Rays' Top 5 catchers: Toribio's take

March 23rd, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Juan Toribio’s ranking of the top five catchers in Rays history. Next week: First basemen.

1. Dioner Navarro, 2006-10
Key fact: All-Star in 2008

Navarro’s career 7.1 bWAR doesn’t stand out, but the catcher gave the Rays a much-needed presence when they needed it the most, and that gave him the nod over the rest. Throughout the team’s existence, the catcher position has been a revolving door for Tampa Bay. Despite all the success, the team has struggled to find a productive everyday player at the position. But for a couple of seasons, Navarro gave the Rays exactly what they needed. Over five seasons, Navarro played 458 games for Tampa Bay, which is the third most by a catcher in franchise history, behind Toby Hall (586) and John Flaherty (471).

Navarro's most successful campaign came during the franchise’s World Series run in 2008. He hit seven home runs in that season, finishing with a .757 OPS, which earned him his only All-Star berth. There’s definitely an argument to be made against Navarro, however. He doesn’t lead the franchise in any offensive categories, but Navarro did help the Rays win. And that’s what ultimately puts him ahead of the rest.

2. Wilson Ramos, 2017-18
Key fact: All-Star in 2018

On talent alone, Ramos is probably the most talented catcher in Rays history -- at least offensively. Ramos landed with Tampa Bay after suffering a torn ACL late in the 2016 season. The Rays signed him on a two-year, $12 million deal, which turned out to be a bargain, even with Ramos missing most of the '17 season as he recovered from the injury. In '17, Ramos showed flashes of why he was considered one of the best all-around catchers in the Majors prior to the injury. He hit 11 homers in just 64 games, setting up high expectations for the '18 season, and he delivered. Ramos smashed 14 home runs for Tampa Bay in '18, which helped him get selected as the starting catcher for the American League in the All-Star game. The 14 homers also tied him with John Flaherty for the single-season franchise record by a catcher, a record that was broken in '19 by Travis d’Arnaud. Flaherty, however, needed 482 plate appearances in 1999 to achieve the feat, while Ramos did it in just 315 plate appearances.

In just 142 games, Ramos ranks fourth among catchers in franchise history with 25 homers. His 115 wRC+ and .471 slugging percentage with the club are the best by any Rays catcher.

3. Toby Hall, 2000-06
Key fact: 586 games is most by a catcher in franchise history

Hall’s stats benefit from having the most games played, but there’s something to be said about durability at the position and Hall played in over 115 games in three consecutive seasons (2003-05). While Hall’s stats are a bit empty, he does make quite a few appearances in the Tampa Bay record book. Hall ranks 10th in franchise history in at-bats (2,050) and hits (538), ninth in RBIs (251) and games (586), and seventh in doubles (112). Hall also sits atop all Rays catchers with 44 home runs.

4. John Flaherty, 1998-02
Key fact: Opening Day starter in inaugural game

Flaherty was the Opening Day catcher for the first four Devil Rays teams, but his best season came in 1999. Flaherty hit 14 home runs and finished with 71 RBIs, which is the most in a single season by a Tampa Bay catcher. Flaherty wasn’t able to replicate that season, hitting just 18 home runs in his last three seasons with the Rays.

5. Travis d’Arnaud, 2019
Key fact: Only catcher to hit three home runs in a game against the Yankees

Is there some recency bias here? Perhaps. But d’Arnaud put together one of, if not the best season by a Rays catcher in 2019, and he did it in just 92 games. d’Arnaud broke the single-season franchise record by a catcher with 16 homers and his 67 RBIs are the second most by a Tampa Bay catcher. d’Arnaud hit eight home runs and finished with a 1.136 OPS in July. That month alone was more productive than most of the other Rays catchers, and that’s why d’Arnaud lands on the list. Had d’Arnaud re-signed in the offseason, he had a good chance to become the top catcher in franchise history.

Honorable mentions
John Jaso finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting after posting a .750 OPS in 2010 but wasn’t able to build on it in '11 and was later traded. … Jose Lobaton hit one of the most memorable homers in franchise history, a walk-off homer against the Red Sox in Game 3 of the 2013 AL Division Series, but that was about it. José Molina leads all Rays catchers with a 6.1 fWAR, but that’s mostly due to his stellar defense behind the plate. Molina had a .286 slugging percentage in 281 games.