Cincinnati Reds: Taking a look at internal catching depth


The upcoming offseason is a crucial one for the Cincinnati Reds, and catcher is one position they should evaluate.

Just two seasons ago, Tucker Barnhart won the 2017 National League Gold Glove award at catcher. He had the highest caught stealing percentage in the N.L. (among catchers that played consistently) at 44%. His .999 fielding percentage was also top in the league among consistent starters. 

Yet, the Cincinnati Reds shopped Barnhart over the 2018-19 offseason. Rumors swirled regarding the Miami Marlins and J.T. Realmuto, and if the Reds were willing to swing a deal which may or may not have included their starting backstop. Those rumors did not amount to anything, as Realmuto ended up in Philadelphia. 

So what changed for the Reds to look to move on from their presumed catcher of the future after they signed him to an extension in September 2017? 


Several factors played into why the Reds’ brass kicked the tires on switching gears. The Reds scored 57 fewer runs in 2018 than they did in 2017. Both seasons saw their record fail to reach 69 wins and have not seen a season of at least 70 wins since 2014 when they won just 76. That still has not dug the Reds out of their fourth-place (or worse) hole. 

Barnhart is not notorious for his hitting. A career .249 hitter, Barnhart hit .270 in 2017 with a .347 on-base percentage and .248 in 2018 with a .328 OBP. His career-high in home runs is just 10. Meanwhile, 51 is the highest total runs batted in for the catcher. 


The Reds need to see more production from their lineup in whatever way they can obtain it. They tried to do so by acquiring Yasiel Puig in December 2018 and have been pleasantly surprised with youngsters Nick Senzel, Phil Ervin and Josh VanMeter. After moving Puig and their No. 1 prospect, Taylor Trammell, at the trade deadline for Trevor Bauer, the path was paved for Aristedes Aquino and his unprecedented domination.

Barnhart is signed through the 2021 season and has a team option for the 2022 season. If he continues at the rate he is hitting (.229 with nine homers and a 75 OPS+ in 2019), the Reds probably won’t be picking up that option. The Reds also have several young catchers rising through the minor leagues, including a former first-round draft pick. These players are some of the young catchers worth highlighting and keeping tabs on as each season approaches and progresses. 

Pabel Manzanero

The way I have gone about highlighting some of the Reds’ catching depth is that I selected the top catcher at each level of the minors, and I also chose who I think is the catching prospect most fit for big-league action. At the Low-A level, Pabel was the only Dayton Dragons representative at the Midwest League All-Star Game. He was hitting .280 with 10 home runs before a promotion to High-A in July. He is six-foot-3 and around 230 pounds. Do I see him sticking to catcher? It is not likely, but Pabel’s bat is one to watch as he climbs the ranks. 

Hendrik Clementina

Acquired at the 2017 trade deadline in addition to Scott Van Slyke, Hendrik made a name for himself in his first full season with the Reds organization. He was the Reds’ Minor League Hitter of the Month in May 2018 when he went 23-for-70 and hit seven home runs. 


In 2019 at High-A, Hendrik hit .249 with 14 homers and threw out 11 runners. However, he allowed 68 stolen bases. Clementina is another large-sized catcher, listed at 250 pounds and six-feet tall. He may be another Reds minor league catcher who makes a position change as he advances through the system.

Chris Okey

Okey was the Reds’s second-round draft pick in 2016, right behind Nick Senzel. He was drafted out of Clemson and considered one of the top college backstops in the draft, one that also featured current Oakland A’s catcher Sean Murphy, a Wright State ballplayer. 

Okey has seen game action at each level of the Reds’s system aside from Cincinnati. His fielding has been his exceptional statistic. He posted a .984 fielding percentage and threw out 20 runners while allowing 56 swiped bags between Double-A and Triple-A in 2019. If his hitting can improve a bit, Okey may find himself donning a Reds uniform. In 2019, he hit a lowly .209 with seven of his 38 hits being home runs.

Chadwick Tromp

Not as common a name as Okey or Clementina, Tromp has quietly provided solid catching that has seen him reach Triple-A. 2020 will be his age 25 season, and Tromp may be giving the Reds reason to bring him up to provide depth over Casali, Farmer, and Juan Graterol. 

Tromp hit .280 in 42 games across rookie-ball and Triple-A. His fielding percentage in 2019 was .992; in 2018 it was .988. Tromp has thrown out 32 runners and allowed 70 stolen bases in the past two seasons. His career totals in the minors have given him a reason to rise, and if he can put it together and perform at the peak of his game knowing he is on the cusp of the major-league level, Tromp could be an interesting player to watch.

Tyler Stephenson

Out of all the catchers in the Reds’ organization not named Barnhart, Casali or Farmer, Tyler Stephenson is the most ready to take over not just a major league roster spot, but even the starting role in the everyday lineup. 

Granted, he has not played a game above Double-A, but Stephenson has proven he can really play well when healthy. (Injuries affected his 2016 and 2017 seasons.) In 89 games, Stephenson hit .285 with 19 doubles and six home runs, compiling a .782 OPS. His fielding percentage over the last two seasons averages .994 and his stolen base-caught steeling totals are 155-54. For comparison, this 35% caught stealing average is higher than Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Contreras’s current 2019 scores (29%). J.T. Realmuto has a 47% caught-stealing average and Tucker Barnhart currently has a 22% average.

It remains to be seen what Stephenson can do at a level higher, but he is only 23 years old. The Reds have maybe a season or two before they absolutely must assess their catching position, but it is something to think ahead about. 

With the team officially being eliminated from playoff contention for 2019, the 2020 season must see massive improvement. This is especially important with players such as Trevor Bauer being in his last season of control and players such as Michael Lorenzen and Amir Garrett going to see pay raises. 

Since Tucker Barnhart is signed for the next few seasons, the Reds have time. They also have options, and I am sure they would love to see one of the catchers mentioned above truly blossom and create a reason for them to contribute to the big-league club. However, if the Reds want to win more games in 2020 than they have the past several seasons, they must hope those catchers can blossom now.


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