The good news is that the Cincinnati Reds seem to have their franchise catcher at the big league level in Tyler Stephenson. He’s with the team through at least 2026, so the catching situation does have plenty of time to develop. But while the starting catcher position seems locked down, the backup spot has been an unmitigated disaster. Cincinnati churned through six different guys not named Tyler Stephenson this season behind the plate and they hit .170/.210/.258 with 15 walks and 123 strikeouts in 401 plate appearances. Four of those guys are still technically considered prospects, and three are still currently in the organization.
While the Cincinnati Reds Top 25 Prospect List hasn’t yet been updated after the season concluded, it’s last update following the trade deadline didn’t include a single catcher. And as the person who will be making that list in a few weeks I’ll go ahead and spoil it now – it’s highly unlikely any catcher will be on it when it comes out then, too.
Cincinnati has spent some high-round draft picks on catchers in recent years. Jackson Miller was selected 65th overall as the team’s second round pick in 2020. Mat Nelson was taken 35th overall as one of the Reds first round picks in 2021. Logan Tanner was selected 55th overall this past summer as the team’s second round pick.
Miller has battled multiple injuries and played in just three games since being drafted (worth noting that there was no season to play in 2020, but that he missed all of 2022 and almost all of 2021).
Mat Nelson hit .330/.436/.773 at Florida State in 2021, but also struck out 25% of the time that season. His time as a professional has continued to see him strike out a ton – 35% – but the power he showed at Florida State in 2021 has not translated as he’s managed just eight home runs while hitting .215/.307/.360 in 90 games with Dayton and two with the complex league Reds in the last two seasons.
Logan Tanner had a bit of a breakout season in 2021 with Mississippi State, but hit just .285/.387/.425 as a junior in 2022. The Reds selected him in the 2nd round for his outstanding defensive abilities, but questions remain about just how much he’ll hit in the future. He will be 22-years-old next month, so there’s plenty of time for his bat to continue to develop – but his bat is not what he’s known for and even when he “broke out” in 2021 with Mississippi State he still hit just .287.
Catcher is a position where almost everyone – even stars in the big leagues – don’t play every day. The position is physically demanding, guys get beat up back there on foul balls and balls in the dirt, etc. Because of that there was only one catcher who managed to get 300 or more plate appearances in the minors this season and it was Mat Nelson.
No catcher slugged .400 that managed to get 60 plate appearances on the season. No catcher managed to post a .330 on-base percentage who had 60 plate appearances on the season. While catchers do tend to develop as hitters further down the line than their other positional counterparts, the fact is that during the 2022 minor league season the Reds catchers didn’t have anyone who seemed to hit the ball well on the season.
It’s a good thing that the Reds have Tyler Stephenson right now because the farm system as it stands right now doesn’t seem to have anyone close to being ready to step into the big leagues to play the position in a non-emergency back up kind of role.
F. I’m not sure I’ve ever given out an F before in these write ups, but it’s tough to argue any other way here. The catchers didn’t hit at all, anywhere, in the farm system. There’s not a single top 25 caliber prospect in the bunch at this point.
Catcher Offensive Stats
Catcher Defensive Stats
You can see all of the State of the Farm series here.
What Austin Romine did with the young pitchers at the end of the year was nothing short of fantastic. If we can find catchers that can have a real impact on the effectiveness of pitchers, the bat is secondary, if even relevant. Which is what makes Stephenson such a unicorn. A solid game caller, with an elite bat.
Great point. I would have no problems resigning Romine for 2023 for cheap especially since this team will not be competing for anything but draft picks in 2023.
Sorry, but there has to be a line in how much a guy can hit. And a sub .500 OPS is below that line. There has to be another “good with the young pitchers” catcher out there who can hit the ball out of the infield.
Agreed! Tucker Barnhart would be perfect for a back-up catcher that is great with a young staff. The problem as I see it, can Stephenson stay healthy enough to be the starting catcher on most days. I’m in the camp that he should move to 1B once Joey retires.
