Pirates prioritize enjoying time, expertise as trio battles for backup catcher spot

After enduring a season wherein the Pittsburgh Pirates used eight catchers, breaking the emergency glass for an ill-fated inning with a place participant, Ben Cherington wasn’t about to permit their backstop to develop into a laughingstock once more.

The Pirates normal supervisor regarded sensible after buying and selling NL Gold Glove winner Jacob Stallings to Miami and instantly signing two-time AL Gold Glove winner Roberto Perez, however had egg on his face when Perez suffered a torn hamstring Might 7 that required season-ending surgical procedure.

So, Cherington got down to deal with the depth behind the plate for the Pirates this offseason. He designated backups Jason Delay and Tyler Heineman for project, clearing 40-man roster house whereas conserving each within the system. Cherington signed Austin Hedges, considered an elite defender, to a one-year, $5 million contract. And he added eight-year veteran Kevin Plawecki on a minor league deal.

All the strikes had been made to strengthen the catcher place within the quick time period with out blocking the paths to the majors of prime prospects Endy Rodriguez and Henry Davis. No marvel Pirates supervisor Derek Shelton provided that groups “can by no means have an excessive amount of catching depth” and referred to as it a place that’s “gold within the trade.”

“Simply the truth that the 2 guys that had been catching loads for us the second half of the season are nonetheless right here however off the roster and competing to get again on the crew, hopefully it means we’re deeper,” Cherington mentioned final month at Grapefruit League media day in Dunedin, Fla. “It’s a protracted season. I don’t suppose we felt like we had been quick at catcher going into final spring coaching. It’s form of like pitching, you may by no means take it as a right.”

Truly, the Pirates had been woefully quick at backup catcher final spring.

Taylor Davis, Michael Perez and Jamie Ritchie had a mixed 176 profession main league video games, with 154 belonging to Perez. When none of these three secured the position behind Perez, Andrew Knapp was signed the day earlier than the season opener.

The place Derek Shelton ordained Hedges the beginning catcher from the beginning of spring coaching, the Pirates supervisor knew it could require creativity to get sufficient repetitions for the handful of backup candidates. That Hedges and Plawecki had been taking a crash course in familiarizing themselves with the pitching employees solely added to the urgency.

“The problem with catching is, when we now have a C2 spot that there’s competitors for, getting reps for catchers is difficult,” Shelton mentioned. “We’ve got a brand new starter in Hedges and we now have guys competing for the backup job, so that you wish to be certain that they’re capable of catch everybody, whether or not it’s in sides or reside BPs or video games.”

With solely 10 Grapefruit League video games remaining, the Pirates are nearing time to decide on their backup catcher. None has distinguished themselves on the plate — Delay is batting .167 (2 for 12), Plawecki .154 (2 for 13) and Heineman .071 (1 for 14) — however all three realized loads from their expertise final season.

Courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates catcher Kevin Plawecki takes half in a spring coaching exercise March 3, 2023, in Bradenton, Fla.


A 2012 first-round decide by the New York Mets, Plawecki has a profession .235/.313/.341 slash line with the Mets, Cleveland, Boston and Texas. Regardless of a status as a sport caller, the Pink Sox made an unpopular transfer of their clubhouse by designating Plawecki for project in mid-September after a disappointing season the place he batted .217 with 12 RBIs and a .574 OPS in 60 video games.

Plawecki promised that he’ll present a optimistic presence within the clubhouse and dugout with the Pirates. He launched the membership music, “Dancing on My Personal,” to the Pink Sox by utilizing it as his walk-up music and enjoying it always throughout their run to the 2021 ALCS run so it grew to become their crew anthem in victory celebrations.

“After I’m enjoying, you’re going to get 100%,” mentioned Plawecki, 32. “After I’m not, I’m making an attempt to maintain the vitality excessive, staying prepared, making an attempt to assist the younger guys learn sure conditions like the place they could pinch hit and keep locked into the sport in order that they’re not stunned by something. I’m making an attempt to ensure guys are staying optimistic all through, win or lose; there’s a sure approach to lose, a sure approach to win.

