At least to start the season, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to be carrying three catchers at the Major League level
Earlier in the offseason, we took a look at the decision the Pittsburgh Pirates will face with catcher Jacob Stallings this spring. The 29-year-old Stallings is the team’s primary catching depth, however, he is also out of minor league options. Due to this, he can not start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis without first being exposed to waivers.
With teams always searching for catching helps, odds are, Stallings would not clear waivers. Especially since he is viewed as a plus defender that does a stellar job of handling a pitching staff, as well as the strides he has made as a hitter.
After slashing .301/.358/.431 with a wRC+ of 120 at Triple-A in 2017, Stallings slashed .285/.335/.414 with a 111 wRC+ in 2018. He also owns a .288/.333/.333 slash line in 24 games at the MLB level the past two seasons. After being viewed as an offensive liability early in his professional career, Stallings has improved enough offensively to make him a MLB quality catcher when you factor in his defense.
Due to being out of options, his plus defense, and improved offense, Stallings needs to make the Opening Day roster for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The team has one of the best catching tandems in the National League in Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz. However, Cervelli’s concussion issues are well documented and he may also serve as the backup catcher.
Behind Stallings, the team’s catching depth goes off a cliff. The next man up would appear to be minor league free agent Steven Baron. In six career MLB games for the Seattle Mariners and St. Louis Cardinals, Baron is 0-for-11 with these at bats coming in 2015 and 2018. With Cervelli’s concussion history, you do not want Baron as your next man up at catcher.
Having Stallings make the Opening Day roster would also benefit Clint Hurdle when it comes to using pinch hitters. A strong argument can be made that the best hitter on the team’s bench this season will be Diaz. If the team carries three catchers, this then frees up Hurdle to use Diaz as a pinch hitter.
When the Pirates head north to Cincinnati for the 2019 season opener on March 28th, for a variety of reasons, Stallings needs to be one the team as a third catcher. If he is not, it would not only be a risk, but it would also be a bit of a surprise.