Sunday, February 17, 2019

Position Battles In Camp: Catcher - Three's A Crowd

Ah, three's a crowd here in Bradenton. Francisco Cervelli, Elias Diaz, and out-of-options Jacob Stallings are all MLB backstops, and that's one more body than the team is likely to carry. The Bucs have been shedding catchers - 2013 top pick Reese McGuire was sent to Toronto as the sweetner to dump Frankie's contract; 2012 second-rounder Wyatt Mathisen was converted to the hot corner and was lost to the D-backs; while Jin-De Jhang, signed out of Taiwan in 2012, moved to the Giants as a minor league FA. Heck, Tony Sanchez is still bouncing around somewhere in the sticks. The Pirates haven't exactly reloaded at the position.

Fran still the man (photo Dave Arrigo/Pirates)

Francisco Cervelli, 33, is still the top dog; his glove is dependable, he has the pitchers' trust and he's got a serviceable stick. But he was winter trade bait - age, injuries and $11.5M salary in his walk year make him eminently swappable -  and he's almost certainly not in the Bucs 2020 plans. Additionally, Frannie's value is diminished by the potential scenario of him turning into John Jaso 2.0, so the answer to "will he stay or will he go" is the key to the catching roster this year.

Elias Diaz, 28, had a hectic 2018 season, starting with his mom being kidnapped in Venezuela and ending with him missing much of September with a hammy pull. But in between, he started 59 games behind the dish (he caught 70 games overall), hit .286 w/10 HR in 277 PA, and had another positive dWAR season, with a improved knack for pitch framing to go with a strong if scattershot arm. He's Amore's heir apparent, whether it's this season or next, and the one member of the spring trio, sans injury, who's sure to break camp with the club.

Jacob Stallings, 29, is a good glove guy whose bat has caught up enough (.288 BA in 72 MLB-PA's) to earn him a caddy position.  As noted, he’s out of options and behind Cervelli and Diaz. The Pirates are not likely carry three catchers. If the club keeps Fran and Eli, Jake would be DFA'ed. There's no guarantee he'd be claimed, as he's already passed through waivers twice. Then again, there's no guarantee that he'd stay even if he cleared; he can declare free agency if untaken. The Bucs are thin at the spot, but if there's one thing that's always available, it's a defense-first backup catcher.

Jake's future TBD - 2017 Topps Now

The Reservists:

All good with the leather, not so much with the ash/maple.

Steve Baron, 28, is a minor league free agent just signed this year and former first-rounder (2009) of Seattle. He's set to be Stalling's replacement as Plan C if Jake leaves the org. Baron is 1-for-16 in six MLB games, pretty much in line with his .234 MiLB lifetime BA.

Christian Kelley, 25, was drafted in 2015 and started at Altoona in 2018. He and Baron should split the playing time this year at Indy. It's his second camp and so he's getting to know the pitchers. There's no questions about his defensive chops, but Kelley is another lumber-challenged guy with a .240 minor league BA, including .235 for the Curve last year.

Arden Pabst, 23, is a guy to watch. The 2016-12th rounder hit .281 at Bradenton last year, with a .234 ISO. Pabst had a 19-game stint at Altoona at the end of the year and should start there this year. If he can keep his stroke, he may be the next big thing for the Bucs behind the plate, though there are still miles for him to go.

Jason Delay, 23, moved through three levels last year and is a step behind Pabst; he should start at Hi-A Bradenton this year. The fourth-rounder (2017) from Vanderbilt hasn't hit much (.247 BA), but with all the moving around, he hasn't had a chance to settle in, either. The next couple of years should determine if he and Pabst are the next wave.

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