Pirates Prospects Daily: Pirates Focusing On Defense First With Catcher Position

The Pittsburgh Pirates dipped into the free agent pool once again, signing Austin Hedges to a one year, $5 million contract, making him in all likelihood the starting catcher heading into 2023.

There isn’t much to say about him offensively, as he has never been that great of a hitter in the majors. He did hit seven home runs in just under 300 at-bats, which isn’t bad considering Pirates’ catchers hit just nine collectively over the course of the 2022 season.

Offense isn’t what he is here for, as his value comes from his work behind the plate, where he is one of the better defensive catchers in the game right now.

Since 2015 when he made his major league debut, only 21 catchers have logged at least 4,000 innings behind the plate, and Hedges leads them all in defensive runs saved (Fangraphs) and trails only Yasmani Grandal in pitching framing runs saved (FRM – 64.7).

Hedges managed one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball last year, caught in 105 games (started 97), and was a part of the 92-win Cleveland Guardians season.

That will be big for the Pirates in 2023, who allowed the third most runs and posted the fifth worst ERA in baseball last year. They will also be a younger unit, as the six main candidates to start the year in the rotation are an average of about 26 years-old.

After signing Tyler Heineman to a minor league contract the other day, it looks like there is a possibility that we will see the duo start the season in the majors as the catching tandem.

Heineman is another catcher who struggles to hit, but makes up for it on the defensive side of things.

Both players graded out very well in 2022 defensively, especially when you consider Heineman logging less than 400 innings at catcher.

The duo combined for a 8.6 FRM (framing runs saved), which would have been the sixth highest team mark in baseball last year.

In a day and age where exit velocity and all things offense rule so much of the talk, catcher is still the one position where offense actually comes third, behind defense and work with the pitching staff. 

The Pirates showed that they are going to prioritize the second two, at least for now. While the offense struggled last year, the team has made other moves in trying to improve there — between Carlos Santana and Ji-Man Choi and even internally with a full season and progression of Oneil Cruz.

Instead of turning to the catcher position to improve the offense that already features multiple staples in the organization, they are looking for some to help a young pitching staff trying to make the next step in their development.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

**As noted above, the Pirates are signing Austin Hedges. I like the move. The Pirates didn’t want to block Endy Rodriguez, but Rodriguez has very little experience catching in the upper levels. You’re not getting a two-way option on a one-year deal. There are a lot of benefits to going with a defensive catcher, as Antony laid out above.

**John Dreker has an update on Andres Alvarez in his latest Pirates Winter Report.

**Fourteen Pirates saw winter ball action on Friday.

**It’s been awhile since I’ve stirred things up on Twitter. The first tweet is actually the topic I was going to write on Wednesday, but I held it off for a later time. Monday’s First Pitch is going to be fun.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony looked at how the Pirates could best use Cody Bolton.

Song of the Day

Pirates Prospects Weekly

John Dreker had an update on Andres Alvarez in this week’s Pirates Winter Report, talking with Alvarez and his manager, Jose Mosquera, about his offseason progress.

Pirates Winter Report: Andres Alvarez is Preparing For a Super Utility Role

Ethan Hullihen will have his latest Pirates Business article on Sunday.

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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KirkV12

Alternative headline: Pirates focusing on offense last at catching position.
Or…
Pirates focusing on wallet first at all positions

1979andCounting

This defense first narrative and helping our young pitchers is way too embellished. Our pitcher’s skills determine whether we have a good staff, not whether we have Hedges catching them. How many times after a pitcher throws a gem does the catcher say something like “man, the dude was on today with his fastball location and his slider. All I had to do was put my glove on a target and he would hit it without me moving an inch”. And we now have the #1 worse hitting position player in the game. Hope you’re ready to watch a replay of John Ryan Murphy. Andy Haines should be on a plane tomorrow to get him making swing changes…..not waiting til ST.

JimEastTennessee

I am hopefully optimistic about the pitching staff; if no major injuries, I can still see 77 wins.

