A year ago at this time, catching was by far the weakest position in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization.
The prospects at the position all profiled as MLB defensive backups, at best, and likely third or fourth catchers on the depth chart in Triple-A. I’m not saying it’s easy to find those types of prospects. I’m just saying MLB teams don’t become contenders with only those types of catching prospects.
My, what a difference a year makes.
Pirates’ General Manager Ben Cherington invested heavily in the catching position this past season.
It started when he acquired Endy Rodriguez from the Mets as part of the Joe Musgrove deal with San Diego in January. That gave the Pirates a guy who could potentially be a two-way starter behind the plate in the majors.
The trade deadline saw Cherington acquire two catchers with strong defensive profiles, and solid on-base skills, which is the exact profile that led Jacob Stallings to be a top ten catcher this year. That’s a best-case scenario, but even a more probable scenario of a backup catcher would be welcome.
The real impact addition was first overall pick Henry Davis, who has the potential to be that special two-way player.
This article is part of a series looking at the future of every position in the Pirates’ farm system. Note that this isn’t a full list of the catching prospects, but instead the top options in the system as of our latest rankings.
2021 Stats: .308/.387/.808, 3 HR, 31 PA (A+, FCL)
Davis was taken with the first overall pick out of Louisville, in a move that gave the Pirates additional money to spend on several prep picks. The pick of Davis first was legit on its own. He’s a potential impact catcher, with plus raw power, and the defensive skills to stick behind the plate and provide positive value. He could benefit from the knowledge of Stallings, while both are in the organization. An ideal scenario would be the Pirates keeping Stallings around long enough to mentor and back up a young Davis as he transitions to the majors. Davis went down at the end of the season with an oblique injury, but should be ready to go for 2022. In his limited time in pro ball, he showed his power to be legit. If he continues that in 2022, we could be discussing his arrival in the majors at some point in 2023.
2021 Stats: .294/.380/.512, 15 HR, 434 PA (A)
The Pirates received 27-year-old left-hander Joey Lucchesi from the Padres in the Joe Musgrove trade. They immediately flipped him to the New York Mets for Rodriguez, who immediately became their top catching prospect. Rodriguez has played the outfield, in addition to catching. He works well to support his pitchers, and is very athletic. So athletic that Pirates’ farm director John Baker has repeatedly mentioned that Rodriguez might be the best second baseman in the system. So, if he doesn’t make it behind the plate, look for a super-utility player who isn’t just limited to a corner role.
2021 Stats: .290/.428/.441, 5 HR, 306 PA (A)
What a whirl-wind the Gutierrez situation ended up being. The Pirates tried to trade left-handed starter Tyler Anderson to the Phillies for Gutierrez and a right-handed pitching prospect. That deal fell through when one of the prospects failed a physical. The Pirates traded Anderson in a very similar deal for the next guy on this list. However, they got Gutierrez in a separate deal, sending away left-handed pitching prospect Braeden Ogle. Gutierrez has shown solid defensive skills, plus a good ability to get on base, with a .428 OBP this year in A-ball.
2021 Stats: .234/.384/.387, 8 HR, 294 PA (A+, AA)
As mentioned above, when the original deal for Gutierrez fell through, the Pirates made a similar deal with Seattle for Carter Bins and right-handed pitcher Joaquin Tejada. Bins is another solid defender and high-OBP guy who made some huge strides with his game over the last year-plus. He went down with a wrist injury at the end of the year, which will be a situation to watch going forward. He profiles best as the future backup to Davis.
2021 Stats: .310/.406/.551, 13 HR, 288 PA (A, A+)
Sabol probably won’t stick long-term behind the plate, but is appealing here for his power production. He spent time in the outfield this year, and will likely be pushed off the position more often as he develops alongside Davis and Rodriguez. At best, the Pirates can hope that he retains enough knowledge behind the plate to eventually be an emergency catcher. He profiles better as a corner outfield prospect.
2021 Stats: .287/.426/.444, 4 HR, 223 PA (A, A+, AAA)
A year ago, Wilson was the best hope for a two-way catcher in the system. His offensive skills were promising in the lower levels, albeit from an older player. His defense received good enough reviews that he could possibly develop into a starter-quality guy. One year later, and Wilson is a bonus prospect. In the event that Davis or Rodriguez don’t work out, the Pirates still have this lottery ticket to develop. He’d make a good backup, more offensive-geared than the previous backups on this list.