The Phillies have been searching for their next franchise catcher for quite some time. It was nothing short of a complete accident that they fell into a converted second-basemen from Panama who would become of the most beloved players in the team’s history and will forever be known as "Chooch".
Carlos Ruiz’s time as the everyday backstop in Philadelphia is over. It actually has been over even before Ruben Amaro signed him to a three-year, $24 million extension before the 2014 season. Day-in and day-out, through two World Series appearances, a World Series Championship, a Roy Halladay perfect game, a Roy Halladay playoff no-hitter, and a Cole Hamels no-hitter in his finale as a Phillie, Chooch has been there.
In the countless discussions Amaro had with inquiring teams for Hamels he would always ask for that given team’s most talented catching prospect. And most times it was a deal-breaker. Hamels would have been a Red Sox a long-time ago if they were willing to part with switch-hitting Blake Swihart. His eventual destination, the Texas Rangers, at first squawked at parting with Jorge Alfaro. They later agreed and Hamels is theirs.
Alfaro is not the team’s first attempt to fill this black hole in the organization. Going back three years, the key piece in the Hunter Pence deal to San Francisco was top catching prospect Tommy Joseph. With his flashes of power, the former second-round pick in 2009 draft was viewed as a Mike Lieberthal-type, who could be Ruiz’ heir-apparent. Fast forward to 2015 and following several concussions, Joseph is now a first-baseman with a sub .200 average in AAA.
The best catching prospect Philadelphia has had in recent history has been Travis d’Arnaud. He was ranked as high as second in the system before be dealt to Toronto as part of the Halladay package. He was later traded again to the Mets for another Cy Young award winner, R.A. Dickey. Health has been his only Achilles heel. When not on the disabled list, D’Arnaud has been a great two-way player with massive power potential, as seen in the Mets’ recent four-game sweep of the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
While the acquisition of Alfaro seemed to have finally filled the gaping hole, there are two other names that have quietly emerged and thrown their names into the hat for Phillies future catcher. Behind door #2 is Andrew Knapp. The 2013 second-round pick never really wowed anyone in his brief stint. In High A last season, hit just .157 and .262 this year, with just two home runs.
Knapp was pushed to Double A Reading mid-season and exploded. In 48 games, Knapp is hitting .381, with 10 home runs and 53 runs batted in. Knapp is a switch-hitter with a fairly patience eye. His previous high in home runs was five, so the recent power surge may not continue, but he will have to be watched for a possible promotion to Philadelphia sometime next year.
Finally, we can’t ignore Cameron Rupp. Long considered just a defense specialist, he has shared time at every level; never see more than 344 AB’s in a season since being in 2010. Rupp can throw with the best of them, but in 2014 when he was brought up from Triple A because of injury, he was batting just .165 over 219 PA’s. He went on to hit .183 in 18 games, but garnered great respect for his defense and game-calling.
Rupp's bat has come alive some this season, as he started as the backup, but has pretty much split the starts down the middle since June and with the promotion of several young arms that he has caught in recent years that Ruiz has not, Rupp will see more time as we wine down the season. His defense makes him the perfect second catcher to whoever wins the “catcher of the future” contest between Alfaro and Knapp.
The big money is on the top prospect Alfaro being he, along with Nick Williams, were the two biggest chips in the Hamels trade, but it’s a big credit to the Phillies brass that in a short period the catching position has taken such as positive turn.