Gabriel Moreno was at his home in Venezuela last December 23 when he got a call from Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins.
“I thought you were calling me to wish you a Merry Christmas,” Ms. Moreno said somewhat shyly through an interpreter earlier this month in Anaheim, California.
Instead, Atkins called and said the Blue Jays had traded the promising young catcher to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Seven months later, Moreno, 23, is playing a key role in the Diamondbacks’ incredible tenacity at the top of the National League West.
He also led a growing number of rookie receivers leading a generational shift in positions that had become one-sided, with the exception of Philadelphia’s JT Realmuto, Kansas City’s Salvador Perez and the now-retired Yadiel Molina. is also one of
“Everybody wanted a catcher,” said San Diego Padres manager Bob Melvin, who was the backup catcher in the majors from 1985 to 1994. A defensive guy or an aggressive guy trying to get a lot out of that faction.
“But now we have guys who are not only doing well in defense and attacking, but they are also running well, and there are guys who are making progress.”
The starting catchers for this week’s All-Star Game are Atlanta’s Sean Murphy and Texas’ Jonah Haim, both 28-year-old debutants. Praise (or blame) the beleaguered Oakland Athletics for trading both rising stars.
Dodgers’ Will Smith, 28. Adley Lachman, 25, of Baltimore. Elias Diaz, 32, of Colorado will also make his first All-Star in Seattle. The only veteran among them is Perez, 33, of Kansas City.
Talent evaluators in the gaming world describe recent times as a time when catchers were at bat last in the batting order while contributing little to the team and told to focus entirely on framing the pitch. Explaining. It’s the style embodied by the Yankees’ Jose Trevino, who was named an All-Star last season.
But that is changing. This season, Atlanta, Arizona, Texas and Cincinnati (Tyler Stevenson, 26) are leading their divisions after the break with the help of catchers who contribute on both sides. And the Baltimore Orioles were once again a full-fledged player in the AL East almost from the moment they recalled Latchman last May.
“If Adley Lachman stays healthy, he’ll be one of the best players in baseball for a long time,” said Tampa Bay Rays manager Kevin Cash, who spent eight major league seasons as a catcher. . He added of Murphy: MVP”
“We haven’t had a lot of catchers out there lately who would put the best player in our game,” Cash continued. “And I certainly think it’s crossed the line between Latchman and Murphy.”
Murphy, who has a .306 batting average and 17 home runs, was acquired by Atlanta almost by accident last winter. The team was happy with the catches of veteran Travis Darneau and William Contreras, 25, brother of Wilson Contreras. But when the Athletics told the industry they intended to sign Murphy, Atlanta switched gears.
“We never intended to pursue that position,” said Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations. “It was about chasing a certain player. Ideally for us, it would have been a player to chase in 2024, because we were in a great position.”
But instead of waiting for Murphy’s free agency, Atlanta closed a three-way trade with Oakland and Milwaukee, sending Contreras to the Brewers and Murphy to the Braves. Anthopoulos then moved swiftly to imprison Murphy for six years and $73 million, as usual.
“A player who provides productivity on both sides of the ball,” Anthopoulos said, basically explaining the shortcomings of catching in recent years. “You can’t have a player like that every offseason.”
Texas had picked the bosom of Oakland for Haim a year earlier. On Feb. 6, 2021, the Athletics will bring shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher/first baseman Aramis Garcia, and Haim, outfielder Chris Davis, and minor leaguer Dane Acker to the Rangers for cash. sent.
“He was very good behind the plate,” said Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, a former catcher, of Haim’s rise last season. “Not just the metrics, but the vision test showed that. He’s a really good thrower and blocker. He’s an outstanding receiver. Our pitchers put their trust in this guy.
“Offensively, he showed it early last year, but he probably got a little tired with all the catching. So we want to keep a close eye on that.”
Bochy credits Rangers catching coach Bobby Wilson with helping Haim’s development. 282 batting average with 12 home runs.
Haim; Latchmann; Patrick Bailey, 24, of San Francisco; and Seattle’s Cal Rowley, 26, are all switch-hitters, which also brings a useful element. The Dodgers’ Smith leads all MLB catchers in .890 on-base percentage and slugging percentage, just ahead of Haim (.812) and Latchman (.786).
“Will Smith is phenomenal,” said Anthopoulos.
In an era where positions change so rapidly, a dynamic young catcher is emerging. This year’s new rules have revived the running game after years of hiatus, while also forcing catchers to call the game faster thanks to the pitch clock. In the near future, things will take things a step further once the ball and strike automation system is implemented, removing the concept of pitch framing.
“I’m totally against it,” said Lowry of Seattle. “I think you’re taking away the technology that people can work on and bring people to the big leagues.”
But some believe that the overemphasis on pitch framing in recent years has come at the expense of other skills.
“Pitch framing is the most abused term ever in Major League Baseball,” Buck Martinez said. Buck Martinez was a backup catcher in the majors for 17 years, coached the Blue Jays in the early 2000s, and is now a television analyst in Toronto. “Do you know who puts together good pitches? Players who have good pitching staff.”
As the game changes, so does the definition of what it takes behind the plate. That includes more gross motor skills. Arizona’s Moreno, like retired Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, is a converted center fielder. Posada played second base in his first professional season until his position change set the stage for the Yankees dynasty. Moreno was a shortstop when he signed professionally at age 16, but the Blue Jays soon began converting him to catcher at the Dominican Republic academy.
“What it’s helped me with a lot is the ability to get the ball in the dirt, the short hop,” Moreno said. He started 45 of his first 65 games for Arizona when Carson Kelly was out with an injury, sharing the same position as Carson Kelly. Forearm fracture. “That was the easiest part. Actually the hardest part is blocking the pitch, getting used to hitting the ball and the pain.”
The physical strength of the position has led the team to view it as a two-man job. This is mainly why we settled on more defensive and offensive platoons instead of moving left and right. Hall of Famer Johnny Bench caught 158, 152 and 160 games in his most stressful season, but Murphy (116) finished second in the majors in games won last year, behind Realmut (133). rice field. Raleigh (115) was his third.
“When you have guys who can catch and hit in the top orders, when you think about guys who can do that with you, you could be a Hall of Famer,” Martinez said, emphasizing his handling of the running game. This was especially important because the new rule resulted in a much higher stolen base success rate.
The list of dynamic catchers should continue to grow.
Los Angeles Angels forward Logan Ohop, 23, was recovering well before suffering a torn left shoulder labrum on April 25. The Angels hope to return one day during the stretch run. And Cleveland recently let go of veteran Mike Zunino while bringing back one of their top prospects, Beau Naylor, 23.
“There’s an influx of catchers who can hit, and we like the fact that offense is part of the priority,” said Jeff Bannister, Arizona’s bench and catching coach who has worked extensively with Moreno. . “Obviously we want it to be one of the strongest defensive positions on the field. But it shouldn’t be a dark hole offensively.”