Happy New Year Dbacks fans! I want to share some thought about Gabriel Moreno and our catcher position. Hope you guys enjoy this paragraph.
I have been a Dbacks fan since late 2011. At that time, Miguel Montero was our starting catcher, providing value from both ends. Since then, we failed to find a reliable backstop. Carson Kelly was probably the closest thing we got, but he never turns in a 2+fWAR during four seasons with the snakes. I want to take a quick look at what happened to our catcher all the year.
Miggy era (2011-14)
Montero averaged 127GS behind the plate in those years and signed a 5Y/60M during 2012, Jim had a great article about this contract, definitely worth reading. Miggy is one of the best catcher in Dbacks history, had three 4.5+fWAR season and 3.3fWAR in 2014 before getting traded to the Cubs during offseason.
Due to Miggy's durability, backup catcher was never a big need at that time, with Will Nieves receiving the most playing time when Miggy was injured. Kevin Towers drafted high school catcher Strkyer Trahan with 2012 Draft first round pick, who obviously did not work out for the Dbacks. Jose Herrera signed as an international free agent in 2013 and finally debut after a decade.
Dave Stewart era (2015-16)
Yes, Tuffy Gosewisch was our Opening Day starter at catcher in 2015... what a disaster. After Tuffy suffering tear in left ACL, Stewart traded Mark Trumbo to the Mariners and got Wellington Castillo. Beef and mid-season signing Jarrod Saltalamacchia both had 115wRC+ in that season, forming a nice offensive combo. Chris Herrmann replaced Salty in 2016, which turn out to be his career year with 117wRC+.
As a result, Stewart addressed the catcher position with offensive minded players and he implemented that strategy in his attempt to find depth. Oscar Hernandez was the Top Pick in 2014 Rule 5 Draft but his bat did not work above Dobule-A. Stewart then drafted Andy Yerzy with second round pick in 2016, a Canadian pre-bat with power but need to work on defense, he recently elected free agency.
Hazen era (2017-now)
After Mike Hazen took over, Dbacks started to put emphasize on runs-prevention and game-calling, leading to the non-tendered of Castillo. Hazen brought in veterans Jeff Mathis, Chris Iannetta and Torey rotated them with Herrmann. Our new direction looked successful with pitching improvement and first postseason run since 2011. Hazen selected Daulton Varsho with competitive balance round B pick in that year with an expectation that he can develop into a major-caliber catcher.
The team decided to cost down following a failing 2018, trading Goldy to the Cardinals in exchange for a package including Carson Kelly. As a former top prospect, Kelly looked like a legitimate candidate to lead our pitching staff, but his bat had been unstable and he was not able to stay healthy through full season. Besides Kelly, Alex Avila, Stephen Vogt, Herrera and Varsho also received playing time during this era.
In our most recent trade, we got Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. by trading Varsho. Personally, I agree with this deal, with left-handed outfielders being our surplus and catcher is a position we needed. I am a little bit surprised that the Blue Jays are willing to give up Moreno, I think this has more to do with Varsho being too valuable.
Varsho probably never going to be our primary catcher under Hazen, more like an outfielder who can catch emergently. As you can see in 2022, Dbacks chose to use Herrera and Cooper Hummel as backup, Varsho only started when Kelly was injured. His receiving technique and game-calling need improvement and with the glove he shown on the grass, keeping him behind homeplate will limit his value.
By trading Hummel for Kyle Lewis, our catching depth looks very vulnerable with Kelly, Herrera (and Varsho) the only catcher on 40-man and there are not many good fit in the free agent market. Getting Moreno not only solve the problem but also give us a new primary catcher after Carson, who I think will likely departure if this season does not work out again.
Thought on Gabriel Moreno
Moreno was a consensus top prospect before the past season, with Baseball Prospectus ranked him the lowest at #22. Adley Rustchman was the best catching prospect, Moreno and Francisco Alvarez should be right after him. Alvarez had higher ceiling than Moreno with big time power but I feel like the latter is more ready to handle Major full time with better defensive skill.
Some were skeptical on Moreno's receiving skill, but he clearly showed improvement, mentioned by Blue Jays player development director Joe Sclafani and BP(subscribed needed). I watched Moreno's games and though he was pretty relax behind the plate, caught with ease and able to frame pitches from his right hand side and pitch below the zone. Moreno's pure arm strength (81.8mph) might be close to Carson (81.4mph) but his exchange time (0.69sec) was pretty solid thus giving him 10th best 2B pop time in the league. He also blocked well and showed great mobility.
22, Moreno still need to learn to work with older pitchers and make in game adjustments against hitters, but had also made huge strides. Coming into a new organization, Moreno will need time to know our pitching staff before taking over regular job. That probably the reason we are not going to trade Carson right now, we still need him to guide our new hope.
On the offensive side, Moreno's calling card was his contact ability, giving him a chance to hit for high average. Although Moreno has a lot going on before swinging but it did not affect his ability to hit line-drive to all field, earning plus-plus bat speed from evaluator. Moreno will use a more simple setup after two strikes, expanding the zone but difficult to strikeout, hitting the ball to the opposite side for hits is pretty common in his 2022 highlight.
Moreno's swing path is rather flat, resulted in high ground ball rate and raised concern for his power potential. Moreno will need to make better swing decision in early count and learn how to lift the ball. Saw his first Major League home run, which he drove the ball out of right field, I think there is power potential in Moreno's bat.
For me, Moreno is a high-floor prospect (technically not a rookie due to time on the active roster) with potential to contribute with both bat and glove. Yes, giving up Varsho is hard, but we get a good one back.
Q: Since Miguel Montero departed, the only catcher to had a 2.0+fWAR season?
A: Chris Iannetta in 2017. 2.3fWAR.
We had failed many years trying to find a above-average starting catcher. Prospects flashed potential but failed to fruit. Veterans comes and goes, some had solid season but not a long-term answer. Gabriel Moreno will be our attempt and all I hope is his success.