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2022 season preview: the catchers

How we lookin’ behind the plate?

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The 2022 depth chart

It’s very helpful going into a season knowing that you have the best player in the game at a certain position. The morale shifts when one is aware that other teams need to catch up to you, so it would be wise to preserve that advantage at all costs. That might mean acquiring a top notch backup or, at the very least, building serviceable depth to protect in case of injury. The Phillies have done this.

In the majors
J.T. Realmuto
Garrett Stubbs
Donny Sands

Prospects near the majors
Rafael Marchan
Logan O’Hoppe

The starter

Well, how does having the best catcher in the game sound?

Depending on how one evaluates the choices, J.T. Realmuto is at or near the top of any list that discusses the best catchers in the game. His offense, defense and baserunning all routinely rank near the top among all catchers and have for a few years now. You could nitpick at different parts of his game (the power was down a bit, the strikeout rate was up, he didn’t throw out as many baserunners), but if we were to judge his game in totality, he’s still one of the elite catchers in the game.

The problem the team has had the last few years is that in order to maintain that advantage over the opposition, Realmuto has had to play almost all of the time. His backups, mainly Andrew Knapp, were barely able to maintain even the illusion of replacement player level, but it’s become abundantly clear that the team needed better options to spell Realmuto behind the plate...

The reserves

...so they changed some of the personnel, adding Stubbs and Sands to the 40-man roster, held onto Marchan (for now) and still have O’Hoppe percolating in the minors, continuing his development.

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Now, it’s important to remember that the team is not adding the reincarnated form of Johnny Bench to their roster. Neither Stubbs (the projected backup) nor Sands is going to step in and supplant Realmuto any time soon. What they can be counted on is to not set the lineup back much when Realmuto needs a day off or is occupying the DH role. Stubbs didn’t do much in Houston last year as a backup up, compiling a .176/.222/.235 line in 38 plate appearances with the big league club, but was much more effective in AAA Sugar Land, notching a line of .266/.418/.363 there, showing the patience that this front office loves. On defense, he graded out as perfectly average. giving the Skeeters 0.3 framing runs in over 2,000 chances, and at least making himself average in blocking and throwing. His bat is what will help him win the backup job, so at the very least, the team should be set pretty well there.

Sands is a more complete catcher than Stubbs, proven by the fact that according to Baseball Prospectus, he ranked 11th among all AAA catchers with 4.0 framing runs and 10th overall in adjusted catching defense. His batting line of .261/.326/.466 looks much better than Stubbs, but the team is more likely to want him to continue that development he’s been doing at the minor league level rather than him sitting on the bench behind Realmuto.

Marchan and O’Hoppe, you already know about.

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One is a defensive asset behind the plate whose bat is still quite light, while the other is a solid bat now with room to grow both offensively and defensively. The issue with both is that they occupy a spot on the 40-man roster and are both attractive trade targets. Neither would be enough to headline a deal for a difference maker on the market, but as a second or third piece, they would be quite nice. Their spring is going to be all about continued reps and showcasing themselves in case another team comes sniffing around the complex.

The expectations

For the first time in a while, it feels like we can finally say that the Phillies are good at developing something: catchers. They’ve seen Realmuto come here already good and get better thanks to some of the coaching he’s received in Philadelphia (Don’t believe me? Check out his defensive numbers before and after arriving, then do the same with Jorge Alfaro). Now they have two prospects ready to contribute at the big league level at the next two spots down in the minor league pecking order, we can truly say they are as deep as any team in the majors behind the plate. Adding Stubbs and Sands only added to that depth, making this spot one of the better ones in the organization.