On Friday, the Giants added veteran Rene Rivera on a minor league deal to shore up the emergency back-up catcher slot. On Monday, the Giants added veteran Stephen Vogt to a minor league deal to shore up the emergency, emergency back-up catcher slot.
Free agent catcher Stephen Vogt has agreed to a minor league contract with the Giants and is en route to spring training in Scottsdale. He had right shoulder surgery last May, but feels as great as ever. Not yet throwing from the crouch.— Janie McCauley (@JanieMcCAP) February 11, 2019
Vogt is unlikely to win the back-up job out of Spring Training. Last season, Vogt got into just three Double-A games before having season-ending surgery on his shoulder.
Vogt still needs to pass his physical, per source. That's not automatic given shoulder issues. @JanieMcCAP says he feels good but is not throwing from the crouch yet. https://t.co/IXi5N8DGiX— Alex Pavlovic (@PavlovicNBCS) February 11, 2019
At the time, the procedure was feared to be career-ending, but Vogt seems confident he’ll be able to play this season. In January, Vogt said that his shoulder is “feeling incredible.” Combine that with Mark Melancon saying his arm is pain-free, and that means we’re almost into “Best shape of his life” season.
If there’s anything that Farhan Zaidi loves more than versatility, it’s depth. Zaidi has stocked the rotation and catcher position like gallons of milk in a grocery store. When one goes down, another will slide into its place. In this analogy, the milk is replacement level.
When the offseason began, we were wondering who the back-up catcher was going to be in 2019. Now, we’re still wondering who it will be, but at least we’ve narrowed the list down to four names, at least until the Giants add AJ Ellis on Thursday. At present, the four names are Aramís García, Cameron Rupp, Rene Rivera, and Stephen Vogt.
We can also eliminate a name from that list because Nick Hundley will not be returning to San Francisco. He’s not going far, though. Hundley signed a minor-league deal with the A’s with an invite to Spring Training. In his time with the Giants, Hundley hit .243/.285/.413 for an 84 wRC+. I’ve written before that Hundley is a classic Giants back-up: a bat-first catcher who can’t actually hit, but maybe that’s too harsh. Last year, catchers had an 84 wRC+, so Hundley was perfectly average at the plate relative to his position.
He was, however, one of the worst framers in baseball during that time. Last season, Hundley’s -13.2 framing runs were only outdone by Willson Contreras’s -17.8, and Contreras had over 3,000 more opportunities. Even if he was creating a league average amount of runs at the plate, he was giving them back behind it.
If Vogt sticks in the organization past Opening Day, he could a useful player. Vogt is a career .243/.308/.406 hitter, and in his last three seasons he’s hit a touch better than that. Vogt has been a poor framer in his career, but in 2017 he turned things around. After putting up Hundley-esque numbers in 2015 and 2016, Vogt saved 9.5 runs with his framing. I’m optimistic enough to believe that it’s a permanent change. Framing, after all, is a teachable skill, and there’s no excuse to be consistently bad at it.
Stephen Vogt probably doesn’t move the Giants up from their 71-win projection, but if García struggles, Cameron Rupp falls into an open manhole, and Rene Rivera gets locked in a broom closet, he’ll help them not fall below 71 wins. That counts for something.