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The Rockies are getting their ideal backup catcher in Jacob Stallings

Colorado Rockies news and links for Thursday, January 18th, 2024

As the quiet offseason of the Colorado Rockies continues and with less than a month until pitchers and catchers report to the team’s complex in Arizona, the winter is still marked by a now several weeks old signing. The Rockies signed right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson and catcher Jacob Stallings to one year contracts on January 5th. The Rockies had shown interest in Stallings dating back to the Winter Meetings, and his connection with Rockies special assistant Clint Hurdle and current starting catcher Elias Díaz was appealing to the team.

Hudson’s purpose is obvious. He slots in immediately to the back end of the rotation to provide much needed support to a still extremely battered starting pitching group that will be missing Germán Márquez and Antonio Senzatela in 2024. Stallings, on the other hand, is a bit more esoteric in his deployment. Stallings needs to be the Rockies’ backup catcher.

Names that come to mind for recent Rockies backup catchers are Drew Butera, a brief second stint with Dustin Garneau, and last year’s veteran backup in Austin Wynns. It is noteworthy that two of those catchers are now in coaching roles with big league organizations. Butera is a catching coach with the Chicago White Sox and Garneau is now the catching coordinator for the Rockies.

The Rockies of today have some interesting priorities when it comes to their secondary backstop. They aren’t just looking for someone who can fill in during the rare Elias Díaz off day and offensive capability is usually secondary to their needs. The Rockies tend to prioritize quality defenders, and more importantly, catchers who can be a strong clubhouse presence while mentoring young members of the pitching staff.

A Rockies Blog piece introducing Dustin Garneau as the team’s new catching coordinator exemplifies this philosophy in the very first paragraph:

“During his career as a backup catcher, the priorities for Dustin Garneau were playing solid defense and handling pitchers. He did both extremely well.”

Jacob Stallings fits this ideal to the letter. Stallings has turned in strong defensive showings throughout most of his career, culminating in a 2021 campaign during which he was worth 21 defensive runs saved and won a Gold Glove. He’s an excellent blocker, consistently in the upper percentile for blocks above average per Baseball Savant. Stallings also owns the MLB record for consecutive games without a passed ball. During his time with the Pirates he was consistently recorded as a strong pitch framer, though admittedly those metrics took a big hit during his time in Miami.

Stallings also does well handling the pitching staff, having worked with his fair share of young pitching talent during his time with the perpetually rebuilding Pirates and fairly young Marlins rotation. Stallings caught every pitch of Sandy Alcantara’s 2022 Cy Young winning season, in which he takes great pride.

“I got so much joy out of catching every single pitch Sandy Alcantara threw for his Cy Young year in 2022,” Stallings said. “To me, I know I had very little to do with it, but it felt like I won that Cy Young. And on the flip side, when guys don’t do as well, you wear it, too.”

Stallings will tasked with helping his former Pirates teammate Elias Díaz with handling the Rockies pitching staff. With a rotation full of pitchers looking to rebound—such as Cal Quantrill and Dakota Hudson—in 2024 and a bullpen that continues to get younger, two sets of steady hands to guide them are better than one.

There are some downsides to Stallings’ game. In addition to the previously mentioned framing difficulties in Miami he also struggled to throw out runners attempting to steal due to the increased base sizes and his relatively weak throwing arm. He also hit just .210/.287/.290 with seven home runs in his two years as a Marlin. However, he previously displayed very serviceable offense from 2019 to 2021 in Pittsburgh and does own a .899 OPS at Coors Field, so there is a chance his bat could rebound.

The Rockies have been very quiet this offseason but their need for a backup catcher was clear. The organization showed they did not believe Brian Serven was primed for the role when he didn’t play a single big league game after June 14th despite being on the 40-man roster. Serven was waived and is now in the Toronto Blue Jays’ system. Austin Wynns—who replaced Serven as the backup catcher—was outrighted off the roster after the season ended and is now with the Cincinnati Reds organization.

Stallings will be paid $1.5 million in 2024 with a mutual option for 2025. In him the Rockies are hoping to have their ideal backup catcher for the upcoming season and a potential starter if Elias Díaz departs before heir apparent Drew Romo is ready.

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