How does NL West stack up at catcher?

February 3rd, 2021

For much of the last decade, when you talked about catchers in the National League West, the conversation likely started with Giants perennial All-Star Buster Posey.

Injuries and age have combined to limit Posey's effectiveness, and he chose not to play during last year's COVID-shortened season.

With that in mind, the balance of catching power has shifted to Los Angeles, where Will Smith followed up an outstanding rookie season in 2019 with an even better year in '20.

Here's a look at the catching situations for each of the NL West teams:

The Known: Carson Kelly will be the D-backs' starter behind the plate in 2021, with the club still believing in the 26-year-old following a rough 2020 season. Kelly, who was acquired from the Cardinals in the Paul Goldschmidt trade, impressed in his first season with Arizona when he registered an OPS+ of 111. Last year, Kelly got off to a rough start, and in 60 games he simply did not have enough time to turn it around, as he finished with an OPS+ of 71. Veteran Stephen Vogt will once again back up Kelly after his contract option for 2021 vested last year.

The Unknown: Daulton Varsho was one of the organization's top prospects the past two years, and he got to make his big league debut in 2020. The left-handed hitter has some pop at the plate, and he is more athletic than a typical catcher. In an effort to give Varsho more at-bats, the D-backs have tried him both in center and left, where he has shown potential. How much playing time Varsho gets behind the plate, as opposed to the outfield, will likely be determined by how Kelly's season progresses.
-- Steve Gilbert

The Known: While the Dodgers have some solid depth at the position, it’s fairly safe to assume that Will Smith and Austin Barnes will be the two catchers on the Opening Day roster. Smith, who finished with a .980 OPS in 2020, will look to build off a strong season and handle most of the responsibilities behind the plate. Barnes will continue to serve as a very solid backup for Los Angeles.

The Unknown: There are a couple of unknowns. As good as Smith was last season, it’ll be interesting to see how he performs over the course of a 162-game season. All signs point to Smith continuing his success, regardless of the length of the season, but it’s something to watch in 2021. As for Keibert Ruiz, where exactly does the Dodgers’ No. 2 prospect and the No. 57 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline fit in? Ruiz has a lot of potential and will likely start in the Minors, but he could make an impact at some point during the season, giving the Dodgers even more depth.
-- Juan Toribio

The Known: Buster Posey will be back after electing to sit out the 2020 season, and newcomer Curt Casali is viewed as the frontrunner to serve as his backup after joining the Giants on a one-year, $1.5 million deal this offseason. The addition of Casali means top prospect Joey Bart is likely to open the season at Triple-A Sacramento, where he’ll be able to gain more experience and development after struggling during his first stint in the Majors last year. Chadwick Tromp is also on the depth chart, which should prevent the Giants from having to rush Bart back to the Majors in the event of injury.

The Unknown: It’s unclear what the Giants can expect from Posey, who recorded a career-worst .688 OPS in 2019 and will be entering the final guaranteed year of his contract. Still, the Giants have raved about Posey’s conditioning this winter, and it’s possible that a refreshed body and exposure to new offensive philosophies espoused by the club’s hitting coaches could help the 33-year-old veteran turn back the clock in '21. The Giants won’t be leaning on Posey to carry the offense like he did at his peak, but he should still provide value with his defense behind the plate and his leadership in the clubhouse.
-- Maria Guardado

The Known: The Padres’ catching hierarchy is already in place ahead of the 2021 season -- a stark change from the past few seasons, when Austin Hedges vs. Francisco Mejía felt like an annual spring battle. Both Hedges and Mejía have been sent elsewhere in trades. Instead, Austin Nola will start behind the plate in '21. Victor Caratini, who was Yu Darvish’s personal catcher with the Cubs, is slated to serve as the team’s primary backup. Behind those two, 22-year-old Luis Campusano -- MLB Pipeline’s No. 45 overall prospect -- has a chance to crack the roster.

The Unknown: Where Campusano starts the season is a complicated question. Would the Padres prefer to have a third catcher on their bench, considering his potent right-handed bat? Or would they rather have him start the year in the Minors, where he’d get regular reps? Separately, what are the repercussions from Campusano’s October arrest for marijuana possession? As for Nola and Caratini, the Padres have yet to give any indication regarding their playing-time split. Nola should see the bulk of the reps, but he’s also capable of playing around the infield. Lastly, it’s worth wondering whether the Padres will add a Minor League free agent before the season. Trades sending Hedges, Mejía, Blake Hunt and Luis Torrens elsewhere have cut into their depth.
-- AJ Cassavell

The Known: Right-handed-hitting Elias Díaz, 30, joined the Rockies last winter after playing 250 games over five seasons (101 in 2019) with the Pirates. Díaz played sparingly early in the season, but by the end had supplanted Tony Wolters as the starter. In all, Díaz batted .235 in 26 games, hitting the Rockies’ only two homers from the catching position. Catching for a team that plays home games at Coors Field is closer to a two-man job than a starter-backup situation, but Díaz’s experience could lead to a greater share of action.

Right-handed-hitting José Briceño, 28, has the second-most experience of catchers on the roster, having played with the Angels for 46 games in 2018 and two in '20. Briceño played in the Rockies’ system from 2010-14.

The Unknown: Left-handed-hitting rookie Dom Nuñez, 26, appeared in 16 games in 2019. After going 4-for-15 with a homer and two doubles in his first five games, he went 3-for-25 in his last 11, with a homer and a double as opponents restricted him to offspeed pitches. The odd '20 was something of a redshirt year. Nuñez played at the alternate training site, with specific assignments to learn adjustments to offspeed pitching and concentrate on defensive fundamentals and throwing. He joined the Rockies’ taxi squad occasionally, but never appeared in a Major League game. But the gloves are off for '21, and Nuñez has an opportunity for regular playing time -- possibly the larger share, given his left-handed bat.
-- Thomas Harding