NMR

Too funny, I was thinking to myself “75 low end, 82 high end” as I was reading this article. You met me halfway.

JimEastTennessee

We’re in the minority 🤓

AdministrativeSky236

Ill jump on the optimist train! Things could certainly break right for us to see a mid 70s win season

joesolo6181

Spin. Sign anyone thEn spin a tale to make it seem a good signing.

Zack

Would it be safe to refer to this as a “necessary” signing?

JimEastTennessee

yes. 12 weeks and then slide to back-up/player-coach.

Last edited 1 month ago by JimEastTennessee
john_fluharty

Depends on how you define good. We need a good defensive catcher because we have a young staff and we’re not getting one that’s both good defensively and offensively (until Endy arrives and has time to adjust). So given that we need a good defensive catcher and not going to get one that’s also good on offense, why not just get one who’s inarguably an elite defensive catcher? As much as I want the offense to improve, this makes sense. We should fully expect him to slide to a backup role June-ish anyway.

Last edited 1 month ago by john_fluharty
Cobra

“Since Hedges debuted in the majors in 2015, his 54 wRC+ is the lowest of any player in major league baseball (minimum 2000 plate appearances).”

Wilbur Miller

It gets worse. He’s been much worse the last three years than he was earlier. There’s no way defense or veteranosity on any level can offset that magnitude of horrendous offense, especially on a team with terrible hitting to begin with. The Pirates can’t afford black holes, and this is a black hole so massive that it’ll swallow all the other black holes.

jjkraft09

Not sure where else to put this, But did anyone else notice Fangraphs updated their 2023 International Board and they are projecting the Pirates to sign the Korean Pitcher Jun seok Shim. He’s not as high on him as MLB though (has him rated 26th overall).

Last edited 1 month ago by jjkraft09
b mcferren

Lineup

(1) SS Cruz
(2) LF *Cutch / Canaan
(3) 2B Castro / *JayHay / Tucupito / Diego Castillo
(4) RF Suwinski / Swaggerty
(5) DH Andujar / Mitchell
(6) 1B *Santana / *Choi
(7) 3B Hayes
(8) C *Hedges / Heinaman
(9) CF Bae

Last edited 1 month ago by b mcferren
SouthernBuc

I saw a few of your tweets Tim – they were posted on another site as I do not tweet. I will be getting my popcorn ready to see how you write things up on this site and then more interesting how people react. I always enjoy your perspective.

redwards60

I guess signing Hedges means the Pirates have changed, because they wasted payroll dollars signing useless veteran players like Hedges and Choi – both of whom will be DFA’d by July if not sooner. At least Hedges “bat” fits right in to the lineup. Of all the available free agent catchers, we sign the worst hitting one of all…just what we need, another automatic out.

You just know, some combination of Hedges, Heineman, and Delay will be the Pirates catchers heading north this Spring. Davis and/or Rodriguez can hit .500 this Spring with several HRs and it won’t matter. Incompetence is the Pirates way.

Danatural08

Really dislike the Hedges & Vasquez signings. Its like they picked the worst options they could find at both positions of need, filled with several interesting options. But dont blame the interesting options that chose elsewhere.

IMO the value of a good defensive catcher is decreasing with computer’s algorithms involvement. I had heard last year all of the bucs starting lineups were made by the computer, guessing they relied on it to create gameplans for the pitchers too.

The one bright side, likely next offseason shopping list = new GM & new manager.

RAS TN

It’s the options that fit into their budget, if the Pirates are not there already they will be soon a team that will not be able to compete…

redwards60

They were cheap and likely were two of the few available players who would agree to sign with the Pirates. If you were a free agent with options on where to go, would you sign with the Pirates??

bianco599

It’s amazing how often I see cars with Penguins and Steelers stickers on them here in SC. Never a Pirate one. If I ever see a Pirates hat I ask if they are a fan. 99 percent of time they say no I just liked the hat. Occasionally some senior citizen is a fan. Or was pre 1992.