Agreed. I didn’t say Romine was some type of answer. I was just pointing out the value of a good game managing catcher needs to be an important part of the evaluation of a catcher. Focusing on the bat first is a mistake. But of course there is a line. It’s just a lot lower than most people give credit.
Nelson seems to be a very good defensive catcher, but I’m just not convinced he will ever be able to hit the baseball – at least based on anything he has ever shown.
In his 2 seasons of summer league he hit 0.200 and 0.163
In his first 2 collegiate seasons he hit 0.282 and 0.250
And he’s only hit 0.215 in the minors (and he was older than the average competition).
His BABIP in the minors is 0.331, so it’s not like his low batting average is fluky or anything. Rather it just seems to reflect an inability to make contact and put the ball in play.
Fortunately you don’t need to hit to be a Reds backup catcher. See Chuck Robinson, Romine, Garcia, Kolozvary, Papierski and Okey. Respective OPS+ of 7, 17, 38, 81, 15 and 11 .
Cade Hunter peaked my interest at the end of the season. Outside of that it’s a pretty bleak outlook. I’ve never been high on Nelson who I thought was Chris Okey redux. Same with Tanner last draft. The catching corps deserve an F unfortunately.
Yes, it seems Case Hunter and Juan Garcia were eliminated from the discussion by the 60 PA threshold. Perhaps therein lay the Stephenson heir apparent, at least.
We do have the young Venezuelan kid reportedly ready to sign in the next signing period. He seems as if he’s in the Tyler Stephenson model as well.
Barnhart’s .554 OPS wouldn’t have helped either.
We need Barrero to hit, even if just a little. Then you can absorb a negative WAR backup catcher for 50 start w/o the bottom of the lineup becoming a vortex of suck.
Unless the Reds are willing to spend real money, I’d lean toward Koloszvary, then Robinson. At least you have some athleticism there which could mean they haven’t fully tapped their potential.
Off subject a bit but fangraphs came out with their top 109 prospects. Elly De La Cruz clocked in at # 6. I decided to compare De La Cruz with Jay Bruce, who was the # 1 prospect in baseball 15 years ago. I also decided to look at the three non-battery players ahead of De La Cruz in this years rankings (Gunnar Henderson, Corbin Carroll and Jackson Chourio).
Henderson and Carroll are both 21. EDLC is 20, as was Bruce 15 years ago and Chourio is 18. You can argue that Carroll and Henderson are in their age 20 season because of the year lost to COVID. Also EDLC would be in his age 19 season.
BA for all 5 are about the same. Since Carroll took a BB 2.5 times more than Bruce, EDLC and Chourio, his OBP is superior. Henderson BB% is twice these three so he also has a superior OBP. Henderson loses this advantage because of an inferior ISO compared to the other 5. Carroll just adds to it, in part due to playing in the PCL.
The statistical differences between the 5 come down to Henderson having less power, Henderson and Carroll taking more BB and EDLC striking out 30% of the time vs. the 23% – 26% of the other 4.
Other differences are EDLC and Henderson can play in the dirt and the other 3 are OF. Chourio is still 18. EDLC clearly has a speed advantage over these 5.
Based upon the above I would place EDLC behind all three players in this class and a toss up with Bruce.
One thing that is difficult to determine the impact on though is EDLC’s exit velocity. He has exit velocities that far exceed anyone in this group. Because of this, his ceiling is still far greater than anyone in this group. His 30% K% puts his floor far lower too. But in his age 20 season Gunnar Henderson also had a 30% K%. Carroll played only 7 games his age 20 season.
I would rank their projected careers as EDLC 1st, Carroll 2nd, Chourio 3rd, Henderson 4th and Bruce 5th. I also think EDLC and Carroll will be in the HOF 30 years from now.
The one thing these stats don’t show thou
I only hope that EDLC will be a hall of famer but since only less than 1% of all players get to that status, it’s pretty far-fetched to even pretend he can be THAT good. It’s a nice dream though and he certainly has the base tools/talent to be extremely good, but there’s just so much luck involved with being Hall of Fame good especially injury wise as you get older. What will derail EDLC more than his strikeout % is even dreaming that he could be a hall of famer. One step at a time.
