Last week, we put our a request for some topics to write about as the lockout raged on. I turned the responses we got into an impromptu mailbag, which you can read here (part one) and here (part two).
This last question, however, ended up becoming an entire article on its own. Thanks for the suggestion, Bruce!
Backup Catcher prospects? I know nothing about the new guy they brought in from the Yankees system other than that he hit some decent HRs in AAA last year.— Bruce Knoll Jr (@knollb52) March 3, 2022
This question made me realize that we haven’t had to think about who the Phillies’ backup catcher was going to be in a long time. Andrew Knapp filled that role for five years, from 2017-2021. He backed up Cameron Rupp, Jorge Alfaro, and J.T. Realmuto. For most of the 2021 season, Knapp was the longest-tenured position player on the 40-man roster (Roman Quinn debuted in 2016, but he spent most of 2021 on the 60-day IL).
Andrew Knapp wasn’t ever the most impactful player, but he was a fixture on the Phillies for several years, and it was a small luxury not to have to worry about who the backup catcher would be year in and year out. But now, Knapp is gone to Cincinnati, and the Phillies will have to name a new backup backstop for 2022.
The Phillies currently have four catchers on the 40-man roster: J.T. Realmuto, Rafael Marchan, Garrett Stubbs, and Donny Sands.
You already know two of those players. Needless to say, Realmuto will be the starting catcher in the big leagues, while Marchan will start in Triple-A. Marchan is more than capable of serving as the backup catcher in 2022, but he’ll be better off getting regular playing time with Lehigh Valley, and there’s also a good chance he could be traded sometime this year — his name came up in several rumors before the lockout and at last year’s trade deadline.
Garrett Stubbs and Donny Sands were both acquired in trades last November. Stubbs came over from the Astros in exchange for 2021 10th-round draft pick Logan Cerny, while Sands came over from the Yankees alongside Nick Nelson in exchange for 2021 12th-round pick T.J. Rumfield and left-hander Joel Valdez, whom the Phillies signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2018.
Both players were traded as a result of a 40-man roster crunch. Stubbs had been on the Astros 40-man since 2019, but he was the third-string catcher and top prospect Korey Lee is knocking on the major league door.
Donny Sands was only added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster twelve days before he was traded. This suggests that the Yankees weren’t truly ready to put him on their 40-man, but they didn’t want to risk losing him for nothing in the Rule 5 draft. The fact that the Yankees were concerned about losing him in the Rule 5 is a good sign — it means they think he’s capable of potentially spending a full season in the major leagues.
That being said, the de facto backup catcher right now is Garrett Stubbs, not Donny Sands. Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia suggested as much when the trades went down back in November, writing that Stubbs “could become the Phillies’ backup catcher in 2022” while failing to mention much of anything at all about Sands.
Garrett Stubbs will soon be 29 and has been playing in the majors since 2019, which gives him a leg up over Sands in terms of experience. Sands will turn 26 this year and has no major league experience.
Stubbs only has 87 plate appearances and 51 games of MLB experience, spread out over three seasons. That’s not a lot, but any big league experience is a lot more than nothing. Stubbs also has experience playing in the postseason, which he did very briefly in both 2020 and 2021.
The other reason Stubbs seems to have the inside track on the backup catcher job is that he’s more of a finished product than Sands. Donny Sands isn’t projected to be anything more than a backup catcher at the MLB level, but he still has the chance to develop into a better plater.
The 2021 season was Sands’ first year playing above High-A, and he was unable to play at all in 2020 due to the pandemic. According to MLB Pipeline, Sands “had a breakout season on both sides of the ball” in 2021, and so he could benefit from more minor league seasoning time to see if his breakout last year was real. Matt Gelb of The Athletic wrote that Sands “profiles as a backup catcher” but he added that “if the uptick in power is real, he might outperform that projection. For now, he’s worth a closer look.”
So, as things currently stand, Stubbs is ahead of Sands on the MLB depth chart, but Sands is the more intriguing name to keep an eye on for the future.
However, my guess is that both Stubbs and Sands are really just Dave Dombrowski’s insurance policy, and either one of them could be cut if he finds another catcher that he likes more.
By having Stubbs and Sands on the 40-man roster, Dombrowski doesn’t have to scramble to find a backup catcher and he can focus on other priorities. But that doesn’t mean he won’t be looking for better options. There are several remaining free agents with more MLB experience than Stubbs, such as Austin Romine or Luke Maile. Perhaps Dombrowski really likes Garrett Stubbs, or perhaps he’s just planning to wait until someone like Romine or Maile drops his asking price a little big.
Donny Sands, meanwhile, is Dombrowski’s insurance policy in case he trades Rafael Marchan. For the past two seasons, Marchan has been the third-string catcher, whom the Phillies have called up when either J.T. Realmuto or Andrew Knapp is injured. If Marchan is traded, that job could go to Donny Sands.