PirateRican21

New owner, if you are given $20 million dollars to fix numerous holes this is what you get. Believe me when I say that I feel that Shelton sucks, but it all starts at the top.
**note to the Nuttin defenders, seems we have two new ones since the site became free, no I don’t know that Nuttin only approved $20 million, I think is safe to assume and if he didn’t then he should get rid of a GM that does crap like this.

Wilbur Miller

note to the Nuttin defenders, seems we have two new ones since the site became free

So Bob wouldn’t pay for subs for his nephews . . . .

SouthernBuc

I will add that I think Cherington defenders (and I admit being one) get lumped with Nuttin defenders too often. Personally I think all owners make a ton of money without really trying and Nutting doesn’t lose any sleep win or lose. The better owners rake in the money but actually have some interest in winning. I don’t expect Bob to change.

My Cherington take is that his plan was to tank (he did that) and his total focus was on ‘whenever’ (one can easily say IF) that rebuild got closer he would then start caring about the major league roster. Tanking was the plan – it worked in Houston(with a lot of additional $) and KC, shows promise in Baltimore – looking shaky in Detroit. Given IMO Bob’s interest, Ben has a long leash and I still think he is focusing on the build and is just starting to care about the Major league roster. I have always stated, assuming that enough prospects make it and on that count I am optimistic, the test will be how he supplements and maintains that team. Huntington initially succeeded on the first part and failed on the second.

Last edited 1 month ago by SouthernBuc
Wilbur Miller

That’s the purported plan, but when the Pirates needed to spend before, after 2015, they didn’t do it. BC surely has a long leash. A lot of people insist he wouldn’t have come to Pgh if Nuttin hadn’t assured him he’d spend what was needed, but I think that’s baloney. The applicant doesn’t come into a job interview and make demands about the budget. He comes in prepared to say how he’ll manage with the budget he’s given.

The long leash is why BC came to Pgh. He knew there’d be no oversight or accountability as long as the profits rolled in, so he’d be free to surround himself with his buddies and they could collect their salaries, pass the bourbon around and not have to worry about any hint of accountability.

ArkyWags

Also even if Nutting did say he’d spend more to BC, who’s to say he would change his mind later? Or lie? He surely wouldn’t be the first owner to do that.

SouthernBuc

First paragraph I basically agree. I think there is an understanding of the budget set by Bob. To assume ‘spend what is needed’ is just fantasy and implies a blank check.

Second paragraph I will simply say we are not in sync. I think Ben ultimately has professional goals beyond the Pirates. To behave in this manner (other teams WILL take notice) could tank those goals. I don’t think (or don’t want to believe) he is in the ‘just give me my money’ mindset. And this is why I defend for now Ben but not Bob.

Wilbur Miller

I doubt he has any specific goals beyond Pgh. There are only 30 GM jobs. If you followed the Pirates’ last two, they were clearly doing whatever they thought would help them keep their jobs. I don’t see why BC would be different. I can’t imagine he sees Pgh as a stepping stone to running the Dodgers. The big attraction in Pgh is extremely low expectations.

Last edited 1 month ago by Wilbur Miller
SouthernBuc

I’d keep arguing until you stop from exhaustion (ha), but for now I’ll stop with saying this was good dialog particularly since it spawned from an article announcing the signing of our .163 hitting starting catcher.

Last edited 1 month ago by SouthernBuc
Wilbur Miller

Haha.

SouthernBuc

To beat my dead horse. I picture Ben as your classic corporate executive brought into turn around a bad situation. If he gets the team to the playoffs (success?) his resume will be golden and nobody(in the C level rooms) trying to hire him will care about the terrible teams. That stinks as a fan, but I think is the reality.

jaygray007

I mean, in the context of what this season is destined to be, I’m fine with this, as I am a sucker for some good defense. I will simply ignore the games when he is hitting and then adore his defense.

