Devin Mesoraco recently began his rehab assignment in Louisville, going 1-4 with a grand slam, 2 walks and 2 strikeouts in his first game. With Mesoraco succumbing to another injury half-way through his comeback campaign, who knows how long he will be able to hold up and stay on the active roster. Even though it is “only” a shoulder strain, there is no telling how long it will linger or if it will lead to other complications. That being said, I thought it would be fitting to talk a bit about Tucker Barnhart.

Barnhart was selected in the tenth round of the 2009 draft and made his Reds debut in 2014. His career minor league line of .260/.341/.356/.697 shows a decent hit and on-base ability but a big lack of power. His offense was bolstered by strong defense, highlighted by throwing out 41% of potential base stealers.

During his time with the Reds, Barnhart has played the role of both backup and starter. He was used sporadically in 21 games in 2014 as a third catcher while Mesoraco had his breakout campaign and Bryan Pena amassed -0.6 WAR as the backup. Mesoraco got injured in 2015, allowing Barnhart to take over full-time backup duties with Pena still starting. Another injury to Mesoraco in 2016 gave Barnhart the starter’s role last year, racking 0.9 WAR in 115 games. He has retained the primary catching role this year with Mesoraco easing back into the lineup, earning 1.2 WAR in the first half, good for twelfth in the league for catchers.

The take on Tucker is generally that he is a great backup catcher but probably not a starter. He can handle as many games as needed and improve the defense without giving up much offensively, which is everything a team can want from a bench player. The question that has arisen in recent years with Mesoraco being hurt is whether or not he can/should be the Reds everyday catcher.

The following numbers compare Tucker with the average MLB catcher’s season since 1970, as well as the breakout between starters and backups. The determination of backup vs starter was made purely based off plate appearances, which will be inaccurate for a handful of instances due to injuries but should not affect the numbers given the large sample size.


[Stats from; all MLB catchers’ seasons 1970-2017, minimum 100 PA]

Tucker compares very favorably to backup catchers but does not quite stack up with the starting catchers, at least offensively. Despite his strong hit and on-base ability, his lack of power is where he falls behind. Defensively, he ranks ahead of the starting catchers and is currently posting the third best defensive campaign according to FanGraphs defensive metric. As a slightly below average catcher overall, the numbers bear out the narrative that surrounds Tucker. If the Reds can find a way to keep Tucker in an expanded backup role, that would provide the most benefit to the team.

Going forward, the future is as clear as mud for this Red’s team, with the catcher’s spot proving no exception. There are still moving pieces all over the organization and with the trade deadline only a couple weeks away, everybody is potential trade bait during another potential last-place finish. Four of the bottom five teams in terms of WAR production from the catcher position are in the playoff race, as the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Nationals and Red Sox have all struggled to find a reliable backstop.

The market appears to be there if the right offer presents itself, but the question is, are the Reds prepared for life without Barnhart? As far as top prospects go, Chris Okey is struggling at Daytona while Tyler Stephenson is performing well in Dayton, but neither is close to ready for the big leagues. Having recently released minor league catcher Rob Brantley, the organization appears committed to holding onto Rule 5 draft pick Stuart Turner for the duration of the year. Even so, a combination of a banged up Mesoraco and unproven Turner does not inspire much confidence.

As we sit now, it appears that Tucker is an important part of this Reds team that provides stability and slightly below average production. If Devin Mesoraco was more of a sure thing and Stuart Turner had shown some signs of life in his limited action, trading Tucker this year would seem a bit more realistic. Given that he still has three years of team control left, I would expect Barnhart to remain on the team for at least another year. Seeing that he does not compare favorably with the average starting catcher, an extension down the road does not seem very likely, as he would probably earn a decent contract as a free agent.  Depending on how quickly the Reds can become competitive and how confident they are in the other options, Barnhart will remain an interesting asset going forward.

21 Responses

  1. Gaffer

    Good to see the data but man this is a non issue. The reds need Tucker and will keep him as long as he is cheap. Heck, I bet he is the starter in 2019.

