Who’s Backing Chooch?


One of the interesting battles going into the 2015 Phillies season will be the competition between Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp for the backup position behind primary catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Standing at 6’1” and weighing in at a strong 255 pounds, the Phoenix-born Joseph is entering his fourth year with the Phillies organization. Now 23 years of age, Joseph came over from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence trade. He has risen through the club’s minor league system, and is now knocking on the door for a place on the Major League roster after battling injuries the past two seasons.

Last year, Joseph played just 27 games after injuring his wrist in an early-May play at the plate. After rehabbing the wrist he tried to come back, hitting .276 with a .345 OBP, and showing encouraging signs. But he was ultimately shut down in early August by the injury.

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He amassed just 123 at-bats in 2013 also, with just a .179 batting average. He did play in 21 games at the Triple-A level, managing a .209 average despite being an average 6.1 years younger than other players at that level.

Meanwhile, the last two years have been nearly as cruel in terms of game time for the 26-year-old Rupp. He did play 94 games in 2013 at Double-A and Triple-A, with a .258/.318/.437 combined slash line. Last year, he played 59 games with Lehigh Valley, hitting just .165 over that period. In addition, he had 60 ABs with the Phillies, hitting .183/.234/.250 through 18 games.

It may be harsh to say, given that neither of them have had consistent at-bats over the past couple of seasons, but neither of them have really set the world on fire.

While there is a lot to like about the early development of Joseph, it is important that he stays healthy and through no fault of his own we are yet to see the proof that he can help at the major league level.

With Rupp, it is getting to the point where he really needs to push on and post some serious numbers so he can progress in his career. Otherwise, he will be stuck with a career backup label at best.

Despite the fact they are competing for the same position, the situations of the respective players couldn’t be more different. Spring Training is an exciting time to see duals like this unfold, and young players like Joseph provide some flair and excitement. It maybe make or break for Rupp, who is 3 years older, so expect him to put 200% into this month as he attempts to prove that he is the man for the job.

Veteran Hill flips a wildcard into the backup catcher battle with Rupp and Joseph.

Another man who makes this situation even more interesting is Koyie Hill, who at the point of writing has hit .333 in three Grapefruit League games. With almost 1,000 Major League at-bats under his belt, Hill provides experience in the catching department that may be of use to the team. However, he is not a strong bat, with just a .207 career MLB average over 341 games, including recent spells in Miami and Chicago.

Last season, Hill played 15 games (two with Philadelphia, 13 with Washington), but it is expected he is behind both Rupp and Joseph in the pecking order for now. The organization would probably like to see Rupp win the backup job in Philly, have Joseph start in AAA, and have Hill there as his backup. But they appear to be open to anything right now.

Focusing on Rupp and Joseph, the two men believed the leaders in the competition, in order to break down the skill set of the respective catchers, there have been questions raised about the swing of Rupp limiting his ability to make contact. He makes contact against average pitchers, but any arm with an advanced artillery shows his flaws.

Again, it is tough to be excited about the contact rate of Joseph, and his batting average at Triple-A is a reflection of this. His power and size should mean that when he connects with a ball it really does connect, but it remains to be seen just how often that will happen.

For his large frame, Rupp doesn’t really offer the home run rate that it appears he should. He has just 39 longballs to his name through five years in the Minors, including 6 last year and 14 in 2013. Rupp’s power is more raw, rather than anything generated from consistent contact, but once settled he may produce at least average pop.

On the contrary, Joseph provides plus power, which is his main tool. Of course the questions remain whether he will make enough contact for his power to count, and whether he will stay healthy. But with 57 home runs in five years in the Minors, Tommy takes this category by a wide margin.

Tommy Joseph has also made huge strides in his defensive skills as a catcher, with an outstanding arm. Overall he is a reliable performer behind the plate, but still has work to do on blocking balls in the dirt. He has been in the position to learn from Buster Posey with the Giants, something which has obviously aided his development.

Rupp is an equally confident and solid receiver of the ball behind the plate, and his ability to block balls in the dirt is far better than that of Joseph. In addition, he has a strong and accurate arm which is such a useful tool in the modern game, so Rupp takes the defensive sector for now.

Finally, it must be noted that both are particularly poor at running the base paths, so don’t expect them to notch any big steal numbers at any level.

As time moves on in Spring Training we will start to see just who is ahead between Rupp and Joseph. It may show that Joseph has the edge because he is young with a lot to prove, but the fact Rupp has more experience under his belt may tip the scales his way.

All of this is extra important due to the fact that Ruiz is now 36-years of age. He is getting old for any player, but especially for a starting catcher. It’s a tough one to call, but this battle for the backup catching job adds yet another layer of excitement that promises to make this spring and this season interesting for Phillies fans.