In early December the Cincinnati Reds non-tendered catcher Curt Casali. That move signaled to everyone that the organization was ready to hand the keys to the car over to Tyler Stephenson for at least some of the catching duties at the big league level. He’s going to be sharing that gig with two-time Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart in 2021. But how that time is split up hasn’t quite been determined yet.

“I‘m real confident that it’s going to work itself out,” said Reds manager David Bell. “Mainly, one of the reasons is that one’s a left-handed hitter and one’s a right-handed hitter. I think they’re in such different places in their career, which will make it easier too. You have one of them in Tyler, you need to get him experience and you need to get him in there, but at the same time there’s some benefits to easing him in. Then you have Tuck, he’s handled everything, he’s experienced everything at this point in his career.”

Typically a platoon situation works out well when you do have a lefty hitter and a righty hitter that are sharing the playing time. But with catchers you do tend to lean less on the bat and more on the defensive side of things. Tucker Barnhart gave up switch-hitting during the season last year, going to his natural left-handed only side. He’s been significantly better at the plate as a lefty in his career, posting a .729 OPS from the left side. From the right side of the plate, in about a quarter of the playing time, he’s posted just a .591 OPS.

There are a lot more right-handed pitchers in baseball than left-handed pitchers, and with the three batter minimum in the game today, that ratio could be changing even more as lefty relief specialist numbers could dwindle. That makes for a full “lefty vs righty” platoon situation a rather uneven situation. If that were strictly the way things would play out, Tyler Stephenson wouldn’t play very often as the opportunities to face left-handed pitchers simply wouldn’t be there.

“I think the easy way to look at it would be Tyler would play against the left handers,” said Bell. “But I know Tuck doesn’t want to accept that he’s not going to face left handers either. Like I said we’re going to get him at-bats here (spring training) against left handed pitching. So it’ll work itself out – they’re both going to play a lot. I typically don’t go into a situation where we try to match guys up with a starter. Mainly I think it’s important that both catchers try and develop that relationship with all of our pitchers. That’s happened over the last couple of years. Sometimes it just naturally happens where there’s just a natural chemistry between a pitcher and a catcher, and we need to be aware of that and acknowledge that. But not going into planning it that way.”

Outside of the new pitchers on the staff that came over during the offseason, Tucker Barnhart has plenty of experience catching everyone. He’s the second longest tenured Red behind Joey Votto, and he’s been the main catcher for nearly that entire time. For Stephenson, while he’s caught some of the guys in spring training in the past, as well as a little bit last season in the rookie year – he’s limited with the time he’s had with a lot of guys.

“The more time the better,” said Stephenson when asked about who he was looking forward to catching this spring. “I haven’t caught (Luis) Castillo yet, so that’s somebody I obviously want to get as much time as possible. My first start was with Sonny (Gray), but still, I want to catch him as many times as possible to get familiar with him. All the other guys, it’s the same thing, it’s not going to be a bad thing – the more time the better.”

David Bell was complimentary of what he saw from Tyler Stephenson last year. And he’s a believer in his upside, too, but he’s not ready to just hand the young prospect the full time job, either.

“He took big strides last year – defensively, offensively,” Bell said. “The sky is the limit, there is no limitations on him. He’s a big , strong, athletic, intelligent – he really has all of the tools. Like I said, the biggest thing is as a young player you’ve really got to believe in what you’re doing and it’s never a straight line, a straight path – there’s ups and downs, and he’s going to go through those and we know that. But with his attitude we know he’s ready to take on those challenges. Any setbacks, any mistakes or failures, he’s going to learn from it. And it’ll happen quick for him. He’s been a prospect and now it’s one day at a time, just getting him acclimated again in a different role. He’s going to be playing – obviously no guarantees going into the season, but he’s got an opportunity to not only make our team, but be a big part of it.”

It seems that David Bell is going to let the play dictate the way that the playing time is split up between Tyler Stephenson and Tucker Barnhart. There are some advantages – particularly the lefty/righty hitter thing – that he may consider at times, but it seems that Stephenson’s going to have to get on the field and show that he has what it takes to get more time on the field. The position is one where you just don’t see very many players put in 130 games, so there’s going to be some splitting of the playing time no matter what. But how far beyond 45/55 that goes is likely going to come down to the performance as the season goes along rather than there being a set plan heading into the year.

39 Responses

  1. Sliotar

    The Reds have a team option on Barnhart for 2022 for $7.5M.
    Barnhart can be bought out for $500,000.

    The $500,000 check to buy him out should already be written, the ink dry and sitting in a desk drawer, waiting to give to Barnhart the minute the season is over.

    “Good Ol’ Tuck” is a perfect example of what is wrong with the Reds developmental plans. Apparently a nice guy, not a difference maker. Too many of them around.

