Pittsburgh Pirates: Catching Outlook Entering 2021


During the 2021 season 31-year-old Jacob Stallings is set to become one of the most senior players on the Pittsburgh Pirates MLB roster. His persistence has paid off in the form of an opportunity to once again establish himself as the Pirates’ starting catcher after a career path that looked like his chances were running out. Stallings will need to stay sharp behind the plate, and take on a new role as a leader in the clubhouse.

Stallings came up through the Pirate minor league system after getting drafted in 2012 out of the University of North Carolina. After showing promise with Triple-A Indianapolis, Stallings made his MLB debut in 2016. The rollercoaster ride that season was about to take another turn less than a month after his debut, when he was designated for assignment on July 5th.

Stallings cleared waivers and was outrighted back to Indianapolis. Stallings continued to get opportunities based on starting catcher Francisco Cervelli’s inability to stay healthy, and backup catcher Elias Diaz not taking command of the starting role. It also hasn’t hurt Stallings chances with the organizations lack of catching depth over the past several years. After Cervelli suffered his sixth concussion in May of 2019 that left the opening for Stallings to appear in 61 games, and by seasons end establish himself as the starting catcher over Diaz.

One of the top priorities for general manager Ben Cherington was to build up depth within the organization at the catcher position. Stallings once again benefited from being one of the few best options in 2020 at the position, taking the starting job. He ended up hitting for a .248/.326/.376 slash line.

In a season where the Pittsburgh Pirates hitting ranked at the bottom of Major League Baseball, Stallings was one of the more dependable bats. In the long run Stallings won’t dazzle in his at-bats. What he lacks in offense he makes up behind the plate with his defense. In the shortened 2020 season he threw out nine base runners which was good enough to be tied for the second best in baseball. He was above average in pitch framing. Per Fangraphs he ranked seventh in catcher framing. Stallings defense was rewarded with the honor of being a Gold Glove finalist.

Cherington has done a nice job this offseason adding catchers to the organization if for nothing else giving the team more options and depth. The team picked up Michael Perez who played the past three seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays. He appeared in 38 games last season for the Rays slashing a mere .167/.237/.238. The team has also signed Joe Hudson who played most recently for the Seattle Mariners and who has just 18 total MLB appearances in the last three seasons.

Former San Francisco Giant Andrew Susac also received a non-roster invite to spring training and could be the front runner as Stallings backup due to his MLB experience. The most intriguing catcher acquisition in the offseason by Cherrington however was 20-year-old Endy Rodriguez, who came over from the New York Mets as a part of the three team Joe Musgrove trade. Rodriguez hasn’t played anything above rookie ball so far, and is currently listed as the Pittsburgh Pirates 22nd best prospect. The projection for his Major League ETA is 2023 at the earliest.

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With the Pittsburgh Pirates focusing on adding young prospects, and backup catchers, Jacob Stallings can look forward to job security for the time being. He isn’t necessarily what the team needs in the future, however what they need now. He has always had a good rapport with the pitching staff. With clubhouse voices like Musgrove and Josh Bell gone, and the team adding young players, Stallings will need to step into unfamiliar territory as a mentor and leader. In terms of performance, expect more of the same from Stallings in 2021 as what we saw last season. An average bat at the plate, and above average defense behind the dish.