HomeSportsAn era of dynamic receivers is coming - UnlistedNews

An era of dynamic receivers is coming – UnlistedNews

Gabriel Moreno was at his home in Venezuela on December 23 when Ross Atkins, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, called him.

“I thought he was calling to wish me Merry Christmas,” Moreno said this month in Anaheim, California, somewhat sheepishly, through an interpreter.

Instead, Atkins was calling to say that the Blue Jays had traded the promising young receiver to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Seven months later, the 23-year-old Moreno is playing a vital role in the Diamondbacks’ surprisingly persistent hold on first place in the NL West.

He’s also one of a growing list of new receivers leading what could be a generational change at a position that, aside from Philadelphia’s JT Realmuto, Kansas City’s Salvador Perez and the now-retired Yadier Molina, had become one-dimensional.

“Everybody was looking for the catch,” said Bob Melvin, manager of the San Diego Padres, who was a backup catcher in the majors from 1985 to 1994. “Everybody was looking for not necessarily all the variables in the catch, just maybe. Once a defensive type or an offensive type and trying to get a lot out of a faction.

“But now you’re seeing some guys who are not only doing well defensively and offensively, but some are running decently and some are hitting in order.”

The two starting receivers in this week’s All-Star Game are 28-year-old rookies: Atlanta’s Sean Murphy and Texas’ Jonah Heim. Credit (or blame) the embattled Oakland A’s, who traded both rising stars.

Dodgers’ Will Smith, 28; Adley Rutschman of Baltimore, 25; and Elias Diaz, 32, of Colorado, will also be first-time All-Stars in Seattle. The only veteran in the group is Kansas City’s Perez, 33.

Talent evaluators across the game describe the recent period as one in which catchers were told to focus entirely on framing the pitch while hitting at the bottom of the order and bringing little else to their teams. It’s a style exemplified by the Yankees’ José Treviño, who was an All-Star last season.

That, however, is changing. This season, Atlanta, Arizona, Texas and Cincinnati (Tyler Stephenson, 26) lead their divisions at halftime with the help of receivers who contribute both offensively and defensively. And the Baltimore Orioles were serious players again in the AL East around the time they called up Rutschman last May.

“Adley Rutschman is going to be one of the best players in baseball for a long time if he can stay healthy,” said Kevin Cash, manager of the Tampa Bay Rays, who spent eight seasons as a backup catcher in the majors. He added of Murphy: “Stud. MVP”

“They haven’t had a lot of receivers here lately in consideration for perhaps the best players in our game,” Cash continued. “And I certainly think between Rutschman and Murphy, they’re pushing the envelope.”

Murphy, who is hitting .306 with 17 home runs, was a near-accidental acquisition from Atlanta last winter. The team was happy with its receiving tandem of veteran Travis d’Arnaud and 25-year-old William Contreras, the younger brother of Willson Contreras. But when the A’s told the industry they were going to trade Murphy, Atlanta switched gears.

“We didn’t plan on going for that position,” said Alex Anthopoulos, Atlanta’s president of baseball operations. “It was all about going after that specific player. Ideally for us, that would have been a player we were chasing for 2024, because we were in a great position.”

But rather than wait for Murphy’s free agency, Atlanta helped create a three-way trade with Oakland and Milwaukee in which Contreras landed with the Brewers and Murphy landed with the Braves. Anthopoulos, as he often does, moved quickly to put Murphy away for six years and $73 million.

“Someone who will provide production on both sides of the ball,” Anthopoulos said, essentially explaining the deficiency with receiving in recent years. “It’s not like out of season there are guys like that available.”

Texas had picked the Oakland pocket for Heim a year earlier. On February 6, 2021, the A’s traded Heim, outfielder Khris Davis, and minor leaguer Dane Acker to the Rangers for shortstop Elvis Andrus, catcher-first baseman Aramis Garcia, and cash.

