HomeMLB RumorsThe Marlins' Historically Feeble Catching Corps

The Marlins’ Historically Feeble Catching Corps

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The Marlins have been searching for a long-term answer at catcher since trading J.T. Realmuto to the Phillies back in February of 2019. The organizational hope at the time was that Jorge Alfaro, acquired alongside righty Sixto Sanchez and lefty Will Stewart in that very trade, could step up and fill the role. That never really came to fruition, and the Fish have cycled through him, Jacob Stallings and a long list of veteran role players in an effort to hold things over at the position.

It’s never gone particularly well, but it’s also never been as bad as it is right now. The Marlins opened the season with glove-first Nick Fortes and trade acquisition Christian Bethancourt lined up to shoulder the workload behind the plate. The results are quite literally some of the worst in history. Through the Marlins’ first 25 games — more than 15% of their season — they’ve gotten exactly five hits from their catchers. All have come from Fortes, who has three singles and a pair of doubles on the year. He’s 5-for-46 at the plate. Bethancourt is hitless in 23 plate appearances. Jhonny Pereda, recently selected from Triple-A Jacksonville to replace Bethancourt when he  hit the IL due to a viral illness, is 0-for-5 to begin his big league career. (Miami reinstated Bethancourt from the injured list today and optioned Pereda back to Jacksonville.)

Overall, Marlins catchers own a staggering .068/.117/.096 slash line on the season. That obviously places them at the bottom of the league; by measure of wRC+, Miami catchers have been 138% worse than league-average (-38). Since Realmuto left the Marlins, their catchers have combined for a .223/.285/.345 batting line in 2734 plate appearances.

The Fish likely knew the catcher’s spot would be a weak point in the lineup. Fortes hit just .204/.263/.299 in 323 plate appearances last season but is a plus defender behind the dish who was credited as being five runs better than average by both Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast in just 774 innings in 2023.

Bethancourt has more power (11 homers, .156 ISO last season) but hit just .225/.254/.381 thanks to a lofty 27.4% strikeout rate and paltry 3.9% walk rate. He’s a rocket-armed defender who’s thrown out one-third of attempted base thieves in his career and ranked in the 95th percentile of MLB catchers for his pop time behind the plate last season, however. True to form, he’s thrown out two of the three runners who’ve run against him this season.

Bethancourt is also likely a favorite of Miami president of baseball operations Peter Bendix, who was the Rays’ GM when Tampa Bay acquired Bethancourt from the A’s last year and who quickly acquired Bethancourt in a trade after the Guardians claimed him off waivers from the Rays.

At the time of that trade, it appeared likely to be one of multiple additions for the Fish. Bendix said shortly after being hired that it’d be “ideal” to acquire multiple catchers over the course of the offseason, recognizing that it was an area of organizational weakness. In the most literal sense possible, the Marlins accomplished that goal; Bethancourt was acquired via trade, and the aforementioned Pereda was signed as a minor league free agent. It’s hard to imagine that a cash swap and a minor league signing were the goal at the time of those comments from Bendix, however.

Marlins ownership clearly didn’t give the front office much to work with in terms of financial firepower this offseason. The team’s only major league free agent signing was a one-year, $5MM deal for Tim Anderson. The Fish made little to no effort to re-sign Jorge Soler after he opted out of the final year of his contract — and that’s according to Soler himself. Even on the eve of Opening Day, the Marlins were still trimming payroll, shipping utilityman Jon Berti to the Yankees in exchange for a pair of minor league outfielders.

The Marlins clearly believe they’ll get more offense out of Fortes and Bethancourt — a low bar to clear thus far in the season — as they’ve made no effort to augment the position thus far. Veteran Eric Haase and his modest $1MM salary passed through waivers unclaimed in late March. When the Giants designated Joey Bart for assignment, the Pirates acquired him in exchange for a relief prospect they drafted in the eighth round last year. Veterans Francisco Mejia (Brewers) and Curt Casali (Cubs) both signed minor league deals with other clubs after the season began.

Outside of Bart (a long shot), none of those names was likely to emerge as a long-term option. They’re generally short-term stopgaps at best and future DFA candidates themselves at worst. But given the total dearth of production the Marlins have received from the catching position this year, even a short-term stopgap seems like a wise target — particularly since the farm isn’t likely to produce any immediate help.

None of Miami’s top-tier prospects are catchers. Will Banfield is the most highly regarded of the bunch, ranking 16th in their system at Baseball America and 23rd at MLB.com. Banfield, however, carries a similar profile to that of Fortes — a plus defender with questionable offensive skills. He’s off to a woeful .161/.203/.304 start in Triple-A and has struck out in an eye-popping 49.2% of his 59 plate appearances. Joe Mack, whom the Marlins selected 31st overall in 2021, is another glove-first option who’s further down the ladder. He hit just .218/.295/.287 in High-A last year, though he did rip through pitching at that same level this year (.347/.467/.561) and earn a promotion to Double-A in the process.

Fortes, Bethancourt and Pereda won’t keep floundering at this severe a level, but none of that trio is likely to emerge as a solid offensive contributor either. There was inherent risk in entering the season with a pair of backstops who sport career wRC+ marks of 69 (Bethancourt) and 70 (Fortes). Things have gone worse than anyone could’ve reasonably expected, but it was always a possibility that the Fish would be rostering one of the least-productive catching tandems in the sport — if not the worst. The lack of any meaningful effort to address the deficiency is perplexing but feels like something that can and will be addressed via the trade market — whether at this year’s deadline or in the offseason.

Miami isn’t going to go out and trade prospects for an established veteran — not when their season is all but lost before the end of April — but if and when the Marlins begin selling off veterans of their own, targeting some upper-level catching help wouldn’t be a surprising outcome.

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