For the first time since 2016, the Rockies will not have Tony Wolters as their starting catcher. Wolters was non-tendered in December and signed a minor league deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates that includes an invite to spring training on February 11. Drew Butera also became a free agent in the offseason, which means that the Rockies catching position is up for grabs. They currently have just two catchers on the 40-man roster: Elias Díaz and Dom Nuñez. The two will likely be part of a catching duo (or trio, as the Rockies have had in years past), but which one will be the true starter? Let’s explore the scenarios of how things will likely shake out heading into Opening Day.
As it stands now, there isn’t really a clear frontrunner for official starter. However, I would guess that Elias Díaz would have the edge over Dom Nuñez (No. 22 PuRP) due to his status as an MLB veteran. Nuñez was a late call up in 2019 and spent 2020 on the taxi squad without any MLB action, whereas Diaz spent 2020 as part of the Rockies’ catching trio. In 26 games, Diaz slashed .235/.288/.353 with two homers in 68 at-bats. That’s good for a wRC+ of 59. Defensively, he posted a 0 DRS, which was better than his -21 the year before in Pittsburgh and tied for his career-best set in 2016. The biggest advantage he has over Nuñez is his status as a “veteran catcher,” but we’ll see what happens I suppose.
If Díaz is the projected starter, then Nuñez is likely the projected backup. Drafted as a middle infielder in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, Nuñez was converted to catcher, much like Wolters. He slowly worked his way through the Rockies system before having a breakout year in 2019 at Triple-A. In Albuquerque, he hit .244/.362/.559 with 17 home runs through 61 games. That’s good for a wRC+ of 116 and his best offensive season since Low-A Asheville in 2015. He was called up to join the Rockies after they DFA’d Chris Iannetta in August 2019, and in 10 starts, Nuñez slashed just .179/.233/.410 in 43 plate appearances. He did have two home runs, including one in his debut game. He did not see any action in 2020.
Outside of the two 40-man catchers above, the Rockies invited five other catchers to spring training this year — José Briceño, Max George, Willie MacIver (No. 32 PuRP), Chris Rabago, and Brian Serven (No. 43 PuRP). Of that group, Briceño, 28, is the only one with any major league experience. He has played in 48 games for the Los Angeles Angels between 2018-2020, and has a career slash of .238/.301/.377, good enough for a wRC+ of 87. He has a career DRS of 2. Briceño was assigned to the Angels’ alternate site in 2020 and only saw two games of action.
MacIver, 24, is also a converted infielder, but he converted from a college third baseman to a professional catcher. He was the Rockies’ ninth round pick in the 2018 draft and has yet to see any action above Low-A. MacIver took part in the fall instructional league in the 2020 offseason.
Serven, 25, was the Rockies’ fifth rounder in 2016. He has yet to play about Double-A, where he split time with Rabago, but likely will start in Triple-A in 2021. Serven also represented the Rockies in the Arizona Fall League in 2019.
On the farm
The Rockies drafted Drew Romo (No. 8 PuRP) in the Competitive Balance A round of the 2020 draft. He’s a switch-hitting catcher out of The Woodlands High School in Texas. Drafted 35th overall, he became the highest-drafted Rockies catcher ever. Romo has been known for his defense, which is something the Rockies pride themselves on with their catching corps. However, the 18-year-old is freshly drafted and likely will not see the majors for a few years.
In case of disaster
There are a few free agent catchers still out there. Old foes like Chris Hermann, Tyler Flowers, John Ryan Murphy, and Tuffy Gosewich are all available, as is old friend Jonathan Lucroy. However, if it really comes to that, it means the Rockies are having the most disastrous of disastrous seasons and it’s probably not worth it anyway.