Recently, I wrote about Tucker Barnhart and how he is an interesting asset for the Reds. The colleague he has split most of the catching duties with, Devin Mesoraco, remains a large unknown due to injuries and missed time. Much has been discussed about Mesoraco and his comeback, as well as Wesley Jenkins proposing trading Devin at the trade deadline this year.

That brings us to Stuart Turner, who has not been seen much this year. Let’s take a closer look at the Reds’ third string catcher.

Turner was selected by the Reds in the second round of the 2016 Rule 5 Draft from the Minnesota Twins. As is required for a Rule 5 draft pick to remain in the organization that drafted him, Turner has been on the Red’s 25-man roster the entire year (excluding one DL stint). He’s amassed 43 plate appearances in 20 games. Carrying three catchers on the 25-man roster is unorthodox, let alone during a rebuilding year with a farm system full of unproven prospects waiting in the minor leagues. What is it that the Reds saw in Turner that spurred them to not only draft him, but also continue to use a valuable roster spot for him?

Before he was drafted to the Queen City, Stuart Turner was selected by the Twins in the third round of the 2013 June amateur draft out of Mississippi. In rookie ball he put up Barnhart-esq numbers, hitting .264/.340/.380/.721. Moving up to high-A ball Turner had similar production, matching his 8.5% walk rate but losing a bit of batting average. He was again promoted to start the 2015 season, moving to AA where he had a bit of a power outage. Turner’s ISO fell from .126 to .083 and he also lost more batting average. His strong walk rate of 11.9% helped buoy production, but an increasing K% paired with the drop in power and average was a step backwards.

After the 2015 season, Turner ranked as a middle tier prospect for the Twins, with John Sickels at grading him C+ and saying, “excellent defender…Might hit some eventually, glove will get him to majors at least as a backup.” Dan Farnsworth at FanGraphs also praised Turner’s defense, with his Field tool rating at 55/60/65 and his Throw tool at 60/60/60. Stuart did see a nice uptick in runners caught stealing in 2015, jumping from 32% to over 38%.

One other interesting part of Turner’s game that was called out was his pitch framing abilities. While the Twins viewed him as a “solid receiver,” Baseball Prospectus had him as the fourth worst in the minor leagues (based on available data). Based on his small sample this year, he has been below average but still much better than Mesoraco and Barnhart, who rank ninth and seventh worst in baseball in 2017, respectively, also according to Baseball Prospectus data.

In 2016, Turner showed resiliency offensively, hitting .239/.322/.363/.686 with a 101 wRC+ in his age-24 season at AA. While his BB% declined and K% again increased a bit, Turner again showed he can get on-base at an average clip and that there is power to be tapped.

Heading into the 2017 season, the Twins left Stuart Turner off their 40-man roster. Because Turner met the age criteria for eligibility for the Rule 5 draft, the Reds decided to take a chance on him for the small, flat fee of $50,000.

It’s easy to see how the Reds front office would, in December, see picking up a close-to-major-league ready catcher appealing, especially for a small financial obligation. Preparing for the worst-case scenario of a 2017 without Mesoraco makes sense, and with Turner’s strong glove and potentially serviceable bat, it was worth the investment. Fast forward to July, and the fact that Turner only has 43 plate appearances while holding a 25-man roster spot for the majority of the year, the situation has become more questionable.

2017 did not offer much hope for the Reds in the win/loss column. There were, however, expectations to play highly touted prospects and determine who the frontrunners are to become major-league contributors. A roster spot is a crucial component to managing a revolving door of young talent. Despite the fact that the offense has performed well this year, there still needs to be a focus on getting young players major league experience.

With the Reds starting rotation really struggling, one of the many downside effects has been the bullpen leading the league in innings pitched. This has placed more importance on carrying enough relievers. With Turner taking up an IF/OF bench spot, the Reds have compensated with positional versatility from players like Scooter Gennett, Arismendy Alcantara, Patrick Kivlehan and Jose Peraza.

The results haven’t been optimal. For example, rather than giving a roster spot to a homegrown, 23-year-old on-base machine and having him split time in the outfield, that spot has been filled with a backup to a backup who has hit .179/.233/.256. As a result, Jesse Winker has accumulated only 20 (!) plate appearances and the Reds are no closer to understanding what his major league production can or will be.