“He was so good behind the plate,” Rangers manager Bruce Bochy, also a former catcher, said of Heim’s emergence last season. “The metrics showed it, but so did the vision test. He is a very good shooter, blocker. He is an exceptional receiver. Our launchers have all the confidence in the world in this guy.

“On the offensive end, he showed it early last year, but then he probably wore himself out a bit with all the receptions he made. So we’re trying to keep an eye on that.”

Bochy credits Rangers catching coach Bobby Wilson with helping accelerate the development of Heim, who has held up terrific behind the plate and is hitting .282 with 12 home runs.

heim; Rutschmann; Patrick Bailey of San Francisco, 24; and Seattle’s Cal Raleigh, 26, are all switch hitters, which brings another useful element into play. The Dodgers’ Smith leads all MLB catchers with an .890 on-base plus slugging percentage, just ahead of Heim (.812) and Rutschman (.786).

“Will Smith is phenomenal,” Anthopoulos said.

The crop of dynamic young receivers is emerging in an era when no position is changing more quickly. This year’s new rules have revived running games after years of inactivity and also forced catchers to call games more quickly thanks to the shot clock. If the automated ball and strike system is implemented in the near future, that will take things a step further by removing the concept of a field frame.

“I’m completely out of it,” Raleigh said of Seattle. “I think you’re taking away from a trade that people work in that can get people into the big leagues.”

But others think that tone framing has been overemphasized at the expense of other skills in recent years.

“Framing the pitch is the most used word in the Major Leagues,” said Buck Martinez, now a television analyst in Toronto after 17 years as a backup catcher in the majors and a season managing the Blue Jays in the early 2000s. “You know who frames good shots? Guys who have good pitching staffs.”

As the game changes, so does the definition of what it takes behind the plate. That includes more athletics in general. Arizona’s Moreno, like retired Yankees catcher Jorge Posada, is a converted center infielder. Posada was a second baseman in his first professional season before his position change helped set the stage for a Yankee dynasty. Moreno was a shortstop when he signed professionally at age 16, but the Blue Jays immediately began turning him into a catcher at their academy in the Dominican Republic.

“Something that that helped me a lot with is my ability to receive balls in the dirt, the short hops,” said Moreno, who shares the job with Carson Kelly after starting 45 of Arizona’s first 65 games when Kelly was out. with a fractured forearm. “That was the easiest part. The hardest part is blocking shots, getting used to being hit by the ball and the pain.”

The sheer physicality of the position has led teams to view it as a two-man job, which is why some settled for squads that weren’t left to right, but defensive and offensive leaning. Where Hall of Famer Johnny Bench caught 152, 147 and 141 games during his busiest seasons, Murphy (116) ranked second in the majors behind Realmuto (133) last year in games caught. Raleigh (115) was third.

“When you have a guy who can catch and hit at the top of the order, you have a potential Hall of Famer when you think about the guys who can do that together,” Martinez said, while emphasizing that managing the running game it was especially important with the new rules leading to such a high success rate on stolen bases.

The list of dynamic receivers should continue to grow.

Although Francisco Álvarez, 21, did not make the Mets’ opening day roster, he was called up in time for their home opener when Omar Narváez suffered a calf strain. Alvarez has smashed 17 home runs since then, already a Mets record for rookie catchers, and he’s rapidly improving behind the plate. His blocking abilities have been very good, especially evident with Kodai Senga’s devastating ghost fork.

Logan O’Hoppe, 23, of the Los Angeles Angels, was also on the road before suffering a labral tear in his left shoulder on April 25. The Angels hope he can return at some point down the stretch. And Cleveland recently recalled one of its top prospects, 23-year-old Bo Naylor, as it released veteran Mike Zunino.

“I love the fact that we have an influx of catchers who can hit and that offense is part of the priority,” said Arizona bench and catching coach Jeff Banister, who works extensively with Moreno. “Obviously, you want that to be one of your strongest defensive positions on the field. But it shouldn’t be a dark hole offensively.”


Sara Marcus
Sara Marcus
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.


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