With Yasmani Grandal now in the fold, how will the Pittsburgh Pirates handle their catching situation when the regular season begins?
The Pittsburgh Pirates recently signed veteran backstop Yasmani Grandal to a one-year contract, and he will presumably play a backup role to Henry Davis. But if Davis becomes the full-time catcher, that will give the Pirates four catchers on the 40-man roster heading into Spring Training, as both Ali Sanchez and Jason Delay are on the roster. How could the Pirates handle this situation behind the dish?
I think it’s safe to say that Davis will get most of the reps behind the dish but that Grandal will slowly ease him into catching frequently at the Major League level. Although Davis mostly caught throughout his minor league career, he squatted down behind the dish for just two innings in his 2023 rookie season. Davis, while not known for his defensive prowess, even when the Pirates took him first overall in 2021, did show some improvement in the minor leagues in 2023.
He struggled horribly with blocking in 2021 and 2022, allowing nine passed balls in just 370 innings caught. Davis then didn’t allow a passed ball in the Arizona Fall League during the 2022-2023 off-season. That continued into the 2023 regular season, as Davis allowed just one passed ball in 302.1 innings behind the dish for Triple-A Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona. But even if he has shown some improvement, Grandal will help Davis gradually re-familiarize himself with catching.
With Davis and Grandal as the catching tandem heading into 2024, that leaves Jason Delay and Ali Sanchez as the two other catchers on the roster. Delay mostly served as the backup catcher to Austin Hedges and then Endy Rodriguez in 2023, providing solid fielding with +2 defensive runs saved and +8.4 framing runs with no passed balls. But he provided the offensive value you’d typically expect from a defensive-minded secondary catcher with an 82 wRC+ and 55 wRC+ from June onward.
Sanchez, meanwhile, is also considered a decent fielder, and on the surface, it looks like he could be a decent batter. He hit .311/.375/.492 with a .382 wOBA for the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Triple-A affiliate in 2023. He also had a 9.7% walk rate and a 15.7% strike out ate. These numbers might seem great, but the D-Backs’ affiliate, Triple-A Reno, is in the Pacific Coast League, one of the most hitter-friendly leagues in pro baseball. Once adjusting for the environment, he only had a 108 wRC+. The Pirates signed Sanchez to a Major League deal, much to the surprise of Pirates fans, and despite only having seven MLB games under his belt with his most recent coming on September 1st, 2021.
There are two routes I see the Pirates going. The first is that they open the year with Grandal as the primary backstop, with Sanchez serving as the backup, with both Davis and Delay going to Triple-A. Delay has options remaining, as does Davis. This will also give Davis a chance to get used to catching on the regular again, but not at the Major League level.
The second option is that the Pirates stick with Davis and Grandal as the catching duo, with Delay still going to Triple-A. However, the Pirates also DFA Sanchez. While they did sign Sanchez to a Major League deal, they will still need to make room on the 40-man roster. Carrying four catchers on the 40-man roster is a tad excessive. I don’t see the Pirates dedicating 10% of their 40-man roster spots to catchers.
Between the two options, I think the Pirates will go with route B. Sanchez may have signed a MLB deal, but that doesn’t fully guarantee him a roster spot, especially given he has mostly been Triple-A depth the last two seasons. I do not believe Delay has a good shot of making the roster given he has minor league options remaining, and he can still be stashed at Triple-A as the third catcher on the 40-man. Davis/Grandal give the Pirates the best chance at winning to start the year, which is what I think they will ultimatley go with.