Surprising non-roster invitee making powerful case for Rafael Marchán's job

Aramis Garcia could be challenging Marchán’s role in the organization with his strong play so far this spring.

Philadelphia Phillies Photo Day
Philadelphia Phillies Photo Day / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

Entering the 2024 season, the Philadelphia Phillies have their top two catchers already set, with J.T. Realmuto as the starter and the incumbent Garrett Stubbs as the backup. With thin depth in the minors at the catching position, Rafael Marchán has unanimously been the de-facto third-string catcher for the ballclub.

However, with Marchán's recent back issues keeping him on the sidelines for the start of spring training, some unexpected candidates have arisen to potentially challenge his role. Cam Gallagher, who was recently signed to a minor league contract and invited to training camp, has gotten off to a steady start so far with two hits in 10 at-bats, with one home run and two RBI in four games. Defensively, he has yet to commit an error or allow a stolen base in seven innings behind the plate.

But the more noteworthy addition has been the surprising play of non-roster invitee Aramis Garcia. After spending the previous four years in the majors split between the San Francisco Giants, Oakland Athletics, and Cincinnati Reds, Garcia was signed by the Phillies last season as minor league catching depth. Despite not being known for his offensive prowess, he put together a solid 2023 season in the minors, batting .243 with a .789 OPS, 14 home runs, and 46 RBI in 56 games.

Garcia is swinging a hot bat early in spring training

Perhaps the confidence Garcia gained in his offensive abilities has carried over to this season, as he has emerged from the ashes with a torrid start to his spring thus far with the Phillies. The 31-year-old has compiled a .500 batting average with nine hits in 18 at-bats, along with a 1.404 OPS, four runs scored, three doubles, one home run, seven RBI, three walks, four strikeouts and a stolen base to boot in seven games played.

What's more impressive than the early results is how he's doing it. Garcia has been torching the ball through the first two weeks of Grapefruit League action. The right-handed-hitting backstop has six batted balls over 100 mph in five games (two of his games were not measured by Statcast). He has a couple of hits at 110 mph, including a 110.5 mph double off Toronto Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano.

He has also fared well defensively. In five games behind the plate, he has thrown out one of four baserunners, committed no errors, and passed one ball in 27 innings. If Garcia manages to keep this up, he will be a huge threat to Marchán’s role for the upcoming season, and maybe Stubbs if he stumbles out of the gate.

It will be hard to unseat Stubbs, however, as the backup is entrenched in the Phillies clubhouse and has the trust of his manager Rob Thomson.

“He can really catch and he can throw,” Thomson told Matt Gelb of The Athletic (subscription required). “He can really call a game. And he’s very poised back there. Nothing really shakes him. And he can play small ball. He can bunt. He can do some things to create offense. Couple that with the clubhouse effect, and it’s a good piece.”

Nevertheless, with the emergence of a potential hidden gem in the organization, the Phillies' lack of depth at the catching position might not be as bad as first thought. Garcia’s strong play might make his competitors play better heading into the season, making it a stronger position going forward. Either way, his spring play could set him up to be the "next guy up" if and when the team needs a third catcher in the big leagues in 2024.