Pittsburgh Pirates Position Grades - Catcher and 1B/DH

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It will not be an easy road for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season.  While I do believe success is within the realm of possibility within the next 2-4 seasons, I do not believe we are there just yet.  There is simply too much youth on this team as of now, but that’s okay, because it looks like very talented youth. 

However, instead of just assuming this particular 2022 roster isn’t talented enough for success yet, let’s work through the position groups together over the next week or two.

You can find all of Antonio's position group gradings as they roll out over time here: 

Pittsburgh Pirate Grades

Catcher(s) – D-

At this point, the catcher position for the Pirates is darn near laughable.  I have to include the “(s)” because as we sit today, there is just one catcher on the active roster. 

That lone catcher is Roberto Perez, a career .206 hitter, who the Pirates signed as a free agent this past offseason.  This came just after they traded last year’s starter, Jacob Stallings, and then the Pirates also chose to designate last season’s backup, Michael Perez, for assignment.  The Perez DFA appeared to be a move to open up spots on the active roster to protect prospects from the Rule 5 draft, that would eventually be cancelled due to the lockout.

Michael Perez then received a non-roster invite to Spring Training among others who we have seen play so far.  The catchers who have played in Spring Training so far are both Perez's, Jamie Ritchie, Carter Bins, and Taylor Davis.  No, not that Davis.  Henry Davis is a bit young yet to play in the big leagues.

Unfortunately it appears that will be the full arsenal of catchers the Pirates will run with going into Opening Day, barring any last minute signings.  Roberto Perez isn’t bad defensively, but will not provide much on the offensive end.  As mentioned, he is a career .206 hitter over eight career seasons and has struggled mightily the last two seasons at the plate.  He did have 24 homeruns in 2019, so maybe he just needs regular at-bats to find that pop again.

Also, Perez does have two Gold Gloves to his name, 2019 and 2020, and he may be just what this young group of pitchers needs behind the plate.  Nothing is more important to a pitching staff than a catcher they trust.  This will be the most experienced catcher the Pirates have had since Russell Martin.  So despite the lack of offensive output he may bring to the lineup, Roberto Perez should help the development of this young pitching staff.

I personally would like to see Carter Bins get a shot at the backup spot.  Bins previously found himself on the Pirates Top 30 Prospects list, but has since been bumped by the continued efforts of GM Ben Cherington and his stockpiling of prospects.  However, I believe Michael Perez will get the backup spot, despite a horrendous season at the plate last season.

So with very little offensive output expected from this position, this position group gets a D-.  The only thing preventing them from an F-grade is Roberto's Gold Glove Awards. 

First Base/Designated Hitter - C

First off, whether you were against it or not, it’s very fun to have the opportunity to discuss the possible designated hitter options for the Pittsburgh Pirates.  The fun starts to end, however, when you consider the options they actually have this season.

Also, those who are going to take the lion's share of the DH at-bats, I also expect to play most of the first base innings as well.  So we will consider both the first base and DH position groups as the same with this grade.  The two players I expect to switch off in these two sports are Yoshi Tsutsugo and Daniel Vogelbach.  

The other option the Pirates may consider at both first base and DH, that we will not discuss here, is Michael Chavis, but he will be considered as a middle infielder for this series.

From a pure fan perspective, I love Daniel Vogelbach and Yoshi Tsutsugo.  I think they both have very root-able qualities, and I’m pulling for both of them to have great success.  Vogelbach reminds us with his body type that with determination and hard work, we can all be professional “athletes”.  Yoshi is a former Nippon Professional Baseball league All-Star and is now trying to have similar success in Major League Baseball.

However, Yoshi’s foreign success has not translated yet to steady production in America and Vogelbach really only has one good full season under his belt.  Tsutsugo has less than 400 major league at-bats to this point, and he did have a great end to the 2021 season.  Hopefully he carries that same bat into the 2022 season.  

Vogelbach showed in 2019, with a 30-homerun season, that when given full-time duties, he can provide some power.  They both also walk more than the average power hitter, and have the ability to get on base.  Vogelbach was 5th in the league in base on balls in 2019.

I’m sure several other hitters, including Chavis and even Oneil Cruz will get their shot at DH’ing this season, but I expect Yoshi and Vogelbach to get most of the time there.  Unfortunately, Derek Shelton has already said he will play around with multiple DH options.  We know from the data that a platoon situation at DH is not as successful as keeping an every-day hitter in that spot.  So the Pirates are already at a disadvantage if the numbers hold true.  

I will be bringing cautious optimism into this position group with both of the top options possessing some power.  We will also be tweeting about every Vogel-bomb and every Yoshi-bomb on @GoldLotSports.  I also don't think either  player will get any Gold Glove votes, but neither will be a detriment out there in the field either.

However, these guys have also shown they can slump, and the platoon situation may further stifle the success.  That cautious optimism combined with the negative variables discussed above earns this position group a C-grade.