Pirates Prospects Daily: The Backup Catcher Battle Just Got More Interesting

Looking to leave no stone unturned heading into Spring Training, the Pittsburgh Pirates brought in another catcher, signing six-year major league veteran Kevin Plawecki to a minor league deal.

Whereas Austin Hedges has been mostly a negative producing offensively during his career, Plawecki has had some years in which he was a better than league average hitter. This comes over a small sample, as the most games he’s played in a season is 79 (posted a 92 wRC+).

That now gives the Pirates five non-roster catchers that will be attending training camp this spring.

When Tyler Heineman re-signed with the Pirates on a minor league contract, it was long suspected that he had the inside track on winning the backup spot after playing in 69 games last year after coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays.

Now it looks like things are slowly turning into a legitimate competition. Since we know that Endy Rodriguez, the other catcher on the 40-man roster, is going to start the year in the minors, here’s another quick rundown of the non-roster players.

Tyler Heineman – Even with bringing in Plawecki, I’d say Heineman is still the running favorite to grab the backup spot. Analytically speaking, he was one of the best defensive catchers in the majors last year, which could give the Pirates one of the best duos (defensively) in baseball.

Kevin Plawecki – Heineman and Hedges were two of the best in baseball framing pitches at the bottom of the zone, something I talked about before how that could benefit the Pirates’ pitching staff.

Plawecki wasn’t at the same level defensively as Hedges and Heineman, but he was among the best overall at framing the top of the zone.

He did finish in the positive (+1) when it comes to framing runs saved on Baseball Savant, while finishing with an -10 defensive runs saved on Fangraphs. While he never hit for much power, it took an even bigger step back last year, finishing with just nine extra-base hits (one home run) in 186 plate appearances.

He has a $1.5 million salary to kick in if he makes the major league team, so that will be interesting to watch.

Jason Delay – Seems like he’s mostly been forgotten at this point, but Heineman wasn’t the only reason the Pirates finished among the best defensively at the catcher position. He’s another, like Plawecki, that is strong framing up in the zone, but also didn’t hit much in his opportunities in the majors last year.

Carter Bins – When he was acquired in the Tyler Anderson trade, he seemed like a very strong candidate to potentially catch on as a future backup catcher. Blake Sabol took the starting job from him in Altoona, and Bins was promoted when Henry Davis joined the team, becoming part of an even more crowded catcher crowd in Indianapolis. He’ll have to make more contact if he wants to jump back into that picture now.

Henry Davis – He’ll be in camp, but he’s missed a lot of time due to injuries and has some work to do behind the plate. It’ll be interesting to see how much work he actually gets at catcher in game situations, with so many others names fighting for playing time.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

**The Pirates signed Kevin Plawecki to a minor league deal.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony wrote about how the new additions should help the Pirates’ aggressive approach at the plate.

Song of the Day

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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I really hope Austin Hedges has some magical gift with pitchers, because it looks like the Pirates outspent every other team that signed a catcher forecast (by Steamer) to generate between 0 and 1 WAR.

That’s not the list I would ever have expected them to be on.


Anybody remember this guy as a prospect? Kid could really hit.

The Met’s had already just graduated uber prospect Travis dArnaud and Plawecki was hot trade bait.

Wilbur Miller

Running through his MiL career, it’s a puzzle that he didn’t hit in the majors. Good to excellent K and walk rates throughout, until he got to the majors. Although his plate discipline hasn’t been bad in the majors (as opposed to, say, Owings, who’s been horrific), but he just hasn’t been the same hitter.


Since all catchers get beat to hell back there, it may be even more difficult to see which ones will hit and which ones will be up and down. I think he’s a good under the radar pick up.

Wilbur Miller

I like the idea of a backup who has a reasonable chance of hitting something. If his defense has really fallen down the last couple years, as some of the stats suggest, I don’t think mgmt is going to like that.