Winker is a player who has maybe been more directly affected than anyone. People expected to see more of Winker this season. If the Reds weren’t forced to keep Stuart Turner in the dugout, Winker would have had more opportunity. Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler’s strong seasons have factored in. But even with both of them performing well at the plate, there is always opportunity to split starts and get everyone playing time. Dilson Herrera has not been hitting great at AAA, but the Reds could have experimented with him. Major league at-bats in a rebuilding year with no pressure for immediate success are valuable. They are slipping away as the year goes on. While this isn’t all the fault of what the Reds have done with Stuart Turner’s spot, that situation is certainly not making the roster any more flexible.

The fact the Reds have held onto Turner this long, as well as their recent release of AAA catcher Rob Brantly, who hit .298/.335/.435 for Louisville this year, makes me think Stuart Turner will be in the Reds organization next year. Turner has the ability to make it as a big league back-up catcher if he can adjust to major league pitching. On paper, he really does remind me a lot of Tucker Barnhart, given they are both strong defensively, get on base, but will not blow you away with power.

Keeping Stuart Turner around gives the Reds protection from another Mesoraco injury and flexibility to make a trade if the right offer presents itself. Given Chris Okey’s performance this year and Tyler Stephenson’s recent injury, it’s unclear how long the bridge will need to be to get to the next long-term catcher. The Reds are hoping that the long-term benefits of drafting and keeping Turner will end up outweighing the cost of a lost roster spot during a year designed for exploratory rebuilding.

17 Responses

  1. Big56dog

    a few things that come to question,
    – are all 3 Reds catchers collectively the worst in MLB at pitch framing?
    – Is this the reason why the pitching has been so awful?, Arroyo and all the rookies probably have an ERA around 5 if these bums could frame better
    – what was the knock on Brantly?
    – How devastating of injury is it to Stephenson, wasn’t he the catcher of the future in 2015, is their any reason he cannot be in 2018?

    • Matthew Habel

      The Reds catchers are definitely towards the bottom of the league in pitch framing but it is hard to say how much that has negatively affected the pitching. I do not have that answer.

      This is what Fangraphs said about Brantly last November: “Not terribly long ago, Brantly was an interesting prospect with the Tigers and Marlins. But after posting a 65 wRC+ in 392 big-league plate appearances, he spent all of last year in Triple-A. Brantly didn’t hit much last year with the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate, but did hit .310/.335/.483 in the minors in 2015. KATOH has a longer memory than most of us, and Brantly’s 2015 numbers suggest he might make for a useful big-league catcher”

      Stephenson is currently on the 7-day DL with a thumb injury so it may not be anything too serious. But he is only in Dayton and would not be a viable option for 2018.

    • Keith

      Johnny Bench couldn’t have kept Bronson’s ERA around 5.

    • Jack

      You could have Molina catching and Arroyo still wouldn’t have a 5 ERA.

    • Big56dog

      I was kind of joking about the pitch framing, how much of impact does this actually make, I can take it as a pitcher who can field, it helps but does it really impact his performance?
      Is there any reason Tyler Stephenson could not be at AA next year despite the injury?

      • Bill Lack

        I may be mis-remembering here, but I think Chris Welsh kind of poo-poo’d the importance of pitch framing when he was on the podcast last. He’d know better than most of us, IMO.

        I was surprised that Stephenson hadn’t been moved to Daytona before he was hurt, he’ll still only be 20 next year on Opening Day. I’d think he starts the year in A+.

  2. Scott Carter

    Keeping Turner on the 25 man roster is plain dumb. Yu hit the nail on the head when you said it deprived other young players the opportunity for MLB plate appearances, particularly Winker. For pinch hitting situations now that Gennett is starting we are left the pinch hitting options of Turner, Alacantra, Peraza, and Kivelhan and either Mesoraco or Barnhart. That is really two viable options and we can only use one of them because they are both catchers. we would be better served to used Lorenzen as a pinch hitter. Roster mis-utilization is the thing that bugs me most about this year. Wins and losses don’t matter, we knew that going into the season. I didn’t care about watching last night’s game because nothing was going to happen that mattered. Adleman started, Winker is in AAA, so the result last night was meaningless.

