It's hard to argue that Carlos Ruiz is the same catcher he was a couple of seasons ago. What the Phillies do have though is another quality catcher in Cameron Rupp that the team can use in tandem with Ruiz to give them quality work behind the plate. For the present, the Phillies believe that the tandem of Ruiz and Rupp can not only give the team some help both offensively and defensively, but there's competition coming up behind them that will keep the team stocked behind the plate for the long-term.
GM Matt Klentak considers both Ruiz and Rupp to be quality major league backstops even though Ruiz has seen his numbers drop over the past few seasons. Rupp started to show stronger offensive numbers with regular playing time last season and both are considered strong in working with pitchers.
"I don't think that we have to worry with either of them behind the plate," said Klentak. "Catching is much more than just offensive numbers; you have to look at how they handle a staff, how pitchers like working with them and what they can do for you defensively. Both guys have those extra things that make them quality players who can help us."
Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro provide the team with two young prospects who still have work to do in the minors, but who are both considered strong candidates to be major league catchers at some point down the road. Knapp, who has always been strong, but was dominating in his time with the Double-A Reading Fightin Phils last season figures to open the year with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, while Alfaro, who is coming off of an ankle injury, will take up the duties at Reading for the 2016 season. Both are at very similiar stages in their development, but having them compete for playing time doesn't make sense.
"It doesn't make any sense to me, for them to be on the same roster. We'll try to get them on different rosters and get them going," said Phillies farm director Joe Jordan. "They both just need to play."
A lot can change in spring training or even throughout the season though, and it's possible that they could find themselves in different situations at some point. Knapp worked his way into playing first base for six games in the Arizona Fall League. Alfaro has also played at first base, manning the bag for 54 games throughout his minor league career. There has been talk that the Phillies could eventually look to have one or the other move to first base in an attempt to keep both at the major league level when they're ready to be there. How soon or even whether or not the Phillies will make the decision to do that is anyone's guess.
Further down the list of Phillies prospects are Deivi Grullon, Austin Bossart and Chace Numata. Grullon, who turns 20 next month, spent the 2015 season at Lakewood and showed some developing power - eight home runs in 424 plate appearances - but also hit just .221 with the 'Claws. As Klentak pointed out though, catching is more than just offense and Grullon plays well defensively and threw out 32-percent of runners attempting to steal against him last season, the highest percentage in his career. In other words, there are solid signs that Grullon may be developing the necessary skills that would allow him to help a team even if it's not with his bat. Of course, a .221 average isn't going to be enough to make him a quality player at the upper levels.
Bossart was at Williamsport for his first taste of professional baseball and showed a lot of promise. The 22-year old hit .333 in 146 plate appearances and threw out a whopping 39-percent of runners looking to steal. Those are the type of numbers that provide promise for the future of a young catcher, even though it's likely that the offensive numbers won't stay that high as he moves up the ladder.
Numata has a lot to prove, but also has some things to like about the potential for the future.
For now, the Phillies appear to have what they need throughout the organization to insure that the catching at the major league level will be, at the very least, average and likely somewhere above average. How things will work out long-term is the question, but the depth seems to guarantee that at least one of the group will be able to hang around for a while to provide strength behind the plate.