- Rating: 3.86
- Age: 33
- 2019 stats: 41 PA, .211/.250/.263 = .513 OPS, 34 OPS+, 0.0 bWAR
- 2019 salary: $1,100,000
- 2020 status: Arbitration 4 eligible ($1,200,000)
Drafted by Baltimore in the seventh round of the 2008 draft, Caleb Joseph methodically made his way through the Orioles’ system, finally losing his rookie eligibility in 2014. From 2014 through 2018, Joseph served as Baltimore’s primary back-up catcher as a glove-first option, a position he mostly thrived in. Though he was always a liability at the plate, his defensive ability was enough that he still provided positive value to the Orioles. However, the emergence of the much younger, pre-arbitration, Chance Sisco, along with Joseph’s rising arbitration costs and increased age, made Joseph a non-tender candidate entering the 2019 season. In February of 2019, Mike Hazen jumped on the opportunity to add a strong defensive catcher with options remaining to Arizona’s system which was keeping three catchers on the 25-man roster.
Although Joseph signed a one-year pact with the Diamondbacks, he was still up against stiff competition to secure playing time out of spring training. With the Diamondbacks acquiring Carson Kelly ain the Paul Goldschmidt trade in December, as well as returning Alex Avila and John Ryan Murphy, Joseph was left needing to outclass at least one of those three in order to secure a spot on the 25-man roster. This is where Joseph’s minor league options came in useful for the team, but worked against Joseph. While an argument can be made that Joseph had a better spring than fellow backstop, John Ryan Murphy, he still enjoyed a spring very much in line with a catcher owning a career 70 OPS+. Given Mike Hazen’s desire to have three catchers on the active roster as well having depth at the position, Murphy’s lack of minor league options and greater familiarity with the team gave him the edge and punched Joseph’s ticket for AAA-Reno.
This desire to keep some organizational depth at the position quickly proved a boon for the team as Alex Avila headed to the IL before the team had even played 10 games. While it was expected that this might create some playing time for Joseph, he was actually used rather sporadically, not playing a full game until April 24th, nearly two weeks after he was recalled. In that game, he collected his first hit of the season, going 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.
Much like it was for Murphy, Joseph’s most memorable moment of the season did not come from the blate, either behind or at it. It came from the pitching mound. On April 27th, with the Diamondbacks at home, trailing the Cubs 9-1, Caleb Joseph created a new entry on his stat page. He made his professional (both MLB and MiLB) pitching debut, facing the heart of the Chicago lineup in Javier Baez, David Bote, and Jason Heyward. With a blistering 78 mph fastball and a 58 mph off-speed pitch, Joseph needed only six pitches and two slick plays from Nick Ahmed to carve up and retire the Cubs and to close out the game.
When Avila returned from the IL, Joseph headed back to Reno. He would make a few appearances in the middle of June, once again acting as injury depth. Finally, he closed out the season on the expanded September roster, playing only one complete game in the month while also coming in as a late-inning defensive replacement in a number of games where the starting catcher had been pinch-hit for.
For as long as Joseph has been in the league, he is actually arbitration 4 eligible in 2020. The expected payout is only $1,200,000. Given the Diamondbacks’ heavy focus on defensively strong catching depth, it would not be a surprise to see the Diamondbacks return Joseph in 2020. However, he will also be almost 34 and out of minor league options in 2020, so this could work against him, as does the fact that he bats from the right side, the same as Carson Kelly. Still, until the team finds themselves another catcher, either via trade or through free agency, they are going to need someone to serve as a back-up for Kelly in 2020. It will continue to be difficult to say just what Joseph’s future holds until such time as pitchers and catchers report in February. With Carson Kelly penciled in for 100+ starts though, it is a sure thing that Joseph’s playing time, if any, will be limited.