Over the past few day I have spent a decent amount of time perusing the annals of Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects dating all the way back to about 1983; mostly focusing on catchers, as General Manager Ben Cherington has apparently made it a mission within his overall rebuilding of the Farm System to bring in some depth at this particular position.
Covering almost 40 years of baseball, a total of 17 Pittsburgh Pirates catchers have been placed inside their top 10 to 30 Minor League Prospects by various outside experts. The first two were Brian Harper and Juior Ortiz in 1983, followed by Ruben Rodriguez from 1984-1987, next were Tom Prince and Willie Smith-who actually focused more on pitching-each for one year in 1988 and 1989, then came Jason Kendall from 1993-1996, JR House from 2000-2005, Ryan Doumit in 2004-2005, Ronny Paulino in 2006, Steve Lerud spread out through 2005, 2007 and 2009, Andrew Walker 2008, Jason Jaramillo in 2009, Tony Sanchez from 2010-2012, Reese McGuire from 2014-2016, Elias Diaz in 2017 and now Henry Davis and Endy Rodriguez, with Carter Bins on MLB Pipeline’s list for a split second, and Fangraphs at #43.
Of the 17, only one-Kendall-cemented himself as an All-Star in the Majors, accumulating 41.7 WAR for his career, while three others-Harper (12.3) Doumit (8.6) and Paulino (5.3)-became MLB starters for a short period of time. Then there were Ortiz (-.3), Tom Prince (.8), who lasted in the league for an extended periods of time, mostly in reserve roles; together with Jaramillo (-.8), Rodriguez (0.0), House (-.3), Lerud (-.2) and Sanchez (.1), that got little more than a cup of coffee. Finally, you have one-Walker-who never made it past High A, along with McGuire (1.5) and Diaz (1.7)-1.4 coming this year-that are continuing to add to their career stats.
One catcher in almost 40 years from within the Pirates Farm System that amassed more than 10 WAR, as it presently stands, with Jacob Stallings sitting at 5.8; and barely any overlap throughout the years as far as competition at the position goes.
During the last offseason, in the MLB Draft and at the most recent trade deadline Cherington has acquired five catchers, but only one who currently sits at above the Low and High A Levels; the aforementioned Carter Bins, who has been slashing .130/.298/.196 between the Mariners and Pirates Farm Systems following his promotion on July 11th, with his obvious involvement in the Tyler Anderson trade squarely in between.
Moving down through the organization, 1st Overall Pick Henry Davis is on the shelf in Greensboro after 31 professional plate appearances, which is not an ideal start to a professional career, Eli Wilson has struggled since coming up from Bradenton-.235/.333/.353-and Blake Sabol is not guaranteed to be able to stick at the position long term; although he has performed well all year.
Then comes the last stop before the FCL, with the Marauders, where Cherington has really injected competition into the position; first with Endy Rodriguez, who came to the system in the three team Joe Musgrove deal from the New York Mets, challenged immediately by Wilson, and now by the recently acquired, Abrahan Gutierrez, on the second attempt from the Philadelphia Phillies.
Originally signed by the Mets for just $10,000 during the 2018-19 international signing period, Rodriguez with his .287 average, 10 homers, 18.5% and 12.3% K to BB rate and 131 wRC+ has fought to stay in the everyday lineup this far this season; playing 1st Base and now left field due to his athleticism, along with being the designated hitter on 20 occasions.
As far as Gutierrez, is concerned, he didn’t really skip a beat in his transition down Florida’s Gulf Coast from the Threshers in Clearwater, as his average stayed steady (.286 to .290), his OPS continued to be a career best (.850 to .902) and he proceeded to maintain his pattern of more walks than strike outs (50 to 39 on the season). However, as some will remember his trip from the Braves to the Phillies was a little bit more hectic. Signed by the Braves in 2016 for $3.53 million, he later entered the international signing market in November of 2017 amid Atlanta’s international signing scandal. Ultimately, Gutierrez inked a minor league deal with the Phillies in the beginning of 2018; restarting his career with a completely different organization. That was soon followed by a Low A assignment in each year surrounding the shutdown, which eventually made him expendable to the Phillies, along with his Rule 5 eligibility status. And now unfortunately, he has found his way on the 7-Day IL with what was described as a lower body injury on Friday.
So, at the present moment the Pirates have exactly three catchers that have consistently performed throughout the season; one of whom is injured (Gutierrez), one not guaranteed to stick at the position (Sabol) and another that some are all too happy to move to the outfield (Rodriguez) because of the depth that now exists within the system.
Of course, by next year all of this could change, as it becomes the push to get Davis to MLB, a hope that Jacob Stallings can remain healthy and productive and a search for a consistent back up, if it isn’t Perez, with fillers in Indianapolis for the majority of the year. So, not much different than it has been in previous years, if you look back. This is not to say that I don’t have faith in Davis, or others for that matter, I just think names and numbers don’t make a team; and as always it will be all about development throughout the system, but most importantly how they perform at PNC.