The Phillies have had trouble finding and bringing up catchers since signing Carlos Ruiz as a free agent out of Panama back in 1998. Catchers to have appeared on their top prospect lists only to fizzle out — either with the Phillies or elsewhere — include Jason Jaramillo, Lou Marson, Sebastian Valle, and Tommy Joseph (at least for now). They also traded away the one catching prospect that looks promising, Travis D’Arnaud, to the Blue Jays. Even when it came to back-up catchers, the Phillies have often struck out. For instance, in three years with the Phillies back-up catcher Brian Schneider posted a .622 OPS, good for an adjusted OPS of 68, 32 points below average.
When Erik Kratz broke out in 2012, the Phillies looked like they would be set at the position for the forseeable future. Kratz hit anything and everything, putting up great numbers for a bench player, let alone a second-string catcher. While he was no Yadier Molina behind the plate, he held his own and excited fans with an ability to nail would-be base-stealers with throws from his knees. He memorably hit a game-tying home run against Craig Kimbrel in Atlanta, sending a 100 MPH fastball into the left field seats.
But as the Phillies learned with Chris Coste after his 2006 season as a 33-year-old rookie, sometimes it’s just a mirage. With Ruiz missing the first 25 games of the season due to a suspension for use of a banned substance, Kratz temporarily became the #1 catcher on the depth chart. The downgrade from Ruiz to Kratz would have been no big deal if he could recapture his 2012 magic, but he didn’t. From the start of the season through Ruiz’s return on April 28, Kratz posted a .531 OPS. He had only four extra-base hits in 72 trips to the plate.
Ruiz went on the 15-day disabled list on May 20 due to a strained right hamstring, giving Kratz even more playing time. This time, Kratz started to heat up, posting a .927 OPS through June 8. As fate would have it, unfortunately, Kratz tore the meniscus in his left knee, putting him on the shelf for 32 games. He returned in late July, going back to his role as understudy to Ruiz. Whether due to injury or just plain ineffectiveness, Kratz posted a .517 OPS, including a .088 ISO, through the end of the season.
Defensively, Kratz was markedly less valuable in 2013 than he was the year prior. In 2012, he threw out runners at a 45 percent clip. That dropped to just 21 percent.
Meanwhile, Cameron Rupp made some progress in the Minors, earning a promotion from Double-A to Triple-A on June 10. He handled the tougher competition fine. He struck out a bit more and hit for slightly less power, but in a small sample of 150-200 plate appearances, that’s nothing meaningful. The Phillies were enthused enough to give him a taste of the Majors, adding him when rosters expended on September 1. The four games and 14 plate appearances he accrued are not meaningful in any analytic sense, but the fact that he wasn’t completely overmatched means he’ll be just a phone call away as he starts the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Kratz will likely start 2014 as Ruiz’s back-up again, but another poor showing — and/or a hot start by Rupp — could mean his time in Philadelphia is running out.
I gave Kratz a C- for his season. An adjusted OPS of 82 isn’t exactly good, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find much better among other back-ups in baseball. If the bar was a little higher for the role, Kratz would have been close to failing.