“Creating that atmosphere and whether or not I’m enjoying that day or not, being the identical man day by day and making an attempt to have enjoyable. When you get on a roll with successful, it’s quite a lot of enjoyable. There’s not one factor I can convey. I’ve by no means been a real starter, so simply discovering methods to remain concerned and assist the crew as when I’m within the lineup.”


Courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates catcher Tyler Heineman takes half in a spring coaching exercise March 3, 2023, in Bradenton, Fla.


Heineman, 31, can relate to the bouncing across the majors however by no means performed in additional than 15 video games in a season with Miami, San Francisco or Toronto earlier than batting .211 with six doubles and eight RBIs in 52 video games for the Pirates final summer season.

Heineman mentioned he didn’t permit the strikes so as to add Hedges and Plawecki have an effect on his offseason plans. For the primary time in his profession, Heineman devoted his coaching to extend his arm energy, doing plyometrics and following a throwing program.

“I’ve been round for awhile so I do know that groups try this they usually’re making an attempt to enhance their crew, proper?” Heineman mentioned. “Having that yr within the huge leagues and attending to know what I’m good at and what I battle with helps me with a plan going into the offseason. No matter who they signal — they might signal 15 guys, they might signal no person — I’m making an attempt to get higher and I’m making an attempt to enhance on the issues that I’m eager to get higher at.”


Courtesy of Pittsburgh Pirates

Pirates catcher Jason Delay takes half in a spring coaching exercise March 3, 2023, in Bradenton, Fla.


Delay, 28, had been demoted to bullpen catcher at Triple-A Indianapolis and hadn’t performed in 16 days when he was referred to as up after Heineman took household medical depart when his spouse underwent an emergency C-section to ship their daughter.

Delay all the time had a robust status behind the plate however he stunned even himself by batting .213 with six doubles, a house run and 11 RBIs in 57 video games. Delay, who earned an economics diploma at Vanderbilt, spent the offseason engaged on his offense and finishing his MBA program, with a focus in finance, at Johns Hopkins.

“I might say the largest factor is it gave me the boldness enhance,” Delay mentioned. “Baseball is a really psychological sport and once I was in that stage the place I wasn’t enjoying, it’s an actual blow in your confidence. To get referred to as up and carry out effectively and do issues I do know I’m able to, the largest factor this offseason was gaining that confidence enhance coming into this yr. Now I’m on the level the place I do know I actually belong within the huge leagues and it’s a spot I can carry out and keep.

“If there’s one factor I’ve realized, it’s that individuals all the time want catchers. Simply having that main league expertise goes a great distance on a catcher’s resume. The expertise is large. I’m excited to construct off of it.”

Regardless of splitting begins this spring whereas batting for the backup job, all three catchers are treating the competitors as if they’re preventing for the beginning job as an alternative of only a spot on the Opening Day roster.

“The one factor you do as a participant is attempt to put your finest foot ahead and play the very best you probably can,” Heineman mentioned. “You don’t have a look at it like (Hedges is) the starter. You’re making an attempt to beat everyone out. That’s the very best outlook and mindset which you can have.

“Yeah, he’s established. Yeah, he’s obtained service time. Yeah, he’s on a major-league deal. However I believe you’re shortchanging your self and never permitting your self to succeed in your full potential if you happen to’re like, ‘We’re preventing for the backup job.’ No, we’re preventing for taking part in time. We’re preventing for making an attempt to supply for our household and be the very best that we are able to. Meaning going after probably the most enjoying time attainable. Whether or not he’s the starter or not — and it’s wanting like that — your mindset needs to be, ‘I’m going out and making an attempt to play as a lot as I can.’”

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Overview employees author. You possibly can contact Kevin by e mail at kgorman@triblive.com or through Twitter .

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