When a young ballplayer is developing his skills as a prep or college player, he may be told once or a dozen times that the quickest path to the big leagues is as a catcher. Because of the physical nature of the job, and how taxing it is on the body (especially the knees), it's not easy to find a plethora of young players who settle on catching as their desired position. Those who do pursue it, and show big league potential, will usually get a long look.
As it turns out, catching isn't just the quickest way to the big leagues -- it can be helpful for a player's post-career as well. Over the past several decades, some of the most successful and longest-tenured managers are former catchers. This isn't coincidental; catchers tend to be a tick smarter than the rest because they have to be. They call the pitches. They know the opposing hitters. They are responsible for guiding their pitchers through hundreds of pitches a night. They run the pitchers meetings before every series. Quite frankly, it's great practice for catchers who want to manage someday. And they often do.
Our MLB.com beat writers, surveyed individually, were asked to name a player on their roster who someday might be managerial material. Not surprisingly, a lot of catchers made the cut.
In the American League Central, all five reporters picked -- yep, you guessed it -- catchers. Let's examine:
Indians: Sandy León
León is beloved by every person in the room no matter what clubhouse he walks into. When the Indians traded for him this past offseason, manager Terry Francona said, “I can’t tell you how many texts I got when we signed him: ‘You’re gonna love this guy.’” The 31-year-old is entering his ninth big league season, and his baseball IQ alone would be enough to put him in consideration to be a future manager. However, in just a few short weeks at Spring Training, León proved how quickly he can settle in as a leader after spending the previous five years in Boston. Even though León leads in a quiet manner, his intelligence, his personality and his ability to work hands-on with both English- and Spanish-speaking players gives him the edge as the most likely future manager on the Tribe.
"I remember reading where he was in Triple-A and the Red Sox pitchers were like, ‘Hey, we really need this guy here in the big leagues,’” Francona said. “He’s a good prop and defensively, he cares so much about running the game, things that we care about, and he can catch and throw but he’s also very intelligent and very conscientious." -- Mandy Bell
Royals: Cam Gallagher
OK, so this may seem like a surprise pick -- perhaps even to him. But given the parameters of the assignment, picking a potential manager off the present 40-man roster, Gallagher likely fits the bill. For one thing, Gallagher is a catcher, and that has been pretty much a prerequisite for numerous Royals managerial hires -- Mike Matheny, Ned Yost, Tony Pena, Bob Boone, John Mizerock (interim), John Wathan and Jack McKeon.
As a player, Gallagher is similar to some of those previous catcher hires. At 27 years old, he is a grinder, known as a better defender than an offensive force. The Royals coaching staff considers him one of the better pitch framers in the game.
Drafted in the second round of the 2011 Draft out of Manheim Township High School in Lancaster, Pa., Gallagher labored through six seasons in the Minors before making his MLB debut in 2017. In 80 big league games, he has a .649 OPS (looking at you, Matheny and Yost), but he is popular among Royals pitchers for the way he handles and manages a game behind the plate. In other words, he has an appreciation for the big picture, which is a vital attribute for any manager. -- Jeffrey Flanagan
Tigers: Austin Romine
The Tigers have seen a few former catchers in their organization turn out to be managers, from Jim Leyland to Gene Lamont to Brad Ausmus. Mickey Cochrane was a Tigers catcher and manager at the same time, winning two AL pennants and a World Series while pulling double duty. Time will tell if Romine ever decides to go into coaching, but his work with Tigers pitchers in Spring Training -- not just on the quality of pitches, but how and when to throw them to hitters -- drew raves from manager Ron Gardenhire.
“Those are the conversations I love to hear,” Gardenhire said. “I want [catchers] trying to make guys better, not just, ‘He threw the ball good.’ Make him better. I like that stuff.” -- Jason Beck
Twins: Alex Avila
It's always the catchers, isn't it?
But let's not put Avila, the Twins' newly signed backup catcher, on this list solely because of his position. The 33-year-old has carved out a lengthy stint in the Majors, but at this stage of his career progression, Twins leadership noted that they signed him to a one-year deal with a particular eye towards the mentoring ability. He played the first seven years of his career in Detroit -- and saw the majority of his success there -- but also made his mark on the White Sox, Tigers again, Cubs and D-backs before his arrival in Minnesota.
Even in the short time Avila was around the Twins' clubhouse, he had a cerebral aura about him and made a significant impact on young catching prospect Ryan Jeffers, ranked the No. 6 prospect in the organization, helping to fill the mentorship void left by the departure of Jason Castro. As a catcher, Avila is obviously tasked with processing increasing amounts of information in order to communicate and formulate game plans with every pitcher on the staff. Sounds like the modern-day manager, doesn't it? It also doesn't hurt that baseball leadership is in his blood, since he's the son of Tigers executive vice president and general manager Al Avila. -- Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: James McCann
McCann turns 30 on June 13, and after having played just five full seasons in the Majors, the veteran catcher has plenty of good years left on the field. But McCann also seems to be well-equipped to lead a team, something he unofficially did in part during the 2019 season with a rebuilding White Sox squad.
McCann put up All-Star numbers behind the plate last season, with 18 home runs, 26 doubles, 60 RBIs and a .789 OPS. He also did an expert job of handling the pitching staff, with Lucas Giolito, who finished tied for sixth in the AL Cy Young Award voting, crediting McCann for his contribution to a major turnaround from a rough 20 18. Not only did McCann catch all 176 2/3 innings thrown by Giolito in '19, with Giolito showing the ultimate confidence in his game-calling, but he was able to develop a thorough understanding of the entire pitching staff ranging from what worked for them to what they liked to do in certain situations. McCann is also excellent with the media, something that is always a plus for a manager. But it's more than simply being excellent in terms of sheer availability: He provides thoughtful answers that show a deep understanding of the game. -- Scott Merkin