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Backup Catcher Candidates: Part Two

Acquisition Candidates.

Tucker Barnhart.
Tucker Barnhart.
Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

In Part 1, we looked at internal candidates for backup catcher. On the day Part 1 was posted, it was announced that the Diamondbacks had signed Tucker Barnhart to a minor league contract.

Now, in Part 2, we will look at two additional candidates:

  • Defense-First Backup Catcher Tucker Barnhart (recently signed by the Diamondbacks).
  • Bat-First Free Agent Backup Catcher: Gary Sanchez.

Table Comparisons.

The following tables compare the acquisition candidates for backup catcher. Because Tucker Barnhart is a bounce-back candidate, for him the last three seasons were included.

The first table compares batting. Green means above that season’s average in the Majors. The second table compares defense as catcher. After looking at the tables, we will look at the two candidates.

Data from Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, MiLB.com, and FanGraphs.
Data from Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, MiLB.com, and FanGraphs.

Considering the Candidates.

Tucker Barhart. He is a defense-first catcher. He won Gold Gloves in 2017 and 2020. He “has a strong reputation for his work with a pitching staff,” per MLBTR.

Although batting is not his strong point, in general his On-Base-Percent (OBP) was very slightly above league average, slipping to slightly below average the last two seasons. His slugging (SLG) was consistently below average.

Last season, his blocking and caught stealing percentage slumped. Although the cause could be an age-related decline, more likely it was caused by playing for different teams (Red in 2021, Tigers in 2022, and Cubs in 2023). My view is that with the Diamondbacks his defense will strongly rebound.

The Diamondbacks signed him to a minor-league contract. Likely, spring training will be a three-way competition for the backup catcher position (Jose Herrera, Ronaldo Hernandez, and Tucker Barnhart).

Free Agent, Gary Sanchez. He won a Silver Slugger in 2017. His super power is hitting home runs. At the start of his career, he reached 100 homers in 355 games, the second fastest in the Majors. The fastest was Ryan Howard, who played first base.

The following table shows:

  • Although his homers per PA were outstanding every season, his SLG was above the average in the Majors only 5 out of 8 seasons.
  • His On-Base-Percent (OBP) was below average for the past six seasons.
Data from Baseball Reference.

Gary Sanchez has experienced slumps in his performance and made the adjustments needed to bounce back. Credit should be given to on-target coaching, as well as his mental strength.

“[At game time] My mind is settled. But I know that there are good times and bad times. I’ve gone through moments in my career when things have gone extremely well, and I’ve gone through times when things have gone extremely bad. But now, I have the experience to deal with the bad times. When you’re not used to it, and you get to the big leagues and you encounter a really tough stretch, that’s not easy. That’s hard, and it takes time to learn how to deal with that physically and mentally. [Learning and owning what works for him.]” — Gary Sanchez, 2021

On 6 September, a pitch broke his wrist and ended his season. A minor league contract would allow evaluation of the impact of that injury. If the Diamondbacks sign him to a minor league contract, he would join the spring training competition for backup catcher.

Quick Comparison. In 2023, Tucker Barnhart and Gary Sanchez had very similar defensive statistics (framing, blocking, and caught stealing). Tucker Barhart has the higher defensive upside potential. Assuming he recovers fully from his broken wrist, Gary Sanchez is the much better batter.

Summary.

Tucker Barnhart is a defense-first catcher, with potentially an average OBP, who will join the spring training competition for backup catcher.

Gary Sanchez is a bat-first catcher, who broke his wrist in September, who possibly could be signed to a minor-league contract. If signed, he would join the spring training competition for backup catcher.