  2. Jack

    Everybody is tradeable. Tucker isn’t a starter. He is a great backup and complements Devon well. He doesn’t hit enough as a everyday starter. How many weak links do we need in the lineup? The Reds need a good hitting catcher that can provide defense. Will Mez ever get back to that point? Who knows but he can’t stay in the lineup enough to get comfortable at the plate. We know whst tucker brings but we don’t know what Turner provides them. Why didn’t he get the mojority of the starts when Mez was out? Right now he is the back up QB who sits around and collects a check.

    • Alex

      A good hitting catcher? I think if a kid can hit in the minors you immediately move his position. Stephenson is a 6’4 catcher drafted in the first round because of his bat and for the second straight year he won’t play a full season because of injury. Don’t think we need to get started on the other catcher injuries. I think yadi is the last of his kind and you will see less and less hitting catchers because the risk has become so great, if a kid can hit, they will move positions for fear he gets hurt.

    • jazzmanbbfan

      All indications are that Turner is a good defensive catcher who is a much worse hitter than Tucker. At least that’s what I think I read more than once last winter and spring. Someone correct me if I’m wrong on that. He hasn’t played enough to fairly evaluate his bat this year so the reports would be based on past performance.

    • Abdul

      He’s not a starter? Then who is the starter? Mesorasco?

    • Jack

      Turner! Did you miss thst part of my comment? He is sitting on the bench doing nothing. He provides,the same defense as tucker. I love tucker and,Devon as a tandem. Bit if somebody offers us something for him you take it and move Turner in his spot. Tucker is 12 th in war. He’s replaceable..

  3. Ed Koverman

    As poor as we have been the last four years everyone is tradable

    • Bill

      If that’s true let’s trade the front office for a bucket of practice balls & the manage & coaches for a couple of bats.

  4. sandman

    “Everybody is potential trade bait”…I suppose you’re part of the perpetual rebuild crowd. Just keep trading everybody every year until the Reds somehow manage to magically put together an entirely new group of kids that just happen to play winning baseball. Keep no one, huh! How are we ever going to get back to winning baseball if the Reds trade nearly everybody evey year. The way you guys are talking we’ll never get back to winning baseball unless a group gets lucky. We are supposed to be in the part of the rebuild where we start keeping more than we trade and by keeping I’m talking about keeping most of the good ones (at the very least). As far as the subject matter of Barnhart, I wanna say trade him but it makes more sense to keep him at least until Mesoraco can stay healthy for a full season at which point he’ll hopefully regain his offensive prowess.

  5. Abdul

    Honestly it makes sense that the Red’s management would trade Barnhart and keep a guy who has a handfull of starts in 3 years. 99.9% of normal teams wouldn’t do it but the Red’s, yeah.

  6. showops

    I believe Mesoraco is under contract only through next year, at $13 million (vs. $7.2 this year). Given the current state of Reds catchers, including reasonably estimated time to MLB for our minor league prospects, it seems to me now would not be the time to seriously consider trading Tucker without a Godfather offer.

    • showops

      Didn’t see Jim’s more complete reply before submitting mine.

  7. TR

    It seems to me Barnhart is more valuable as a Red than anyone they can get for him in a trade, certainly at the present time with Mesoraco not 100% physically and no one in the pipeline to do a better job than Barnhart in a key position.

  8. james garrett

    Tucker is a good defensive catcher but do you lose much with Turner being your back up?We all tend to agree that nobody is untradeable and folks we are a long way from contending and the catcher position is not going to make or break us.If Turner provides adequate defense then what have we lost.I am surprised that Tucker hasn’t hit for more power and he should never bat against a lefty so what do you lose if he is traded.The answer is we don’t know.

    • Jack

      Exactly . 12th in the league in war is not great.

  9. ScottyA

    He is too important to the young pitcher’s we will be developing.

    • Streamer88

      Mike piazza was great for young pitchers in a different way: i.e. he crushed baseballs often.

      I’m not convinced in how our other 8 positions project post rebuild that we can go 1 war per year from the C and win a ship.

      I say trade him and look for the major prospect/trade/draft pick. I’m not saying we need buster posey to get there, but we’re not sooo close with our other talent that we shouldn’t try.

    • Bill

      Exactly, when did Garrett go bad? After pitching to Barnhart before they start Mesaroco, & Garrett gives up 8 runs. Catchers make a difference to pitchers.