Elly De La Cruz produces elite exit velocity.
The top 5 in exit velocity this year:
Judge, Alvarez, Schwarber, Devers and Ohtani.
All five of these players have more than a 1% chance of making the HOF. None of these players have De La Cruz speed. Only Judge is not a liability on defense.
It is too early to put him in the HOF. That is why I said I think instead of I know.
I think that he will be the second member of the 400/400 club (400 HR/400 SB). This may be a bad sign because the first member of the 400/400 club is not in the HOF and only 2 of the 8 members of the 300/300 club are in the HOF.
Maybe Romine with a new hitting coach could lift his slash line at least to the Mendoza’s and he would be a decent backup due to his rookie management and game calling…
Cade Hunter looks as the new hope of catcher position….but in a small sample size…
Romine is 33 , has been with5 different MLB teams I assume with at least 5 hitting coaches. I think he is what he is and is going to be.
I would personally like to see if they could sign Curt Casali who will be a free agent. I would think the dollars needed for him are going to be down.
Curt is getting there in age. But if he has a year left in him, I agree. For the full 2020 season his OKPS+ fell off to 86 but that is because he cratered in Seatle (58) after being slightly better than his career OPS+ (97/91) with the Giants in 2022.
Well Romine has not been always a .155 hitter , in fact he has a career.230 AVG and an .616 OPS although it is not good but it is above Mendoza’s line which is that I would ask for a Sthephenson backup catcher from a 2023 Reds budget scenario, despite he is 33 maybe could make some adjustments to reach his career numbers at least and this being added to his defensive abilities mentioned before
Over the last three seasons his OPS is .515 with 10 walks and 115 strikeouts.
A good vet catcher is the best remedy. Short of that, Robinson looks good behind the plate as a backup. I’d also like to see what Free does in AAA this year. I was very excited for a Vellojin, but 22 was a big disappointment.
I know it’s an unpopular opinion, but I’d move Cade Hunter off C, and onto another position. Let his bat develop, he’s not going to be a major league quality C, but he might have a major league bat.
Cade Hunter had the best CS% of all the above, including the cannon-armed Tanner (albeit in a SSS alert), his dad is a baseball exec (field rat) and hits lefty. Give him a chance before pulling him off C. He might be the hidden gem of all those listed above. He is one I am keeping my eye on as he develops.
I still hold out hope for Vellojin. Going into last season, he got high praises for his defense and still has a career .765 OPS even after last year’s poor showing. He had a .907 OPS in his 1/3 of a season at Dayton and then struggled mightily at AA (after beginning the year struggling at Daytona, somewhat due to a .175 BABIP). He’s still just 22. His poor season probably means he won’t get added to the 40 man roster and will still be safe from the Rule 5 draft.
This team has a lot of org guys at catcher. Org guys aren’t bad, but I didn’t see anything approaching even the possibility of a major league-caliber player anytime soon in AA this year. That includes Robinson, who’s a nice dude and a good story but just isn’t anywhere near a Major League Baseball player.
If Vellojin were even one year older, he’d be a lot closer to getting cut than protected. He didn’t just not put up numbers in AA; he looked completely lost.
One answer could be to switch an athletic field player with the ability to hit better to catcher that may be blocked (Leyton, Rey, etc.). It has been done before. It would take a lot of work but could be an answer, plus anyone would be a backup to TS anyway.
I actually am guessing that at least 1 catcher will sneak into the bottom part of the top 25.
Glad to see this series back. I’d have given this position a “D” based on Tanner and Hunter, but that’s really quibbling. I was hoping the Reds would target a catcher at the trade deadline–there seemed to be several on teams looking to add talent. At this point, finding a legit backup catcher should be the top off-season priority. With the parade of rookies, the Reds will begin to play this year, they don’t need an offensive blackhole in the lineup.