I also tend to believe that any lineup as room for precisely 1 black hole, and as mediocre as the pirates lineup is, Hedges projects as the only black hole.

That said, I do wonder if he made a few adjustments last yr. The k and bb numbers were healthier than ever. Maybe he’s a Haines masterclass away from being able to impact the ball just a tiny bit more.

Ultimately, I’m really just shocked that it seems like Roberto Perez won’t be back

postal911

Funny I see catcher, 2b, 3b, rf, lf and maybe 1b and dh as blackholes offensively. 😉

roberto

Really? That seems like an oversized list. While fielding stats are often misleading, I have seen enough of Santana, Choi, and Suwinski to respectfully disagree.

postal911

Santana and suwinski barely hit over .200. Choi .233. This team doesn’t have enough power to score, so they will need to put rallys together. Hard to do with .200 hitters. Reynolds is the only guy that I would bet will hit over .260. This offense will be bottom 5 unless we get some unexpected breakouts.

roberto

So Choi and Santana were among the most shifted players in MLB. Choi had a wRC+ of 116, and Santana had one of 102. With extreme shifts banned, these are two breakout candidates. Santana is the bigger risk due to age.

postal911

Hey i hope they both breakout, i just wouldn’t bet on it. I’ve heard some so called experts say the shift ban will not increase offense as much as people think.

forkball

I like this choice as well, and as long as they add a true CF with a decent OBP. I would also dream for another veteran starter…

roberto

So you mean Swaggerty?

jaygray007

True CF with decent obp go for a lot of money that they aren’t going to pay.

It’s gonna be Reynolds and Bae, and that’s totally fine IMO

TNBucs

Overall, I like the signing. It will look better if we can sign a strong corner OF/DH or 1B/DH type to make up for the offense we’re giving up with Hedges.

jaygray007

More precisely, a RH corner guy.
Just can’t imagine throwing suwinski and mitchell to the LHP wolves will go well for 600 PA

Cutch, grossman, Duvall, drury, Pollock, etc

Brantley is lefty but he isn’t embarrassing vs lefties, so he’d be great too

Last edited 1 month ago by jaygray007
leefieux

Was the Indian, er ah Guardian pitching staff good because of Hedges or because they just had some good pitchers?

Time will tell if this signing will help our young pitchers. I hope it does. Because, with him in the lineup, it is like we’re playing without a DH,

Last edited 1 month ago by leefieux
timbre21

Can the Pirates sign anyone who can hit above .230??? Insane

Wilbur Miller

I think the idea is to sign three guys who can hit .230 combined.

PiratePrimate

The NEW analytics. I like it. And it has that key element of being really cheap.

roberto

First, batting average is a pretty uninteresting stat. Second. It’s especially uninteresting for catchers. Third, few of the FA catchers would meet your criteria. But if you’ve got a couple of candidates, please share.

Zack

There are still a few major league caliber catchers available. I hope they sign another…maybe Narvaez as a bounce back?

Bucs'N'Pucks (Jeff Reed)

Narvaez had already signed a few days ago with the Mets

emjayinTN

In October, David Laurila of Fangraphs did an interview with Hedges – a must read. With a very young staff with the Guardians, Hedges managed to help them to 3rd in the AL in Pitching WAR and 4th in ERA. The Pirates pitching is also young and could use the assistance.

His strengths defensively, and especially working with and helping to develop a pitching staff, are some of the best skills in the game. Working with him for the 45 days of early reports and ST will be a great benefit to Endy Rodriguez, Henry Davis, and our other young Catchers.

A very smart signing considering the youth of both the Pirates Pitchers and Catchers. There are so many opportunities for a guy like him to recognize and tweak deliveries, grips, and most importantly, mental and physical approaches – he could provide benefits well into the future!

ArkyWags

Stockholm syndrome. Blink twice if you need to be rescued!

