The A’s entered the 2020 campaign unsure of the workload Sean Murphy would be able to handle coming off knee surgery. By the time the season ended, Murphy established himself as one of the top catchers in the game.
Receiving high praise from various outlets this offseason -- including MLB Network, which rated him as the No. 5 catcher in the Majors, Murphy’s emergence sets the A’s up as, arguably, the strongest club at catcher in the American League West.
Going around the division, the Mariners hope Tom Murphy can return to his 2019 form, when he performed as the club’s top hitter. The Angels’ and Astros’ catching situations will look a bit different this year with the addition of veterans Kurt Suzuki and Jason Castro, respectively. Jose Trevino is one of the few Rangers who seem to have a spot secured.
Here’s a closer look at the catcher position in the AL West:
The Angels signed Kurt Suzuki to serve as the club’s backup catcher to Max Stassi, who is coming off a breakout year offensively. With some tweaks to his swing, Stassi posted a .278/.352/.533 slash line, seven homers and 20 RBIs in 31 games. Suzuki also was solid offensively last year, hitting .270/.349/.396 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 33 games with the Nationals. Anthony Bemboom also remains on the 40-man roster to provide depth, which could be crucial, as Stassi has had hip surgeries in each of the past two offseasons.
The Angels are optimistic that Stassi will be healthy for the start of the regular season after undergoing left hip surgery in October. But if he were to suffer any setbacks, the Angels would open the year with Suzuki and Bemboom as their catchers. There’s also a remote chance the club could make another move, although it seems unlikely after the acquisition of Suzuki. The Angels have been linked as a possible trade destination for Cubs catcher Willson Contreras or Red Sox catcher Christian Vázquez. It can’t be ruled out, but the Angels appear pleased with their current catching depth.
-- Rhett Bollinger
The Astros improved their catching situation from a year ago by bringing back Jason Castro on a two-year deal to team up with veteran Martín Maldonado behind the plate. Combined, they have 20 years of experience. Maldonado, a right-handed hitter, caught 46 of the Astros’ 60 games last year. Castro, a left-handed hitter who was the Astros’ first-round Draft pick in 2008, will play more of a role than backup catcher Dustin Garneau did last year. Maldonado posted a .727 OPS last year. Castro split 2020 between the Angels and the Padres. He played in 27 games in and hit .188 in 80 at-bats.
What role will Garrett Stubbs play? With active rosters at 26 players again this season, Stubbs might get a chance to be Houston’s third catcher, as he was for much of last year. (He made the Opening Day roster.) Stubbs, a left-handed hitter, appeared in 14 games in 2020 and made one start at catcher. He also appeared in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, catching one inning as a defensive replacement. Stubbs has played 10 games in left field and one in right in his brief career and took some infield reps during Spring Training a year ago.
-- Brian McTaggart
Though he wasn’t as flashy as the other exciting rookies who arrived on the scene in 2020, Sean Murphy left the A’s feeling like they have a perennial All-Star behind the plate for years to come. Over the final month of the campaign, Murphy led the A’s in OPS (1.062) and home runs (five). He slashed .277/.424/.638 across 16 games in September -- and then broke out in the postseason by hitting some big home runs in the AL Wild Card Series and Division Series. Establishing himself as a threat in the middle of the lineup, drawing high praise from pitchers for his game-calling and showing off his cannon of an arm from behind the plate, Murphy should continue to get the bulk of the playing time at catcher.
Injuries slowed Murphy’s development in the Minor Leagues. Though he made it through the shortened 60-game season fully healthy, Murphy’s durability will be tested as he looks to get through his first full season in the Majors. Jonah Heim impressed over the final month of the regular season and will enter Spring Training as the favorite for the backup job, though that could turn into a competition with Austin Allen, who earned a spot on the Opening Day roster last season.
-- Martín Gallegos
Tom Murphy has recovered from the broken bone in his left foot that cost him his entire 2020 season. Murphy was Seattle’s top offensive performer in ’19, when he hit 18 homers and was worth 2.7 bWAR in 75 games. The Mariners plan to go with a 55-45 split between Murphy and Luis Torrens, who showed legitimate offensive pop after coming over in a Trade Deadline deal with the Padres, as well as maturity for handling a green group of pitchers. Manager Scott Servais, a former big league catcher, feels as confident about the club’s catching situation as any position on the roster.
Catching is a demanding position, and the Mariners are cognizant that backstop attrition could be a byproduct of returning to a 162-game schedule. So, it’s clear they’ll need some reinforcements beyond their top two. However, they have more depth in Cal Raleigh, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the club’s No. 8 prospect. Raleigh will be in big league Spring Training for the second straight season and one of several Mariners prospects on the cusp of reaching the Majors, general manager Jerry Dipoto said recently. It’s unclear when Raleigh will be needed, and he will have to show that he’s ready.
-- Daniel Kramer
The Rangers have a few question marks around the diamond, but catcher isn't one of them. Manager Chris Woodward said Jose Trevino most likely will be the starter going into 2021, as long as nothing goes particularly awry before Opening Day. After a solid ’20, when he slashed .250/.280/.434 in 24 games, Trevino is well prepared for the spot. Often seen as more of a defense-first catcher, Trevino has a good relationship with returning pitchers such as Kyle Cody and Taylor Hearn and has been talking with offseason acquisitions such as Dane Dunning. There are a few backup options for the Rangers going into the season, but that most likely will fall to Aramis Garcia, whom the Rangers claimed off waivers from the Giants in November.
The Rangers are not on the market for a catcher outside of the organization. The biggest unknown is what the Rangers will do with Sam Huff, their No. 2 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. He was called up in September 2020 but probably will start the season in the Minors, as he would have last season if not for the pandemic accelerating the process for many prospects. Huff had only 31 Major League at-bats but did well in that small sample size. In 10 games, Huff hit .355 with three home runs. He’s on the 40-man roster and seems like a sure thing for a callup at some point this season.
-- Kennedi Landry