The Future; Alfredo Duno – Man-Child! Already 6’3” 225, signing in January
We are in dire need of a serious Man-Child as well!!! However, I see Duno as more of Unit
And looking at Vellojin, he is neither a Unit nor a Man-Child. Instead, he is more a little man with a big heart and big motor!
I like Vellojin’s approach hitting, hopefully his glove and arm are solid.
I do think he will sneak into the back end of our top 25- you herd it here first!
I rate this position a C- for two reasons:
1. Daniel Vellojin – Vellojin opened the season injured and I consider his time in Daytona as spring training. Therefore I will ignore those stats. Vellojin’s time in A+ and AA vs. that of Tyler Stephenson:
Vellojin: .226/.342/.427 with a .201 ISO and .769 OPS
Stephenson: .266/.353/.400 with a .134 ISO and a .753 OPS
At one point this year Vellojin was in Doug’s top 25. Although his K% was a bit high 29.6% his BB% was very good 14.8%.
2. Cade Hunter – In a very limited sample size Cade Hunter was very good. In 49 PA he had a .341 ISO (ISO in Daytona was .269). He should be in Dayton next year.
Come January this position will jump to a C+.
Really darkens the Reds will compete in 2024 narrative. Hopefully, the Reds do something to fix the problem in the coming year, but I’m not optimistic.
Cade Hunter hit at both levels he was at and had another homer not counted since the game was cancelled and not made up. Most years he would easily be top 25 and still could be. Farm system is deep though
I have Hunter at 36. I do have Vellojin at 25 though.
Hunter was a very interesting pick – his dad is Mariners FO draft director. Had a breakout year in college which put him on many draft boards. A good, but SSS, start to his MiLB path. Given the rest of the chart, if he is just OK next year, he goes to the top of the list. Hope his bat keeps playing.
Yes, I know Austin Romine is a terrible hitter but that I want to say is if the Reds chose to avoid dealing a FA catcher to be a Stephenson backup (BTW I think is very likely) “maybe” Romine could be the least bad option available
Stephenson, Grandahl and Mesoraco each had more questions about their defense than about their bats.
Joe Hudson, Chris Okey, Mark Kolosvary, Mat Nelson, Logan Tanner and probably other college guys, on the other hand, had pretty significant questions whether they’d hit.
I suppose that is one difference between using a number one pick for a catcher vs a number two pick or lower. High school talent vs college is likely another.
But if there is one area of our scouting and development that should gather some scrutiny, I’d say the targeting of college catchers without a decent hit tool is one such area.
The perennial ‘questions whether he will hit’ treadmill we’ve been on for some time now hasn’t yielded any results other than org filler.
Tanner may emerge differently. Hunter may be more hit than defense and emerge. Jackson Miller may actually play next year. All are outliers amid our catching corps at this point. And it’s not just us, either. How many teams do have catching prospects we’d take in a trade? Or would ever be offered?
Are catchers harder to project or something? Seems like they spent a lot of high draft picks and not much to show.
Catchers have the highest rate of failure to reach the big leagues of any specific position in the draft and it’s not even remotely close. They are far and away the riskiest demographic to draft, especially now that Tommy John surgery isn’t a 50/50 proposition on ending the career of a pitcher like it was 25 years ago.
A team trying to manage its budget can usually find affordable position players. That same team can’t afford to fail in the catching and pitching departments- the cost of real difference makers(war>3) at those 2 positions is astronomical on the free agent market. Budget teams have to hit those areas.
Given the draft capital sunk into catcher position over the last 3-4 years, catcher is by far the biggest failure of the reds development staff. It’s long past due to put someone else in charge of amateur catcher scouting snd development.
We’ve spent 4 high draft picks on catchers and they all appear to be wasted picks. The one thing they seem to be about to fix is avoidance of catching in the international signing department. Where they are rumored to be in on one of the big Latin American names.
I totally agree with your grade Doug. Kudos to you for telling it like it is!