After trading away Tucker Barnhart before the lockout rather than picking up his team option, the Reds have been in search for a backup catcher. While seemingly set with Tyler Stephenson as the starter, they’ll still need someone to slot into the lineup one or two times a week at minimum to give Stephenson a rest.
Going into the spring, the frontrunners for the job seemed to be Andrew Knapp and Mark Kolozsvary. Knapp would provide some experience and prior MLB success. Meanwhile Kolozsvary was already on the 40-man roster, had played for the US Olympic team, and reportedly has a stellar defensive reputation.
In a bit of a surprising move, Kolozsvary was cut from camp over the weekend, along with fellow catchers Chris Okey and Chuckie Robinson. That leaves Knapp and Aramis García as the two catching options remaining in camp.
Knapp brings the most Major League experience of the pair, having amassed 827 PA across 5 seasons in Philadelphia. Knapp has just a 72 wRC+ and -1.1 fWAR in that time, though the numbers improve significantly if you remove his rough 2021 season. Through 2020, Knapp posted an 85 wRC+ and compiled 0.6 fWAR.
While it may be concerning that Knapp is coming off his worst season, it seems to be an outlier in his career. His .241 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was 74 points below his career average, and while a drop in quality of contact explains some of that dip, he’s likely due for at least a partial rebound in BABIP.
His strikeout rate in 2021 also ballooned, while his walk rate went from well above average to well below average. Knapp dealt with a concussion and a bout with COVID in 2021, and while his early season numbers didn’t look good, the missed time and lingering effects could have eliminated any chance of a rebound later in the season.
García, meanwhile, has just 205 Major League PA to his name, posting a 69 wRC+ and exactly 0 fWAR in that time. Those numbers are helped significantly by a strong 65 PA showing in 2018, and he’s been nothing short of an awful hitter at the MLB level since then. His numbers in AAA were also below league average in 2018, 2019, and 2021. He has power but little else, not hitting for a high enough average or getting on base enough to make an impact. Simply put, García does not provide any value with the bat. Again, here is another case where spring training stats don’t mean anything, as even though García has hit well in a tiny sample size, he’s unlikely to ever provide even passable offense.
From a defensive perspective, it’s hard to know where either catcher stands. Neither gets glowing reviews, though it’s possible that Reds management has a better idea on where each stands defensively. If there is a significant preference toward one’s defense over the other’s, then this may end up being the deciding factor.
If the Reds buy into 2021 truly being an outlier for Knapp, his track record seems strong enough to be worthy of the backup catching role. Unless García really stands out to them defensively, he seems like a poor fit, even for someone that is likely to be limited to a start or two per week.
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