Phillies Clarify Catching Situation
For a team without many established players, the Phillies did not have many camp battles this season. Coming into the year there were two bench spots and one bullpen spot up for competition. One spot that was not considered up for debate was backup catcher. After a spring of that position not looking secure, the Phillies solidified on Monday that Andrew Knapp will be the backup to Cameron Rupp to open the 2017 season when they released veterans Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan.
From a roster standpoint, Andrew Knapp making the Phillies opening day roster made sense for both the player and the team. If you hadn’t noticed, the Phillies are facing a 40 man roster crunch and are running out of players they are willing to cut loose to make room. With Jorge Alfaro and Cameron Rupp as the only other catchers on the roster, any non-Knapp option would require freeing up a roster spot. Then there would have been what to do with Knapp in AAA, where Alfaro would be getting most of the at bats. Depending on who fills out the rest of the Phillies bench, Knapp might receive more playing time in the majors than the minors.
Knapp will be the first player from the Phillies’ 2013 draft to make the majors. A converted outfielder before his junior year, Knapp didn’t catch much in his professional debut due to an elbow injury, an injury that would eventually lead to Tommy John surgery. Knapp didn’t catch full time in the Phillies organization until the middle of the 2014 season. He had a breakout in 2015, fueled by a trip to Reading where the park made him look like he was a power hitter. In reality, Knapp has below average power, and historically most of that power has come when he has batted left handed. Last season he was a better batter right handed, so the hope is he is a more balanced switch hitter going forward. Either way he is probably an average hitter long term, and that combined with his power makes him fine offensively for a catcher.
Knapp isn’t great behind the plate, but he isn’t a disaster. He is a hard worker, but his actions are not clean or smooth. He can struggle to block balls in the dirt, and while his framing has improved, he can still stab at the ball instead of receiving it. The Phillies don’t really seem to trust him entirely behind the plate, and he is never going to win any Gold Gloves back there.
The catching situation didn’t just clear up for Knapp in the majors, the AAA situation became clear as well. Coming into this spring, Logan Moore was out of a job. The 26 year old career backup has never really hit, coming into the year with a career .222/.292/.317 batting line over 1449 plate appearances. However, he has long been regarded as the best defensive catcher in the organization, and the Phillies really like the way he works with pitchers. The assumption was that the Phillies would keep one of the veteran catchers in AAA to work with Alfaro, and Moore could find himself out of a job. With the Phillies releasing both veterans, Moore finds himself the second oldest catcher in the organization and the player who will work alongside Alfaro in Lehigh Valley.
It will be interesting to see how Mackanin deploys his two catchers this season given their weaknesses. Last year he split Rupp and Ruiz based on who started, and then used Ruiz (and Ellis later in the season) as his pitcher doctor when a player was off. Without that rigidity, Mackanin could use Knapp and Rupp in a way that ensured Rupp faced every left handed starter and took advantage of his platoon splits. No matter how he uses the two catchers, it will be imperative that he gives Knapp reps so that this is not a lost developmental year.