2016 Pirate Position Preview: Catcher
As we continue to breakdown the 2016 Pittsburgh Pirate position groups here at Rum Bunter, today we take a look at what has been a great position of strength for the Pirates the past three seasons – catcher.
In 2015 there were few teams who had a better catching tandem than the Pirates did. Last season Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart combined to have a WAR of 4.4. The only team that had a catching duo post a higher WAR than that was the San Francisco Giants, and that was due to Buster Posey posting a 5.7 WAR all on his own.
2015 was a breakout season for Pirate backstop Francisco Cervelli. For the first time in his career Cervelli was able to avoid the disabled list, and played in a career high 130 games. In those 130 games Cervelli slashed .295/.370/.401/.771, to go with a .341 wOBA and a wRC+ of 119.
Cervelli posted an offensive WAR of 10.7 last year, which was the second highest of any catcher in the Major Leagues behind Buster Posey. Cervelli’s WAR of 3.8 was also the second best in the Majors behind Posey. Cervelli also had a solid 9% walk rate, and struck out at an 18.4% rate.
Another thing that adds to Cervelli’s value is in his pitch framing ability. According to statcorner.com, Francisco Cervelli was the best pitch framing catcher in the Major Leagues last season.
Chris Stewart is also a strong pitch framer, having ranked in the top 20 in the Majors in pitch framing. Stewart’s prowess may not sound as impressive at first, but when you consider over 100 catchers caught a Major League game last year that top 20 looks and sounds a lot more impressive.
Speaking of Christ Stewart, his offensive renaissance continued with the Pirates last season. Prior to joining the Pirates for the 2014 season Stewart had a career slash line of .216/.290/.293/.583 in 680 plate appearances. However, in 326 plate appearances with the Pirates the past two seasons Stewart has slashed .292/.340/.336/.676.
Stewart obviously has not hit for much power, in fact he still has not hit a home run as a Pirate, but he has done a great job of getting on base for the Bucs the past two seasons. Stewart has also hit .274 with runners in scoring position the past two seasons, which is higher than the league average of .260. When you combine these traits with his defensive prowess, Stewart is one of the best backup catchers in baseball.
There is also one other player that could factor in at catcher this year, and that is prospect Elias Diaz. Diaz will begin the year as the starting catcher for AAA Indianapolis, however, Diaz, who is one of the Pirates’ top 10 prospects, would either start or at least be the backup for a chunk of other Major League teams.
Diaz has an excellent arm from behind the plate, probably the best in the Pirate systems even including Cervelli and Stewart. Diaz is also a strong pitch framer, and has the potential to be a plus offensive player.
Last year for AAA Diaz slashed .271/.330/.382/.712 with a .329 wOBA and a 106 wRC+. This came a year after winning the Eastern League batting title at AA Altoona in 2014 when he slashed .328/.378/.445/.823 with a wOBA of .369 and a 121 wRC+.
Diaz also has the chance to develop above average power for a catcher. I could very easily see him becoming a 10-15 home run a year player in the Majors, and that combined with his strong defense would make him a hot commodity. Having Diaz waiting in the wings is a nice luxury to have in case something happens to Cervelli or Stewart.
The Pirates are in a great position to be very strong at catcher yet again this season. Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart is one of the best catching tandems in the Majors, and the Bucs have a Major League ready top prospect in Elias Diaz waiting in the wings at AAA should an injury occur. Much like it was during the 2014 and 2015 seasons, catcher should be a position of strength for the Pirates yet again in 2016.
2016 Pittsburgh Pirates Position Group Previews