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Positional preview: catchers

It’s fair to say that if this position needs to reach into its depth chart, the season is over

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies-Workouts Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Catchers in the player pool

J.T. Realmuto, Andrew Knapp, Deivy Grullon, Henri Lartigue, Logan O’Hoppe, Rafael Marchan

The starter: Realmuto

What else is there to say?

We could go back and forth with regards to whether or not Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball (he is), but it’s probably apparent by now that he is the most indispensable player on the roster right now.

We’re all very concerned right now about whether or not Realmuto will be here past the 2020 season. It’s a position the team didn’t want to find itself in, but thanks to the Covid-19 stoppage of play and subsequent roster freeze, the team wasn’t able to negotiate a fair deal for their impending free agent. Ink has been spilled about what he is worth, how he’ll age, etc., but let’s instead focus on the present. What will happen this year?

Over at Fangraphs, they have been putting together positional power rankings for each position on the diamond. When it comes to catcher, the Phillies are ranked second, thanks large in part to how good Realmuto is.

After placing dead last in 2018’s version of these rankings, the Phillies traded for Realmuto and his two consecutive 4-WAR seasons for the Marlins. They got what they bargained for, and more. After his shift to a new team, Realmuto traded a little bit of his plate discipline for a little bit more power to consolidate his offensive gains, then improved his defense substantially enough to post a 5.7 WAR season - a career high - despite the second-lowest BABIP of his career. Should Andrew McCutchen’s recently healed knee interfere with him leading off, Realmuto seems like a decent candidate to do so, which means he’ll get even more opportunities to generate value than he did last year.

Grullon, 24, isn’t much to write home about despite a decent arm and some pull power. As for Knapp, if he gets more than the 40-odd plate appearances he’s projected for here, things haven’t worked out as planned in Philadelphia. The Phillies are far more dependent than the White Sox on the top of their depth chart to score the high rank they have, but should Realmuto stay healthy he’s just about the only player on this list who can give Grandal a run for his money as the best in baseball at his position.

Anyone who has followed the Phillies knows this is all completely true. Except for the part about Realmuto leading off, which is nuts, everything else here is a succinct preview of the team’s current catching state.

So what if something happens to Realmuto?

If the doomsday scenario happens and Realmuto goes down for any extended reason, the season could essentially be over. Sure the offense has enough firepower on paper to band-aid some of the issues that might come up with the bat, but with all due respect to Knapp and Grullon, they aren’t near Realmuto behind the plate. His ability to control a running game, present pitches as strikes (it shouldn’t be called “framing”) and work with the pitching staff is part of that stuff you cannot put a number on. With Joe Girardi now at the helm, he being a former catcher himself, the hope is he can make sure that Realmuto is getting enough rest utilizing the DH when needed that his potent bat can continue to stay in the lineup even on days when someone else does the catching. Let’s just hope that he is able to stay on the roster the entire season.

The backup: Knapp

I have to admit: I like Knapp. Not sure of the reason, but I’ve always kind of had a soft spot for him. He’s not the best bat, not the best defensive catcher, but the team sure does love him.

We just hope he isn’t pressed into a starting role.

The depth: Grullon, Marchan, O’Hoppe, Lartigue

If these guys play a large role in the 2020 season, well....we’ll see you in Clearwater in February.

No offense to them, but the team is clearly counting on Realmuto handling a large workload in these 2+ months, with Knapp capable to picking up the slack in whatever capacity Realmuto doesn’t grab. It’s possible that these names enter into more of a discussion once the season is over and free agency plays itself out, but for now, the hope is that they remain off of the initial 30-man roster due this week.