clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2016 Baseball Position Battles: Catcher

Baseball season starts this Friday with a 3 game series at The Hawk against the University of San Diego Torreros. Back to the only sport that matters. Today, we take a look at the backstops.

Little known hazard of catching - getting ball-tapped when going for a hug.
Little known hazard of catching - getting ball-tapped when going for a hug.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Today, we'll look at the backstops.  Up next are pitchers (where it doesn't appear any role, outside of Kyle Wright on Fridays or Saturdays, is locked in), which will likely be broken up into Starters, Middle Relievers, and Closers and Set-Up Men.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan a stately pleasure-dome decree; in Nashville, we've got Hawkins Field.


Departing Players


This position is the lone position group without any attrition or newcomers.  As such (and seeing as both Ellison and Delay are pretty much the same players they were as freshmen) I'm just going to post what I wrote about them in last year's Preseason Guide in which I profiled them in depth.  Last year's post will be in quote text, and I'll write any relevant updates below the write-up on each player.  Let's dial up the way back machine to one year ago today...

Position Preview: Catchers

I know this is a cop-out, but I'm not even sure if Corbs knows quite yet who will emerge from the two-man race for catcher between sophomores Karl Ellison and Jason Delay when it's all said and done. Whomever gets the start today will likely split time with the other throughout the season. Neither set the world on fire with the bat last year. Karl handles pitches in the dirt better; Jason frames the plate better. Both are solid catchers, but will need to improve on their freshman campaigns to become impact players.

The Dirt Devil

#25 C Karl "I don't remember giving him a nickname last year" Ellison

6'0" 200lb R/R Sophomore

Karl likely gets the starting nod today, as he gives the best hugs. Aside from that, Fulmer's slider is a dirt-pounder, and Ellison was the better of the two at handling balls in the dirt (*phrasing) last year. He's a solid defensive catcher, but will need to improve on pitch framing, transitioning from catching position to throwing position more quickly, and becoming more consistent with the bat. Last year, he hit .192/.352/.219 with only one XBH (a 3B). While that's a fine OBP, the avg and power stats were hot garbage, and need to improve. Back to the defensive side of things, Karl's opponents stolen base success rate of .917 (11 stolen bases allowed, 1 caught stealing) is simply not going to cut it. Teams will take one look at that and run like hell. Karl is the faster runner of the two, but that's a bit like being the prettiest Waffle House waitress.

2015 Stats:

Batting: .215/.291/.282, 4 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 1-1 SB-ATT

Fielding: .991 Fielding %, 14 SBA, 12 CS, .538 SBA%

2016 Updates:

  • Obviously, he's a Junior now.  He also gained 10lbs over the year and is now listed at 210lbs.
  • Karl is still the best catcher w/r/t balls in the dirt.  And it's still not particularly close.
  • Karl improved at the plate, though marginally (up .023 BA, .063 SLG, down .061 OBP), so he likely is who he is with the bat - a slightly higher than Mendoza level hitter.
  • Hot Karl improved his ability to hold the runner exponentially, going from throwing out only 1/11 runners in '14 to 46% of them in '15.  He is now more than respectable at controlling the base paths.  Anything over 40% in this category is generally considered good, with 60%+ considered great.
  • I gave Karl a nickname last year!  Hot Karl!  (It was regrettable, yes, but let the record show it existed.)  Also, I technically dubbed him "The Dirt Devil" in that very preview, so I'm not sure why I was so worried about that.  Both of them will be acceptable this year.
  • Ellison started approximately 3/5 of the games, or a 3:2 ratio over Delay.  He was, as suspected, Carson Fulmer's personal catcher.
  • With Fulmer in the White Sox system, there are still some Vandy pitchers who pound the dirt, and of whom Ellison will likely catch most of their pitches.  I expect him to catch every Kyle Wright start, and sub in for Delay if Hayden Stone (more on his return from injury in the Relief Pitchers Position Battle Preview) gets the call from the pen.
  • He not only gives the best hugs, but he's a damn fine high fiver.

