The Cincinnati Reds seem to have their catcher for the next few years at the big league level. After the season they extended Tucker Barnhart through the 2021 season. They also have an option for the 2022 season if they want. Devin Mesoraco will act as the back up in 2018. Behind him will be Stuart Turner, likely in Triple-A Louisville. Mesoraco is a free agent following the 2018 season. Turner will remain under team control for at least five more seasons if he remains inside the organization. None of those three players are prospects.
When we look at those players that are prospects and technically a part of the farm system, we start with the catchers who were in Double-A last season. In Pensacola, Joe Hudson got the most playing time. Defensively, he’s the best catcher the organization has in the farm system and it’s not particularly close. That’s not a knock on the rest of the system, but praise for what Hudson brings to the table. He’s got a plus arm that shows strength and accuracy. He’s thrown out 45% of attempted base stealers for his career. His ability to call a game and lead a pitching staff is well regarded, too. Where Hudson has struggled is at the plate. In two seasons at the Double-A level he’s OPS’d just .563.
Chad Tromp, like Hudson, only played in about half of the games in 2017. He split his time between Daytona and Pensacola. In Daytona his bat played well, hitting .311/.351/.412. The jump to Pensacola didn’t go as well. While he walked nearly as often as he struck out in 36 games, he only hit .204/.302/.239. Tromp is just 22-years-old, so there’s plenty of time for his bat to rebound and he’s hit better at times in the past than he showed in Double-A. Behind the plate he threw out 28% of opposing base runners. He’s a solid defender with room to get better.
In Daytona it was Chris Okey who saw most of the action. The 2nd round pick from 2016 has a season that was about as opposite as possibly could be expected. Coming out of the draft, Okey was far more known for his bat than for his defense. His defense was solid, but was not the strength of his game. That script flipped for 2017. He hit just .185/.265/.249 for Daytona in 93 games played. Power, a calling card out of college, disappeared for the catcher. Behind the plate, though, he took big strides forward. He threw out 33% of opposing base runners and improved his receiving and game calling abilities.
Garrett Boulware played in 52 games in Daytona, but only 33 behind the plate as he shared time with both Okey and Tromp. At the plate he hit .269/.306/.341, which was a little bit below-average for the league. Behind the plate he struggled – throwing out just 17% of opposing base stealers. He played another six games between Pensacola and Louisville.
It was a rebound season for Tyler Stephenson. The organizations top prospect at the position was coming off of a season in which he suffered a wrist injury that held him to just 44 games played and led to struggles at the plate. In 2017 he found success at the dish, hitting .278/.374/.414 with 44 walks and 58 strikeouts in 80 games. He also began to flash more of his offensive potential that could lead to future All-Star production if he fully develops. Unfortunately for Stephenson, he only played in 80 games because his season was cut short by injury for a second consecutive season. A thumb injury would take out most of his second half, though he returned to participate in instructional league. Behind the plate, compared to 2016, the 20-year-old looks better in all aspects of his defense. He threw out just 21% of opposing base stealers during the season. There’s still work to do on the defensive side, but he took steps forward in 2017 and all of the pieces are there for further improvements.
In Billings there was a larger contingent of catchers splitting the playing time. 7th round pick in 2017 Mark Kolozsvary hit well for the Mustangs. He posted a .305/.362/.411 line in 28 games. Most of those games came behind the plate. In 24 games back there he threw out 33% of opposing runners. Coming out of college he was more known for his defensive abilities than his bat.
Hendrik Clementina didn’t begin the season with the Reds organization. He joined the organization in the Tony Cingrani trade at the end of July. Before coming to Billings, he played with the Ogden Raptors. At the plate he was hitting .370/.439/.554 in 24 games played. In the 27 games after joining Billings his hitting took a big step backwards, posting a .240/.302/.365 line with the Mustangs. Overall on the year he hit .303 with 11 doubles and six homers in 51 games. Behind the plate he threw out 27% of opposing base stealers. But, his defense will need to continue to improve as he’s considered to be below-average at this stage of his career. He’s just 20-years-old, though, so he’s got plenty of time to improve.
Back in Goodyear with the AZL Reds, there were three guys who split time evenly behind the plate. 17-year-old Victor Ruiz, signed out of Mexico in October of 2016, started out well with the Reds. He would slow down at the plate, but posted a .244/.250/.321 line as a hitter in 80 plate appearances as one of the youngest players in the league. Behind the plate he threw out 19% of opposing runners, but did allow nine passed balls in 22 games. He’s incredibly young, but he’s got the raw tools to remain at the position – he will just need to continue to develop like every other 17-year-old catcher that’s ever existed.
Valentin Martinez showed the best offensive production among the three Arizona League catchers. The 20-year-old hit .292/.358/.444 in 81 plate appearances. His .802 OPS was the best of his four seasons since signing. Behind the plate he threw out 33% of opposing base runners, but also allowed five passed balls in 21 games played.
Ernesto Liberatore has hit best offensive season of his career with the AZL Reds in 2017. He hit .238/.342/.317 in 73 plate appearances. The 21-year-old performed better behind the plate. He threw out 40% of opposing base runners and only had two passed balls in 18 games played.
Only one catcher in the organization was ranked inside The Top 25 Cincinnati Reds Prospects, Tyler Stephenson. At the top of the food chain, things are a bit slim. Double and Triple-A both relied on veteran free agents for parts of their catching duties. Combined with losing them to free agency, and losing Chad Wallach on waivers, Joe Hudson is the lone guy remaining who has more than half-of-a-season above A-ball. There are some interesting options in the lower minors that are raw, but talented. And if Chris Okey can couple his past offensive profile with the stronger defense he could provide a big boost to the position.
There’s some depth, but with only one top 25 prospect and being thin at the top it’s tough to give this position more than a C at this point.
Hit Tool | Tyler Stephenson
Power | Tyler Stephenson
Running | Uh…. they are catchers. Let’s just call them all a bit slow. Sorry guys.
Arm Strength | Joe Hudson
Defense | Joe Hudson
For more articles in the State of the Farm series, you can click here. They will be released each Tuesday moving forward.