4 years cheap and can worry about something else. We'll keep running into this at other positions, Nats being ok enough maybe, but really if you want to settle for that at a position, it's catcher. 

Back-up is a little tougher. Adams shouldn't catch so the fact they were trying to move him around is great. Everyone seems to like Barrera as a person but he hasn't done anything with major league time and he'll turn 29 late next year. He's filler. Teams do do worse but he's down there. On the plus side he's one of those solid defenders who works hard and that could help rub off on Ruiz perhaps.

Pineda could be a major league catcher, but we need to see what he can do in the upper minors. Plus he does need defensive work.  In all honestly he may need 2-3 years and he may just graduate to back-up major league catcher. But be happy with that. You need those two. 

One thing to think about is if Ruiz could learn from a defense first catcher in the back-up role. There are plenty of terrible bats that were excellent defensive catchers, Christian Vasquez, Roberto Perez, Martin Maldanado, Mike Zunino. Maybe instead of going dirt cheap with Barrera, you throw 1-2 million at one of these guys to help out Ruiz behind the plate.

*People seem to think he's better than he's shown. I'll give it another year of data before saying whether he's good or just average


Anonymous said...

I know this isn't how evaluating trades is (or should be) done, but the Dodgers got to play in exactly zero games in the World Series after their trade for Max and Trea, meanwhile the Nats have a league average catcher and a starting pitcher who strikes a lot of guys out (but has some other, concerning, issues).

DezoPenguin said...

If the Nats are looking to sign a terrible bat who's a good defensive backup catcher to be a de facto coach for Ruiz, then clearly it's time for the triumphant Sandy Leon Grand Reunion! (Joking aside, among the names you mentioned, somebody's going to sign Zunino (if healthy) and Vazquez to be starters, and Houston loves Maldonado to the point that either they genuinely believe his game-calling makes that much of a difference (...they've got at least a prima facie case for that) or he's got tape of Crain personally supervising the trash can acoustical tests.

I figure Barrera will get the job as he spent 2021 masquerading as a perfectly adequate MLB backup catcher.

(Relevant to the DH discussion rather than the one we're actually having, but...Jose Abreu as this year's Nelson Cruz attempt? Menesnes in LF until Abreu gets traded)

Actually, since this series is starting, might as well toss out my guesswork now for the roster:






Thomas-OF (this leaves 3 starters unaccounted for)

Barrera-Backup C

Vargas-UTIL IF

Hernandez-PH/OF5 (this leaves 1 bench position unaccounted for)

Arguably, Kieboom, Call, and Robles could fill three of the remaining positions without needing to add additional players. That would be very painful. I'm interested to see what Harper's suggestions will be for the non-Ruiz/Abrams/Garcia/Voit positions...and what new ownership intends.

Steven Grossman said...

At one point, earlier this year or last, MLB Trade Rumors did a story on free-agent catchers who might be available to needy teams. There were 8 names and four of them had been on the Nationals at one point or another (including Sandy Leon). It is/was a reminder to me how long we have made do with whatever catcher was available. Part of the value of Ruiz is that he is good enough and under control long enough...that we can count on him being our catcher for many years.

DezoPenguin said...

In other news, Victor Robles and Juan Soto were both nominated for Gold Gloves. Is there a hidden stat where Soto terrifies balls into becoming pop flies because they're afraid he'll take a bat to them or something, because otherwise that makes Jeter's Gold Gloves look like reasonable and justifiable awards by comparison.