Captain Frame Job

#5 C Jason "The Rain" Delay

6'0" 200lb R/R Sophomore

Coming into last season, The Rain was the more heralded of the two catching prospects, and wrestled the starting job from Man-Mountain Chris Harvey pretty much right away. Delay was sold as a catching savant - a wizard with the glove and a hose for an arm. Delay's .994 fld% speaks to this ability. However, Ellison sports a .995 fld %. No clear winner there. Delay was better with the bat, hitting .246/.374/.325 with 9 XBH (all 2Bs). He's got a strong arm, but needs to speed up the transition between catching and throwing, as was evident by opponents' .711 stolen base success rate against him. Sure his "stolen bases allowed to caught stealing" numbers were worlds better than Hot Karl's (11-27 as opposed to 1-11), but he's going to want that to dip below the .600 threshold before it's billed as an asset. I still think Delay's the better prospect going forward, but he lost the trust of his pitchers and coaching staff a bit with a few passed balls in the tournament. He'll have to fight that perception and regain the trust of his pitching staff to lock down this job.

In short, I expect this to be about as close to a 50-50 split w/r/t playing time between the two sophomore catchers, and fully expect Corbs to ride the hot hand. I'd like the hand that gets hot to be Delay's, as he has more raw ability, but I wouldn't force it. It should be an open competition all season long. However, if Delay is given the nod today, that might represent that he's done enough in preseason practice to regain the trust of Fulmer and Corbs, as Hot Karl caught Fulmer exclusively down the stretch last year.

2015 Stats:

Batting: .283/.373/.394, 8 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 23 RBI, 0-0 SB-ATT

Fielding: .997 Fielding %, 13 SBA, 7 CS, .650 SBA%

2016 Updates:

  • Though he's a Junior now, he remains the same height and weight.
  • Delay made great strides with the bat, raising his BA by .037, and his SLG by .069.  He is, without a doubt, the better offensive player, as his bat places him amongst the upper tier of all NCAA catchers.
  • The Rain improved his SBA% from .711 to .650 (meaning last year, he threw out 29% of those attempting to steal, whereas last year he gunned down 35% of would be base runners).  This is a marginal improvement over last year, but at least opponents' scouting reports won't scream Run!!!
  • Whereas Delay clearly wins the statistical battle offensively with Ellison, he continued to struggle with balls in the dirt enough that he's still likely a liability with pitchers who pound the dirt with splitters, hard sliders, and spike curves.  I'd be surprised if we ever saw him catch Wright or Stone this year.  Of course, this had to be his #1 priority in the offseason for the second year in a row, so perhaps he has corrected for this flaw.  If so, watch out.  Cure that achilles heel, and Delay could prove to be an integral piece on the '16 team - and would likely fly up MLB draft boards.  This is a huge if, though.  Like last year, we may know this by the end of week one.

The Rookie

#33 C Tristan Chari

6'2' 200lb S/R Freshman

Chari's a local kid out of Montgomery Bell Academy. Beyond that, I don't know much about him. I suppose I could call my friend who teaches there and ask his opinion, but he's British and would probably disparage him for not joining the cricket team he coaches. If he sees any game action this year, I'll provide a write-up.

That's it. Start thinking up an excuse to leave work early, as there is never an excuse to miss seeing Carson Fulmer pitch. I'll be streaming it live, having a few beers, and doing my best to ignore the lady friend's attempt to make this weekend about Valentine's Day.

2015 Stats:

*Take this with a grain of salt, as he only got 4 ABs all year, and started no games.

Batting: .500/.600/.500, 0 2B, 0 3B, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 0-0 SB-ATT

Fielding: .1000 Fielding %, 0 SB, 0 CS

2016 Updates:

  • Chari is no longer "The Rookie."  He is now "The Sophomore."
  • Everything else is what I would have written, verbatim, except the bit about Carson Fulmer (single tear).
  • Even though the start of the 2016 season doesn't conflict with V-Day, I still find myself writing these articles, putting off making a reservation for V-Day dinner.  We're seeing Avenue Q on V-Day, so I think I'm doing pretty all right...
  • (Lady friend punches my arm, reminding me she got the tickets, so it absolves me of nothing.)