Most importantly, if Hedges goes down early with an injury like Perez did last year, it won’t automatically become a black hole of WAR for the rest of the year because of Endy and/or Davis being on the MLB doorstep in their development.


Speaking of Perez, I half expected us to sign him to complement Hedges, and in fact he signed a deal similar to Plawecki’s with the Giants. I wonder what happened there since supposedly there was strong mutual interest.

Last edited 1 month ago by TNBucs

Good question.


Another excellent, well thought out piece by Murph.



Wilbur Miller

This is what passes for excitement in nuttingworld. Which replacement level guy will win the competition to back up the sub replacement starter while we wait for the magical, mythical day when they find it convenient to try to field a major league lineup?


This is clear progress for the Pirates this year. Last year they just went after the ginks. This year they’re going after the ginks AND doinks when putting together their catching battery.


With Hedges, Heineman, and Delay already in place, and our two future Catchers already at AAA, Plawecki is nothing more than just another guy to help out with bullpens in ST. If he makes the 26, we will have a scoop and probably a new GM. Sometimes I wonder what this guy (BC) has between the ears. Keep Stoking it Ben!

WTM: Have they opened up Pirate City as it was prior to the pandemic?

Wilbur Miller

The writers have said it’ll be open. They haven’t said whether it’s open the way it was before the pandemic, i.e., they haven’t said whether the central area around the tower is open. Makes quite a difference in viewing, as there are two fields you can’t see if it’s not. I guess I’ll find out Wednesday.


I talked to someone on the phone last week. She said Pirates city is open (I believe at 9am). I have never been there before so I don’t know how it was prior to the pandemic.


1. Cruz SS
2. Hayes 3B
3. Reynolds CF
4. Santana DH
5. Cutch RF
6. Choi 1B
7. Suwinski LF
8. Castro 2B
9. Hedges C

Looks like a major league lineup to me Wilbur. Good mix of youth, vets, speed, power, righty, lefty, offense, defense. You name it, this team has the makings of a decent squad.

Probably a year late with your comment.


I don’t think they’ll be decent, but it will be a better product than last season.

I think there’s a method to the madness with Choi and Santana other than OB guys. FO thinks their numbers will be better with no more shifts.

When you are small market with extremely limited funds, you look for certain algorithms. High OB and added value due to no more shifts seems like a fairly sound plan with a tight budget.

As for Hedges, they wanted a defensive guy to help out the young staff. I believe Hedges has some of the better defensive metrics over the past few years.

I’m far from a Cherington fan, however, this is the first off-season that he actually had a plan.

Maybe let this play out instead of throwing the same effing fit every time.


IMO BC had a plan: Tank until a solid wave of prospects was up or near ready to join the PBC. Why sign good players and lower draft standing when you know your team will suck? Especially when you’re on a limited budget? Theoretically, the money saved now can go to signing players for a competitive club. Will Nutting be willing? Time will tell.


Making progress isn’t a real goal.

Scam likely

Not really, maybe 2012 but not now.this is still a bottom 25% lineup in run scored and what is the vs lefty lineup.

Wilbur Miller

Not #9 it doesn’t.

I’d hold off on Santana and Choi, too. Major league lineups don’t have 37-yr-old cleanup hitters who’ve been avg. hitters or below the last three years.

Last edited 1 month ago by Wilbur Miller

Santana had the best quality (and amount) of contact on the Mariners last season, while Choi had the second best quality of contact on the Rays.

Wilbur Miller

Cherry-picking Statcast tidbits doesn’t hold up well with a guy who’s been a below avg hitter for three years.


What am I cherry-picking?? That’s a lot of red.

Last edited 1 month ago by Anthony

I both applaud Ben for ostensibly having SOME logic to a few of the moves this year and ultimately just don’t buy that This One Weird Trick will turn a bunch of late-30s bats into prime performers.

