Pittsburgh Pirates: Jason Delay’s Path Could be Similar to Jacob Stallings

MIAMI, FLORIDA - JULY 11: Jason Delay #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates singles during the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on July 11, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - JULY 11: Jason Delay #61 of the Pittsburgh Pirates singles during the ninth inning against the Miami Marlins at loanDepot park on July 11, 2022 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Due to his age and defensive ability, Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Jason Delay could find himself on a similar track to Jacob Stallings

It wasn’t that long ago that Jacob Stallings was nothing more than the up-and-down third catcher. He was even designated for assignment once and, luckily for the Pittsburgh Pirates, passed through waivers. He eventually would become one of baseball’s most valuable catchers in 2021 before being traded for a decent package of players.

Years after Stallings made his debut, the Pirates would select another older minor league catcher to serve as the third-string option on the 40-man roster. That’s backstop Jason Delay, who could take a similar career path as Stallings.

Delay was a fourth-round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates  in 2017. He was an under-slot selection, signing for just $100,000 at the 118th overall pick. Delay mainly served as a platoon catcher through his first few seasons, seeing no more than 67 games in any of his first three professional seasons. He wasn’t much of a hitter either, with his OPS maxing out at .684. That was passable for a catcher, but just barely.

During the 2021 season Delay again served as a second backstop to Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, appearing in just 30 games and hitting .170/.204/.277. Things haven’t gotten much better at the plate for Delay this year, as he has registered just a 59 wRC+ at Indy. However, because of a season-ending injury to Roberto Pérez, Delay has made his MLB debut.

Granted, while Stallings wasn’t much of a hitter in the minors, he was significantly better than Delay. Stallings had a .705 OPS as a minor leaguer, while Delay has a .625 OPS as a minor league hitter. But one thing that the two do have in common is their defense.

It’s a small sample size of only 38 innings, so take it with a grain of salt, but Delay is already considered a positive contributor behind the plate in the major leagues. He has +0.2 framing runs and was considered a good defensive catcher coming out of Vanderbilt. He also has an above-average 31% caught stealing rate throughout his minor league career. While it’s only one instance, Delay showed off his arm accuracy and strength by catching Tommy Pham stealing with what is probably one of the most perfect throws you’re ever going to see from a catcher.

Now I know that asking Delay to become the next Jacob Stallings is asking for a lot. Stallings was a top-of-the-line defender with the Pirates and provided more than playable offense to boot. Delay might never provide both the offense and defense Stallings did, but if he can give the Pirates elite defense and a .620-.650 OPS, that’s all a lot of teams ask from their catchers.

Plus, look at it like this. Delay has already worked with many of the young pitchers coming up through the system or are already in the majors. He’s caught for Mike Burrows, Roansy Contreras, Yerry De Los Santos, Miguel Yajure, and Max Kranick, to name a few. Delay might not be a top prospect like Henry Davis or Endy Rodriguez, but he’s a guy the Pittsburgh Pirates should keep on the roster for now and see what he has. At the very least, you’re getting better defensive value than Michael Perez and possibly even Tyler Heineman. Even if he isn’t that much greater of a hitter than either of them, you get the added benefit that he’s worked with a handful of young guys who could be key pieces of the pitching staff long term.

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It’s possible the Pirates find their next Stallings in Delay. Delay might never be a reliable hitter, but he’ll provide the Pirates with strong defense, even in a secondary catcher role. At the very least, he’s an Austin Hedges type who has a career 58 OPS+ but is top three among catchers in Defensive Runs Saved and framing runs since his debut despite primarily serving as a back-up.