TNBucs

Yes, I like this aspect of the signing quite a bit. Heineman and Delay seem comparable stats-wise, but if there is one position where a veteran presence should help, it’s at catcher. As Anthony wrote, I’m sure this was a major factor in the signing:

“Hedges managed one of the youngest pitching staffs in baseball last year, caught in 105 games (started 97), and was a part of the 92-win Cleveland Guardians season.”

On a less positive note, though, Cleveland decided to move on from him despite circumstantial evidence that he did help their young staff exceed expectations. Though perhaps he was their plan b if they didn’t get Zunino for a similar price.

emjayinTN

It’s not only that Hedges has the recognition and Delay and Heineman could be almost as good, it’s that he’s the recognized epitome of a “Pitcher’s Catcher. Cleveland had him for 2021 and 2022. He’s done a heckuva job, and the Pirates need every edge they can get.

It’s not like when the Yankees were handing Martin and Cervelli to us on a platter. Stallings did well for awhile, but now we have somebody who can take Endy and Henry beyond where they are currently, and set the stage for a rebuild – no, it has not happened yet!

Just for S&G, Reynolds 5 years/$106 mil. $3 mil signing bonus payable 5/1/23 50%, 5/1/24 50%, Extension starting in 2024 $14, $17, $20, $23, $26 in 2028, and an Option for 2029 with a $3 mil buyout.

PiratePrimate

He won’t take it because he wants out! You guys think he asked for a trade to counter the Pirates contract offer? NO ONE will play for Nutting and this organization unless they have to!

Wilbur Miller

I don’t think the Reynolds situation is too mysterious. At least one report said they offered more total money than Hayes but fewer years. That would leave him a FA in his early 30s. Top players aren’t going for that any more because they’ve realized how little bargaining power they have then. That’s why we see all these extremely long contracts.
The Pirates had an edge with Hayes. He had two pre-arb years left and got almost 20 times what he’d otherwise have made then. Reynolds is past that. He’d be a fool to agree to a deal that ran out when he was 32-33. If that was the offer, it wasn’t a serious one.

PiratePrimate

Exactly! Offer him a similar contract to what the Cubs are supposedly paying Dansby Swanson-$175 million for 7 years- and stop pretending you’re running a major league franchise.

Wilbur Miller

Heineman and Delay seem comparable stats-wise

Not exactly. fWAR:

Heineman 0.5
Delay 0.2
Hedges -0.6

One of these is a downgrade from the other two.

And the fact is, the young pitchers made a great deal of progress this year with Heineman and Delay catching. Mostly the same guys sucked the year before with Stallings, yet the young Miami starters were terrific with Stallings this year, including the Cy Young winner. “Veteran presence” means “I see whatever I need to see to justify the result I want.”

SouthernBuc

Good info Wilbur. This is why I fight some the need to add veterans for their ‘experience'(my Newman debate). Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes and years of service does not mean leadership skills. There is absolutely times when a ‘vet’ can bring things to the table but at some point they also have to bring some on the field value (or clear increased value).

Wilbur Miller

Hodge ‘n Podge have been stressing the need for veteran presence ever since they took over. Every crappy veteran pickup was needed for veteran presence. Yet the Pirates have been eight games worse than any other team since the FO change, and they’re not the only rebuilding team. The veteran presences are producing failure, failure and more failure.

roberto

That is an excellent article

enriqueromo

Thanks for this informative and rational analysis

bhritz

I hoped to see Roberto Perez come back. He seemed to be a good teammate and had the confidence of the staff. Still, this is probably the better direction. Heges has a better track record for dependability; Perez just cannot stay on the field.

Anthony

I think you hit the nail on the head here

enriqueromo

Maybe they sign him to a minor league contract and he breaks with the team as the backup

Zack

That would be ideal!

JimEastTennessee

Infield defense…up
Pitch framing…up
game calling…up
Bullpen…(maybe) up
Starters…(my darkhorse) up
Offense…meh

77 wins

leefieux

Five more wins than .I have them down for and I am being optimistic.

timbre21

Hitting down unfortunately

SouthernBuc

And that is with the hitting bar already incredibly low.

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