Like how “sticky stuff” was supposed to be the biggest influence on low BA and high Ks, yet the game is still indistinguishable from what it was before the crackdown.

Baseball just never seems to be that simple.

Wilbur Miller

Totally agree.


That’s moving the goalposts a little bit, I believe. If you’re insisting all 9 slots be positive contributors in both offense AND defense, not just positive overall WAR, AND you are also insisting they be in their actual PRIME then there are maybe 4 or 5 “major league lineups” in the league. Perhaps fewer. Hell, the Yankees don’t even qualify due to left field and perhaps shortstop.

Whether you like hedges and/or Santana or not, they fill the short term gap. A marginally better signing of a younger 1B and choosing to sign a better hitting C (likely with worse D) for half the season, their likely time frame, would not have changed your mind. Admit it.

If you think we should sign a catcher as the long term plan, well, that’s dumb. And we know you don’t think that so your nitpick with hedges is really kind of unimportant in the grand scheme. If you think we should sign a real 1B, I might agree since we don’t seem to have one coming up. That actually may be the spot we do end up paying for eventually.

But there wasn’t a 1B this off-season we would have wanted on a real contract. Was there? Who? Not a different gap filler which is a pointless complaint in an obvious bridge season, but a real player.

So to reiterate, I think you’re grasping at straws by continuing the “pirates and BC can do no right” Schtick. Better to say nothing and complain where it makes sense.

Wilbur Miller

When you have so little power, you can’t afford black holes. The Yankees were 4th in SLG last year. The Pirates were 28th. You couldn’t have picked a worse comparison.
They had a chance to take a big step forward, given expected improvements from young guys, and Hayes. Instead, they just went for the bottom of the market to fill in the rest. Among 1B last year with 200+ PAs last year, Santana was 31st in wRC+. They could’ve done better. But they’ve trained Pirate fans to get so used to outright embarrassment that they get ecstatic over mere sub-mediocrity. It’s staggering how low the fans set the bar.


Whatever. I didn’t compare them to the Yankees and you know it. You said 9th and cleanup slot missing good bats wasn’t a major league lineup. I joked about the Yankees missing a couple slots too in response. It was clear and you know that.

This is plain dishonest really. You didn’t respond to the questions I asked but rather created a straw man.

So I assume since you didn’t respond that you wanted us to sign a star 1st baseman and catcher with power to long term contracts this off season, despite the depth at catcher after we finish with hedges. Upside depth that will be nice and cheap.

Right? You want to spend money where we have our best prospects.

See how it feels to have words put in your mouth?

Oh wait, I actually gave you credit in the first post, so no you don’t. I was honest and trying to discuss it. Not you. Poor representation of the way the site wants to engage its readers.

If you want to read my 1st comment honestly we can start over. Otherwise I’ll leave you to your Odd couple routine.

Last edited 1 month ago by sewer2001

Three years of sub-.400 baseball and some of the names we trotted out onto the field will have that effect on people.

I like Choi as an individual hitter and he has played with a winning team. Less enthused about Santana at the plate unless it is going to be against LHP’s. Hedges is Hedges – if his work with the Pitchers and as an example for our young Catchers in that aspect of the game, I can put up with the lack of a bat.

Wilbur Miller

If Choi’s collapse last year was due to the elbow, he might be ok-ish.
I’m at a loss what it is folks expect Hedges to do. The pitchers made a lot of strides with Heineman and Delay catching. Is Keller going to turn into DeGrom now? This sort of contribution can’t be “measured” because, at best, it’s very marginal. Hedges’ hitting, otoh, is a long, long way from just marginally awful.


The streak of good songs of the day ended at two in horrible fashion today.


Update media guide? Thanks!


Since the back up is going to be a player not in the 40, I was wondering if that spot is gonna open once they move Kranick to the 60?


Been surpised all winter they have been DFAing guys while not moving Kranick to the 60 day DL.


They can’t put him on the 60 day until spring training.


Makes sense.

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