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Bucco breakfast: Do the Pirates have enough catching depth?

Kansas City Royals v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Okay, there are no great revelations here.

The Pirates had a near-dream scenario with their catching this year. Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz gave them great production and they had very good AAA depth with Jacob Stallings and Ryan Lavarnway. Cervelli had his usual array of injuries, but somehow the team needed Stallings for only 41 plate appearances, and Lavarnway came up only to pinch hit a few times in September. So they had more depth than they needed, like catcherpocalypse in reverse.

But now Stallings and Lavarnway are out of options. Neil Huntington has said the team will consider carrying three catchers to avoid losing Stallings. That’d leave a pretty grim situation with the bench. They’re already likely to carry a no-hit shortstop as Plan B behind Kevin Newman. (Decent-hitting and -fielding shortstops don’t sign to be backups to rookies.) And it’s a safe bet, given that managing the bullpen is always Clint Hurdle’s top priority, that they’ll carry eight relievers for significant parts of the season. So three catchers hopefully isn’t going to happen.

Another thing that hopefully won’t happen is Cervelli moving to first beyond the occasional start. I don’t really understand the attraction of this idea. If he hits at his 2018 level — which was a career best OPS for any season with more than 52 ABs — he’s a very good-hitting catcher but an ordinary first baseman. If he hits at his 2016-17 level, he’s a terrible first baseman. I’m not sure how it would help the Pirates to downgrade their best 2018 position in order to more or less stay the same or even downgrade at another position.

I do expect that Stallings will at least stay around into spring training, if for no other reason than as a hedge against an injury. It’d be interesting to see them bring Lavarnway to camp with the idea of him getting some playing time at first. As a prospect, he was known as a bat-first player, so maybe he could earn a job as a bench bat, although not being able to play third would be a problem.

As things stand now, without Stallings and Lavarnway, the #3 catcher would be Christian Kelley, who has yet to play in AAA. He’s very similar to Stallings a couple years ago, i.e., before Stallings started to hit better. Kelley obviously won’t be an option until he’s had some time in AAA, unless it’s just for a couple days.

This isn’t exactly something to panic over. The team will have to make one or two good decisions about catching depth, just like it has to make a few good decisions about the bullpen every off-season. They did get Lavarnway as a free agent and Stallings was already available twice on waivers if anybody had cared to claim him, so useful catchers are out there.

The real reason I wanted to discuss a few of the team’s depth issues is just to point out that the Pirates have some important decisions coming up beyond the obvious stuff, like the need to make significant upgrades to their offense. The next Richard Rodriguez isn’t going to put them in the playoffs, but those moves do matter.

Daily Links

  • Corey Dickerson was named a finalist for the NL left field Gold Glove. The other finalists are Christian Yelich and Adam Duvall. Dickerson and Duvall both ranked highly in defensive metrics, although Dickerson played nearly 50% more innings than Duvall, which ought to count for something. Yelich divided his time almost evenly between left and right. DRS and UZR both considered Yelich average or below in left and a little above average in right, but . . . dingerz.
  • Kiley McDaniel’s chats at FanGraphs always have something interesting in them, often because he’s an analytically oriented writer who worked in the scouting department of a major league team. In his latest one, he addressed a couple of the limitations of scouting. For one, he mentions that players in short season leagues don’t have a great deal of trade value, which changes once they’ve had a year in full-season ball. He also questions the ability of scouts to identify the risk of pitcher injuries based on the eye test, stating, “Can’t imagine it’s any better than a monkey throwing darts if that’s all you’re using. Throwing in medical history, velocity, biomechanical, etc. does a much better job and still nobody really knows.”