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NL West has a new top dog at catcher

@mi_guardado
January 8, 2020

The National League West can’t lay claim to the best catcher in baseball -- that honor goes to the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto -- but it still features a strong mix of an accomplished veteran (the Giants’ Buster Posey), two defensive stalwarts (the Padres’ Austin Hedges and the Rockies’ Tony Wolters)

The National League West can’t lay claim to the best catcher in baseball -- that honor goes to the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto -- but it still features a strong mix of an accomplished veteran (the Giants’ Buster Posey), two defensive stalwarts (the Padres’ Austin Hedges and the Rockies’ Tony Wolters) and two talented up-and-comers (the Dodgers’ Will Smith and the D-backs’ Carson Kelly).

Which member of the division possesses the strongest catching contingent? Let’s take a look.

The best

Dodgers
The Dodgers are all-in on the 24-year-old Smith, who was given the starting job in late July and kept it right through the postseason. Manager Dave Roberts conceded the club was “asking a lot” of the rookie, who added 15 Major League home runs to the 20 he hit at Triple-A Oklahoma City. Smith might have shown signs of fatigue down the stretch, hitting .175 in September and .077 in the playoffs. Los Angeles hasn’t added a veteran to replace Russell Martin at backup, a role that apparently goes to former starter Austin Barnes. Keibert Ruiz, the club’s No. 3 prospect, will continue his seasoning at Triple-A.

The rest (alphabetically by team)

D-backs
Kelly established himself as the everyday catcher last year, allowing the D-backs to go away from the three-catcher rotation they had for the previous two-plus seasons. Kelly slumped in the final couple of months, something the organization chalked up to the fatigue -- mental and physical -- of his first full season in the big leagues. With the departure of veteran free agent Alex Avila, Arizona signed Stephen Vogt to serve as a veteran mentor for Kelly and as a left-handed complement to start against tough right-handed pitchers.

Giants
Posey is coming off the worst season of his career, but the Giants remain optimistic that he’ll get back on track in 2020 with the help of a normal offseason, which he didn’t enjoy last year as he recovered from August 2018 hip surgery. While Posey’s offensive production dipped for the second consecutive year, he continued to add value with his defense, accruing 14 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, according to FanGraphs. Aramis Garcia appears in line to replace Vogt as Posey’s backup, though top Giants prospect Joey Bart is also on his way and could debut in San Francisco later this year.

Padres
Francisco Mejía and Hedges could split time behind the plate again in 2020, but it’s possible one goes in a trade before Opening Day, with the Padres still in the market for an outfield bat and a starting pitcher. The switch-hitting Mejía had an .866 OPS after the All-Star break in ’19. Hedges’ bat withered, but he rated No. 1 in framing among MLB catchers. If either departs, Luis Torrens is in line to back up. Luis Campusano, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s No. 5 prospect, provides bat and glove in one package. At age 20, he ranked second in the Class A Advanced California League with a .325 batting average and a .906 OPS.

Rockies
The Rockies' picture is incomplete, and it may remain that way when the season begins. Wolters furthered his reputation as a game-changer defensively, especially against the running game. Offensively, he is a low-in-the-order option. The club's tight payroll has dictated that the most experienced candidates to join him -- Drew Butera and Elías Díaz -- are non-roster invitees. Dom Nuñez, who debuted late last season, has athletic ability and power potential, but needs Triple-A experience.

Maria Guardado covers the Giants for MLB.com. She previously covered the Angels from 2017-18. Follow her on Twitter.