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Towards a 2024 Diamondbacks roster: Back-up catcher

Jose, or not Jose - that is the question...

Arizona Diamondbacks v New York Mets Photo by Brandon Sloter/Image Of Sport/Getty Images

According to general manager Mike Hazen, the team expects Gabriel Moreno to start 110-120 games as a catcher next year. That would be around the total number he started this year, between the regular season and play-offs, but would still leave about fifty games needing to be covered by his backup. The position of catcher is the most physically demanding of any spot on the diamond, and that’s why the backup catcher position is probably the most important, in terms of playing times, on the bench. For comparison, Christian Walker started 150 games at first-base - Pavin Smith and Emmanuel Rivera splitting the other dozen games between them - and played every playoff inning there too.

This year, the catcher’s position was originally intended to be split between Moreno and Carson Kelly, with Gabriel gradually assuming full-time catcher’s duties. However, as so often, the baseball gods had other plans. Kelly suffered a fractured right forearm in spring training, after being hit by a pitch, and missed the first 65 games as a result. After two largely ineffective months, Kelly was designated for assignment, [Fun fact: he pitched in moe games for the D-backs than Dontrelle Willis] The main backup catcher ended up being Jose Herrera, who started 36 games. Kelly started 29, and late-season acquisition Seby Zavala started four.

Zavala was acquired too late to be eligible for the post-season roster, and it was Herrera who occupied the role. Not that he saw much playing time. Jose started no playoff games, and appeared in only two - neither of them coming after the Division Series. However, he still remains in the mix as a potential candidate for the role in 2024. Zavala is no longer in the picture, his Diamondbacks career apparently having ended after those four games, being traded to Seattle in the Eugenio Suarez deal. Right now, Moreno and Herrera are the only two catchers on the D-backs’ 40-man roster, The main issue is Herrera’s bat, with a career OPS+ of just 43. After 88 games, he’s still waiting for his first MLB home-run.

It’s no surprise that the team has been reported to be looking for an upgrade at the position. While backup catchers are never going to hit well, there still seems to be room for improvement. Earlier this month, it was reported that the team was interested in veteran Tucker Barnhart. Though I’m not sure he would be much of an improvement. While the catcher, who turns 33 next month, has a career OPS+ of 80, he hasn’t reached that level since 2019. Last season for the Cubs, Barnhart’s OPS+ was 48, actually lower than Herrera’s figure of 54 on the year. He was released by the Cubs in August, despite being under control through 2024.

There probably won’t be much help coming up from the farm system. None of the top twenty on MLB.com’s list of Arizona prospects are catchers. The two listed, Christian Cerda and J.J. D’Orazio, are aged 20- and 21 respectively, so certainly aren’t ready for the big show. [This year, Francisco Alvarez and Tyler Soderstrom were the only major-league catchers younger than 23] Interestingly, both prospects reached the D-backs in trades, for David Peralta and Joakim Soria respectively. Ali Sánchez was the Aces’ most-used catcher this year, but he elected free agency last month. His backup, P.J. Higgins, is now with the Reds. That leaves Adrian Del Castillo, who played 29 games there with Reno, as next up.

The 24-year-old Castillo was a second-round pick in the 2021 draft. He’s still young for the level, but a .690 OPS across 159 PA is unimpressive, especially in the Pacific Coast League. He’s also OLDER than Moreno, albeit only by a few months. This may be why the team signed Ronaldo Hernandez to a minor-league deal yesterday, with an invite to spring training. Hernenadez was a top-100 prospect on some lists before the 2019 season, and appeared in the MLB Futures game that year. He hit .242 with 17 home-runs in AAA, and turned 26 in November. But his lack of major-league experience - he was called up a couple of times, without getting into a game - may work against him.

There have been quite frequent suggestions that the team should go after Mitch Garver, whom the team faced in the World Series, the thinking being that he could also fill the need for a designated hitter. Health may be the biggest question-mark there, with foraarm and knee issues sharply curtailing his playing time over the last two seasons. His demands may potentially be too rich for the D-backs: MLB Trade Rumors projects Garver to get a three-year, $39 million contract. Not bad for a player who has averaged a mere 71 games a year, even discounting 2020. A cheaper alternative would be someone like Francisco Mejia, a former Ray who had an 80 OPS+ over fifty games for Tampa.

So are you happy with Herrera as backup, preferring to spend the money on other areas of the team? Should Hernandez get to make his debut? Or would you rather see the team add an experienced catcher? If so, who - and perhaps more importantly, how much do you think it would cost? That would be what the comment section is for...