Jason Delay has been a pleasant surprise for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season. In 39 plate appearances, Delay has 12 total hits. Of those 12 hits, three are doubles, and one is a home run. Delay might only have two walks to nine strikeouts, but his small sample size yields a 151 wRC+ and a 149 OPS+.
Delay has essentially become the team’s regular catcher. With Roberto Pérez suffering a season-ending injury early in the year, Michael Perez heavily struggling before receiving being designated for assignment and subsequently traded to the New York Mets, and Tyler Heineman providing good defense but poor hitting, Delay’s hitting has become an extremely unexpected turn. But does the backstop have a long-term future with the Pittsburgh Pirates?
As fun as Delay has been, what he has done so far came entirely out of left field. The Pirates selected Delay in the fourth round of the 2017 draft as an under-slot signing. Throughout his minor league career, Delay posted just a .226/.297/.328 slash line, .291 wOBA, and 80 wRC+. This year at Triple-A, he had a woeful .591 OPS, .270 wOBA, and 59 wRC+. Although his offense was well below average and abysmal at times, his defense was considered his strong suit. It’s an extremely small sample size of just 90 innings, but Delay has already saved .5 runs through framing alone in the majors.
The Pirates do have a lot of catching talent in the minor leagues. Henry Davis already reached Double-A this season and Endy Rodriguez is having yet another quality season with High-A Greensboro. Delay doesn’t affect the future of either top prospect, though. You still have to remember Delay is a 27-year-old backstop who had an 80 wRC+ throughout the minor leagues and primarily serves as a defensive specialist.
But there is a place on every roster for a guy like that. You want your backup catcher to be a defensive specialist more than them being poor defensively but have a solid bat. Delay has worked with many of the Pirates’ long long-term pitchers before. Between this year at Triple-A Indianapolis and last year with Double-A Altoona, he has caught Mike Burrows, Miguel Yajure, Roansy Contreras, Yerry De Los Santos, and Cody Bolton, among others.
The Pirates aren’t forced to have Rodriguez and Davis as just catchers only. Rodriguez can play multiple positions, including corner outfield, first base, and has even seen some time at second base this year. Davis could catch and DH.
If this year has taught the Bucs anything, it’s you don’t want to be caught without at least one semi-reliable option somewhere on the roster. Before claiming Heineman and promoting Delay, the Pirates were trotting out Perez and Andrew Knapp as their everyday options, and I’m sure that’s a situation the Pirates, regardless if they’re rebuilding or in contention, want to avoid as much as possible.
Delay might not be the next great catcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but you can do much worse than him as your secondary bench catcher. He’s a plus defender where any offensive value you get from him is just icing on the cake. He’s already worked with many of the pitchers the Pirates are looking to rely on in the long run at least once. If you want to boil it down to a very simple way of looking at it, the team is a .500 team when he starts, and pitchers have given up more than three earned runs in just three of his ten total games started behind the plate.