    • Gaffer

      Totally disagree. Mesoraco has gotten hurt again and again, so you need someone. Who else out there would be more valuable, another reason 30 guy? At least Stuart has some potential. How many PA has Kivlevan gotten?

      The problem is Price will not play any young guy! This is ongoing issue. Would you rather have Winker ride the pine at the MLB level or start at AAA.? He got 20 PA this year because Price didn’t play him, 2 freaking starts!

  3. big5ed

    I don’t understand keeping Turner all year, either. Backup catchers aren’t really all that hard to find. Ryan Hanigan was available, for example. He can’t hit, but neither can Turner, and Hanigan would have been superb with the young pitchers. In fact, I hope they sign Hanigan for next year.

    I figure that they will put Turner back on the 10-day DL shortly with a bruised ear, then let him “rehab” the ear in AAA through August. As has been noted, his being on the roster doesn’t really hurt them.

    They have effectively paid $600,000 to acquire a back-up catcher who may not even be ready next year, plus the opportunity cost in not getting more ABs for Winker, etc.

    It would be interesting to hear what new Reds manager David Ross thinks about the catching situation.

    • Gaffer

      They would pay 550,000$ to whomever plays that spot on the 25 man roster. So, that is ridiculous to say it “cost” them anything more. Would I if I were the reds pay $50,000 for a guy who may play 3-5 years of passable MLB time at a minimum salary, for gods sake yes!

  4. james garrett

    Are you wishing for Ross or have you heard something.


    Far better Winker plays @ AAA this year. Playing a game a week or pinch hitting for the Reds would be a misuse of a top prospect. He will get a MLB shot once he or one of the outfielders moves on in a trade over the winter?

    • Matthew Habel

      I wasn’t saying I would rather have him sit on the bench, I would want him getting consistent starts. Again, the issue of Price not playing him even when he is with the Reds is completely separate.

  6. sandman

    One seemingly strange thought that kept rattling around in the back of my head while reading this was the subject of Sabermetrics. Now, initially I was resistant to Sabermetrics in part because of how much seemingly almost every one was so in favor of this, also in part because the formulas for some of them are complicated (which is a problem for me bcuz sometimes, when it comes to a new stat, I like to figure it out myself) and also in part because the “old fashioned” stats I grew up on were being railed against with such a hate (you can’t tell me that it wasn’t pure hatred against those old stats with the fervor with which they were being railed against). But then I heard how Sabermetrics were said to be designed in order to find a players true worth and/or value. Because of that definition/ explanation I started to come around on and even see the value in SOME of these new stats (I’m not sure which ones right now but off the top of my head…OPS). But, I don’t think I’ll ever fully come around on all of Sabermetrics because of one opinion I’ve started to believe more and more…and that’s that in some cases Sabermetrics seems designed in part to justify keeping average or even below average players if they “excel” in other areas. But I do have to temper this opinion or belief with the knowledge that not every player can be the type who excels at every aspect of the game. Because of this teams do have to settle for these average or below average players so long as they excel in at least one important aspect (whatever that may be).

  7. Matthew Habel

    I would argue that part of the reason Alcantara and Kivlehan remain ahead of Winker is defensive versatility. The lack of IF/OF bench spot causes the problem, not the lack of an adaquate pinch hinter.

  8. Mocat

    First post ever… goes. Love the Reds, even if they continue to break my heart on a nightly basis. We cannot compare our current players to todays superstars around MLB and expect to like our guys. Old school stats fan or Sabermetrics Guru debate aside, success or failure is still measured in wins and losses. Fans want wins. Every team wants better everything (pitching, defense, hitting). Front offices have to make the best plans for their organization, given their particular set of limitations (ie small market, depth in minor league system). Reds management felt a need for depth at catcher, and Turner cost them $50k. Mesoraco has spent time on the DL a couple of times this year, which is exactly what Turner was brought in for. Insurance against injury for the club, a year of MLB experience for the player, and he gets evaluated for possibly next year and beyond. Win/WIn.