With the current catching situation at the major league level being one of the poorest in all of baseball, the Pittsburgh Pirates should give catching prospect Blake Sabol an opportunity behind the dish
Few positions in baseball are more important for catcher. From Russell Martin to Francisco Cervelli, to Jacob Stallings and then Roberto Pérez to begin this season, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been spoiled with their catching situation for the better part of a decade.
However, once Pérez was lost for the season to a hamstring injury that all changed quickly. The team purchased the contract of Mike Perez from Triple-A Indianapolis and paired him with veteran Andrew Knapp. Well, there is a reason Perez was designated for assignment and unclaimed both this past offseason, as well as at the end of spring training. Just like there was a reason Knapp was available as a free agent when spring training had ended.
The catching duo for the Pittsburgh Pirates has become Mike Perez and Tyler Heineman. While Heineman is a strong defender behind the plate, there has been almost zero offensive production from the two.
In 48 plate appearances this season Perez has hit for a woeful .114/.188/.250 slash line to go with a wRC+ of 26 and a 27.1% strikeout rate. As for Heineman, in 32 PAs since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates he has hit for just a .148/.258/.148 slash line to go with a 28 wRC+ and zero extra base hits.
It goes without saying this type of production from any position, even a defensive first position like catcher, is not going to get the job done. When looking to Triple-A, there is not much help on the horizon. The Pittsburgh Pirates have a pair of career journeymen in Taylor Davis, who has jsut a .564 OPS and a wRC+ of 60 in the minors this season, and Jamie Ritchie who has posted just a .599 OPS and an 83 wRC+.
Their best catching prospect at Indianapolis is Carter Bins. Bins has also struggled, striking out at a 32.7% clip, to go with a WRC+ of 94 and an OPS of .725. Better numbers than Davis and Ritchie, but not exactly numbers that scream MLB promotion. Additionally, Bins has always been known has a poor defender during his time in the minors.
At the Double-A level, however, there could be hope. While most fans would like to see it be 2021 no. 1 overall draft pick Henry Davis, he is currently on the injured list with a wrist injury. Davis was not the only notable catching prospect in Altoona though, as there is also 24-year-old Blake Sabol.
Sabol was selected by the Pirates in the 7th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. Since being drafted he has done nothing but hit. That has continued this season in his first taste of action at the Double-A level.
In 157 PAs with the Curve this season Sabol has hit for a .314/.395/.511 slash line to go with a 147 wRC+. Sabol’s 21.7% strikeout rate is nothing of concern, while his 12.1% walk rate is better than league average.
Sabol has also been hitting for power with the Curve. His .197 isolated slugging (ISO) is the second highest of his minor league career. Sabol’s career high in home runs is 11 and he has already hit 5, to go with an extra base hit rate of 10.6%.
Hitting for power at Altoona’s People’s Natural Gas Field is not easy, so seeing it from Sabol is a very encouraging sign. Adding to the increase in power is an increase in fly balls. His current fly ball rate of 37.6% is a career best. Obviously, an increase on fly balls will lead to an increase in home runs hit.
Even though Sabol has not played above the Double-A level in his professional career the Pirates have proven that is not an issue for them. Just look at Jack Suwinski. Additionally, he is already 24-years-old and is getting a bit old for the Double-A level.
At this point there is little reason not to give Sabol an opportunity. While a 40-man roster spot would have to be cleared for him, it would be easy just to DFA Perez who is out of minor league options. He has already cleared waivers twice in the past 8 months. Odds are, he would clear them a third time.
Sabol could find himself as a long-term piece for the Pirates as well. Sure, there are Davis and Endy Rodriguez in the minors as highly touted catching prospects, but that does not mean there is not a future for Sabol.
First off, the team will still need to catchers the way every other team in baseball does. Also, Rodriguez has already been working on learning multiple other positions in addition to catcher. Like Rodriguez, Sabol can play other positions having worked in the outfield in his professional career as well.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have done a great job in recent weeks of giving young players an opportunity in the majors. Suwisnki, Yerry De Los Santos, Roansy Contreras, Tucupita Marcano, etc. It’s time for Sabol to be next, especially with the current state of the Pirate catching situation.