Just three men donned the old ‘Tools of Ignorance’, as the equipment required to field the catcher position has become known, for the Philadelphia Phillies during the 2015 season.
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Those three include longtime fan favorite Carlos Ruiz. The man known as ‘Chooch’ is now, along with first baseman Ryan Howard, one of just two remaining players from the 2008 World Series champions. The 2015 campaign was the 9th straight in which Ruiz served as the primary receiver for Phillies pitchers.
Also seeing considerable time was Cameron Rupp, who appeared in just three fewer games than Ruiz, and made just two fewer starts at the catching position. The third to make an appearance behind the dish was Erik Kratz, who caught in three games, starting two, after re-signing with the Phillies in mid-August.
It’s hard to imagine that any of the three will be the Phillies longterm answer at the catching position. The organization is flush with high-end catching prospects including 19-year old Deivi Grullon, 23-year old Willians Astudillo, 22-year old defensive whiz Gabriel Lino, and soon-to-be 24-year old Andrew Knapp, who was the organization’s Paul Owens Award winner as the top position playing prospect.
Perhaps the jewel of them all is 22-year old Jorge Alfaro, who was a big part of the compensation received from the Texas Rangers in the Cole Hamels deal at the 2015 MLB non-waiver trade deadline. He is currently the Phillies #4 prospect according to MLB Pipeline.
Carlos Ruiz – F: as with Howard and Chase Utley in the infielder grades handed out earlier this week, this is a sad version of ‘Chooch’ now handling what has become the backup catcher duties for the Fightin’ Phils. The player who received NL MVP votes from 2010-12 and was a 2012 NL All-Star is now barely even a shadow of that once-integral piece to a championship puzzle. Ruiz hit for just a .211/.290/.285 slash line with 2 homers and 22 RBI over 320 plate appearances during the 2015 season. Defensively, his poor .984 fielding percentage was well below the league average for a catcher, and he committed 11 errors. Ruiz threw out just 19 percent of baserunners trying to steal when he was behind the plate. His advanced fielding numbers reveal that he was a poor defender, and he had a negative WAR (-0.8) for the first time in his career. You can make a fairly decent argument that the Phillies might be better off just paying off the $8.5 million dollars he is owed next season, along with the half-million buyout for 2017 that his contract calls for, and releasing him at this point. Back in early August, Tom Housenick with The Morning Call stated “the Phillies are looking for an everyday catcher moving forward because Ruiz’s career is just about toast.” The only argument that I would make is with the characterization “just about” – Chooch IS toast.
Cameron Rupp – C: some might consider this a bit of a generous grade for the man who finished the season as the Phillies regular starting catcher. But when you consider that he banged nine homers and drove in 28 runs in what was a half-season of overall work, and add in an improved handling of the pitching staff as his playing time increased, it is a fair grade. Rupp started just two fewer games than did Ruiz behind the plate (81-79), and the 26-year old committed just four errors in accumulating a .993 fielding percentage that was pretty much league average. At 1.0, Rupp also had a positive WAR figure, and he punished lefthanded pitchers to the tune of a .303/.370/.545 slash line. Rupp is definitely the Phillies starting catcher heading into the 2016 season, and barring injury will likely maintain that status all of next year. After that, at least one of the young prospects should begin putting pressure on him to keep the job beyond next year.
Giving the 35-year old Kratz any kind of grade based on 12 games and 23 plate appearances would be completely unfair. He started the only two Phillies games not started by either Ruiz or Rupp during the 2015 campaign, and also received a pair of starts as a first baseman.
The position could go a few ways in 2016. The Phillies owe Ruiz the money anyway, so they could simply bring him back as the backup to Rupp, at least until any of the minor league prospects are ready for their first taste of the big leagues. Expect that as the most likely scenario, but again, don’t be surprised if ‘Chooch’ and his buddy Howard end up simply being released.