The catching core of the Pittsburgh Pirates was... odd... to say the least in 2023.
The bar was set pretty low coming out of Spring Training, but everyone knew it would get better over the course of the season and, to a point, it did.
Let’s take a look at who suited up for the Pirates this season and how things look going into next year.
The greatest part of Hedges’ tenure in Pittsburgh was being traded to the Texas Rangers at the deadline for international pool money. And no, this isn’t out of spite because he blocked the organization’s two best catching prospects for months.
As fans, we knew coming into the season that he was an automatic out in the lineup, but we were still unpleasantly surprised with how miserable he was.
He slashed .180/.237/.230 with a .467 OPS in 65 games in Pittsburgh. This came after a 2022 season where he was tabbed the worst offensive catcher in MLB (.163/.241/.248). Then, with Texas, he collected five hits in 16 games.
Austin Hedges, bat flip extraordinaire. pic.twitter.com/MJA3mxbsQZ— Justice delos Santos (@justdelossantos) June 15, 2023
In fairness, he was able to connect with several pitchers, notably Mitch Keller. He was behind the dish in his shutout against Colorado in May, and he even helped Keller get through tough starts over the year.
Mitch Keller giving props to Austin Hedges. Good man.— Christian✞ (@CWolfPGH) May 9, 2023
Two of them made a plan & it worked to perfection. pic.twitter.com/8E0g2VE4x5
He was also an incredible pitch framer. Topping the competition with 11 framed runs saved between his time in Pittsburgh and Texas. Then again, his four catcher’s interference calls took the limelight away from his framing.
The tipping point for fans’ opinion on Hedges, in my opinion, was his acknowledgement of boos bestowed on him at PNC Park. Fans were understandably upset with him being a dead spot in the lineup, but his comments, especially when the Pirates were on a cold streak, didn’t really help his cause.
“If we were not on a losing streak right now, I don’t think we’d be having this conversation. I think wins and losses kind of dictate most of those things.”
The Hedges era is over, Pirates fans. It was painful, but be mindful of the few good things he brought to the team: framing and pitching core management.
He did his job, now let’s move on from it.
If you would’ve told me Delay held a 40-man roster spot throughout the entirety of the season in February, I would’ve doubted you. Looking back on his season, though, it’s no surprise why the Pirates kept him all year.
Delay appeared in 70 games with the Pirates this season, hitting an acceptable .251 with a .666 OPS as the team’s primary backup.
Defensively, he saved a little more than five runs in 484 innings behind the dish this season and ranks in the 75th percentile in pitch framing, according to Baseball Savant.
Baseball Prospectus ranks Delay as the 43rd-best defensive player in MLB and 14th among catchers. Some notable names behind him: Bo Naylor, Nick Fortes, Jacob Stallings and Travis d’Arnaud.
It’s unlikely Delay sees a ton of action next season, given the news of the Pirates wanting Henry Davis to enter Spring Training as a catcher and with Rodriguez already established, but he’s a solid third catcher to keep on the 40-man in case the Pirates are in a pinch next season.
Believe it or not, Rodriguez appeared in 57 games with the Pirates this year.
The 23-year-old was called up July 17 and debuted alongside former first-round pick Quinn Priester the same day. It was a slow start for Rodriguez, but he eventually found his footing through August and September.
He finished with a .220/.284/.612 line, three home runs and 13 RBI, which may seem underwhelming, but it’s not too surprising for a rookie when he reaches the majors.
He did finish 19th among catchers in defense across MLB, though, preventing a little more than four runs and finishing with a caught stealing above average ranking of four, which put him in the 79th percentile. As a bonus, he excelled in nabbing runners on the base path, clocking a 1.90 pop time and eight runners caught stealing.
DON'T RUN ON ENDY RODRIGUEZ— Platinum Ke’Bryan (@PlatinumKey13) September 28, 2023
1.86 sec pop time
(For reference, J.T. Realmuto's 1.84 sec average pop time leads MLB) pic.twitter.com/6jJdrEE4M0
Things look bright for Rodriguez heading into 2024. If he can get his bat up to where it was in Triple-A, he could be a Top 10 catcher across baseball.
Honorable Mention(s): Henry Davis, Tyler Heineman
It was amazing to see former No. 1 pick Henry Davis start the year in Double-A then end it in the Majors. What wasn’t amazing was that he only caught two innings.
General Manager Ben Cherington emphasized Davis was brought up for his bat and that he wouldn’t see much time behind the plate. Therefore, they stuck him in right field before an injury relegated him to a DH role.
Henry Davis looks like a natural in RF. But still should be catching pic.twitter.com/BGKfzYWHl2— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) June 24, 2023
Cherington mentioned, though, that Davis will take the offseason and enter Spring Training as a primary catcher. If all goes according to plan, he and Rodriguez will be a nice 1-2 punch for the Pirates next season.
Lastly, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the efforts of Tyler Heineman earlier this season. He appeared in just nine games with the Pirates this season before he was designated for assignment on April 26.
When and if the Pirates are postseason contenders again, remember Heineman as he bridged the gap both in 2022 and 2023.