In the third of four installments looking into the 2020 Cleveland Indians non-roster invitees to MLB spring training, we will check out the back stops. Since Eric Haase was sold to the Tigers early in January and Kevin Plawecki was allowed to leave through free agency (he signed with Boston in January), there could be some competition for the back up catcher spot in Cleveland.
After posting a 3.9 WAR and winning a Gold Glove in 2019, Roberto Perez will almost certainly be behind the plate for 100+ games and with the advantage of already being on the 40 man roster, Sandy Leon is the favorite to fill in when Perez is off. Because there are no other catchers on the 40 man, however, there is a much better chance for these four to become impact players for the Indians than nearly all the other NRIs this spring. In addition, the Columbus Clippers aren’t returning a single catcher from 2019 meaning that there is a good chance that both of their 2020 catchers will come from the list below.
Collins is the only one of two catchers on this list who spent 2019 within the Indians system and has, in fact, been with the team since 2016. After signing out of college, Collins skipped the Arizona League and made it to Lynchburg by his second season, although he stalled out there and has not advanced beyond since.
He did see a big boost in OBP in 2019 and spent an extra month in Arizona for the fall league following a career high 100 games played. He did not perform well with the Mesa Solar Sox, but the experience should not only help him prepare for a full season as a starting catcher, but get used to facing more advanced pitchers. Collins’ inclusion in MLB camp was most likely due to an extreme need for more catchers in camp and not an indication that he could break out with the team. I would expect Collins to start 2020 in Akron and he should still be considered below the catcher formerly known as Li-Jen Chu and Logan Ice on the Indians MiLB catching depth chart.
Speaking of Li-Jen Chu, after spending the last eight years within the Indians organization, Chu has officially changed his name back to it’s original form, Kungkuan Giljegiljaw. Giljegiljaw is a member of the aboriginal Paiwan tribe in Taiwan and would like to use this opportunity to teach more people about his culture.
His primary asset to this point in his MiLB career has been surprising power for a catcher, slugging .425 over 374 MiLB games, although that number was severely diminished in his 2019 season in Akron as he hit .229/.290/.357 across 60 games. Since he has played six seasons already within the Indians MiLB system, he can become a free agent at the end of the year if he is not added to the 40 man roster before then. With this clock looming over his head, he will likely start 2020 in AAA so the Indians can decide whether or not they want to roster him before the season ends.
I don’t see Giljegiljaw as an MLB option at this point, but the Indians are so thin at the catching position between Lynchburg and Columbus that they may try to keep him around just in case.
Rupp spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Philadelphia Phillies including four in the big leagues from 2014 through 2017. There, he was the prototypical back-up catcher, fielding better than he hit and being worth about 1 win per year. If we were going into 2018, he would seem a fine replacement for Plawecki.
Since the start of 2018, however, he has had trouble sticking with any team, bouncing between five different franchises and struggling to hit at all in AAA with the exception of 32 games in the highly offensive Pacific Coast League with the Round Rock Express. Even when he was back in the PCL in 2019 with Las Vegas, he was unable to regain his offensive prowess.
Now, Rupp is 31 years old and should be considered more of an Adam Moore than a Plawecki. It’s possible he will bounce around the league again like he has in the last two seasons, but if he wants to stay, he would be a solid option for back-up catcher in Columbus. This would put him in a good position to jump to Cleveland if they needed an emergency catcher for a day or two, but there is essentially no chance he would get a long term shot in the big leagues.
Taylor was drafted by the A’s in 2011 and stuck with them through 2019 when he was claimed off waivers by the Blue Jays. His stay with Toronto didn’t last long, however, has he was released, then claimed back by Oakland to end the season. He had a couple cups of coffee over the last two seasons, amounting to 18 MLB games and a .167/.306/.400 batting line.
This may seem an odd line due to a small sample size, but Taylor’s OBP value shouldn’t be underrated as he has a .355 over 711 minor league games. Like Rupp, Taylor also played for AAA Las Vegas in 2019, but he had significantly better offensive numbers and, since those numbers have been consistent throughout his MiLB career, there is reason to believe that they are more translatable to the big leagues. At 30 years old, Taylor is nearing his final shot to make it in the big leagues.
With the advantage over Rupp in age and ability and more experience than Collins and Giljegiljaw, Taylor makes sense as the Clippers regular catcher and the first option in the big leagues should either Perez or Leon have to leave the team for any reason. This could motivate Taylor to leave the Indians prior to the start of the season if he isn’t going to make the opening day roster if he thinks he has a chance to break out with another team.