Pittsburgh Pirates: Previewing the Backup Catcher Battle

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals / Mitchell Layton/GettyImages
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The Pittsburgh Pirates are entering spring training with a battle for the backup catcher spot on their major league roster

The Pittsburgh Pirates are looking to enter the year with Austin Hedges behind the plate. He’s generally considered one of, if not the best defensive catcher in baseball right now. That does come with the downside, with almost no offensive value. But he’s only here as a veteran to keep the seat warm for Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis.

However, given that Rodriguez has almost no chance to start the year in the major leagues, the Pirates need a second catcher on the roster. Overall, the choices are not very impressive, but as stated earlier, they only want to keep the seat warm until Rodriguez and Davis are ready. The Pirates have made a few minor league signings and have some minor leaguers who could also be in the battle for the secondary catcher role. So who are these players, and who has the best chance?

Tyler Heineman

When the Pittsburgh Pirates were looking for catching help once, Roberto Perez hit the IL for the rest of the season, and the likes of Michael Perez and Andrew Knapp were not delivering on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. One of the players they claimed off waivers was backstop Tyler Heineman, who the team brought back on a minor league deal.

Heineman made 174 plate appearances with the Pirates and Toronto Blue Jays. He batted just .217/.276/.268 with a .248 wOBA, and 43 wRC+. Heineman hit for almost no power. Eight doubles made up all his extra-base hits. He also did not get on base very often. He had just a 4.6% walk rate to go with a batting average just above the Mendoza line. His OBP was well below .300. The only positive was his 9.8% strikeout rate.

But Heineman wasn’t brought in for his hitting. He was claimed for his defense. In less than 500 innings, Heineman had +5 defensive runs saved and +4.8 framing runs. If he caught 800 frames, he would have +9 DRS and +8.8 FRM. Heineman had a caught stealing rate of 31% and was in the 72nd percentile of pop time, showing well above average reactions.

Heineman is likely the best option, defensively. Many of the options the Pirates have are similar when it comes to hitting, so going with the best option defensively should be the route the Pirates go. It could also give a left-handed compliment to Austin Hedges, who is a right-handed batter. Neither will provide any real offensive value, but it does give the Pirates the option to mix the lineup and go with match-ups.