    Try and compete in 2021 .. (without a SS). Sure.

    But, IMO, in 2022 … Winker/Senzel/Stephenson/Garcia get every at-bat possible.

    Find out if those guys can be the everyday position player core, post-Votto … or, trade everything and go through another 5-year rebuild.

    Being in the mediocre middle feels … no bueno.

    • BarryH

      There are many mediocre catchers in the majors playing every day making more than 7.5 million without 2 Gold Gloves.

    • Grand Salami

      Agreed on the 2022 move.

      As for 2021, if Stephenson is not a liability defensively and has an OPS of 750 or better then he should be playing the majority of the games by mid-season

      Sticking with Tucker bc he’s a mainstay when he’s turning in a .700ish OPS performance would epitomize what’s wrong with this club and why the rebuild wasn’t fully realized

  2. Roger Garrett

    Tucker will get the majority of the playing time regardless.Its just what this team does and has done for what seems like forever.Bell cites the ups and downs Tyler will have and that Tucker will get some at bats against lefties which really tells the story in my opinion.Tyler will watch most of the time while Tucker plays and may get a few starts in days games after a night game.Tucker is one of my favorite players but he never has nor never will hit. Tyler will have to hit much much much better just to get more then a cup of coffee.I actually fell it will be a 75/25 split but we will see.

    • 2020ball

      Tuckers been splitting time near 50/50 with casali lately if no ones cared to notice, i see no reason why that would change. I think the decision makers are well aware of his offensive deficiencies.

      Moderator: Careful with the language. Use words you’d be allowed to use in second grade.

      • 2020ball

        By the third grade I was cussing so yeah….

        …kidding, thanks for moderating!

    • 2020ball

      Tuckers been splitting time 50/50 with casali lately if no ones cared to notice, i see no reason why that would change. I think the decision makers are well aware of his offensive deficiencies.

  3. Melvin

    Should be 80/20 in favor of Stephenson but with Bell it will probably be the opposite or worse I’m afraid.

    • Steven Ross

      Read my mind. That sounds about right knowing Bell.

  4. Hotto4Votto

    Ya know…I think Tucker still provides solid value at $7.5m next season. He’s been a really good defender and seems to manage the staff well. He’s had 7.2 bWAR over the past six seasons (so not including his 21 games in 2014), which is 1.2 WAR a season on average. If 1 WAR = $8m on the FA market then that’s fair value to keep a guy around who can be that veteran presence to help Stephenson along.

    On the other hand, I can see wanting to give the reins over completely to Stephenson in ’22. But would instead explore a trade at the deadline. I could see teams in need of catching valuing Tucker and the 500k buyout vs 7.5m for next season wouldn’t be an impediment to a trade, but could add value to him depending on how he performs.

  5. MBS

    If Stephensons bat plays much better than Tuckers, then it should be an obvious decision, but I’m sure Bell will make it more complicated.

    • Droslovinia

      I’m pretty sure Winker’s a better hitter than Tucker, too. Since gg-level catching means nothing, so long as you can hit, why not start him there?

      • MBS

        well…Stephenson is a catcher, and the competition is between those two players…So I think we’ll leave it at that.

        Stephenson is not only a catcher, but he’s one of our top prospects. Barnhart contract is up at the end of the year, yes there is an option, but if Bob is going to keep cutting payroll, I doubt he picks it up. In other words we need Stephenson to get as much playing time as he can (earn). I didn’t say just forget Tucker,

  6. Kevin Patrick

    Jeez… some of the comments on here ruffle my feathers. Barnhart wins a gold glove, finally comes back from injury, puts the bat on the ball… and everyone seems to want to send him to pasture. Stephenson will get plenty of at bats… and I look forward to them too… but am more than pleased that TB will take plenty of at bats as well. For years I came to this forum because it wasn’t too terribly toxic… its so hard to have nice things.

    • MBS

      It’s not a knock on Barnhart, he’s a fine player. The Reds are a team that lacks offense, and C, and SS are obvious places to upgrade the offense. A better offensive team can value a defensive oriented player like Barnhart more. I wouldn’t hand the keys to Stephenson on opening day. I would do a near 50/50 split. If Stephenson shows a much better bat, then you need to increase his playing time.

      • Kevin Patrick

        Of course…I’m a bit curious to see if the offense is as bad as all that though. I have a feeling the Reds’ bats will come alive a bit for the simple reason that the pitching in the central isn’t as tough as it was. The test for the Reds will be how they match up against intra divisional rivals. They simply can’t allow themselves to be swept in places like Washington, Los Angeles, Atlanta, etc. How the Reds come out of April after away series against Arizona, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will dictate how much of the course of the season goes I think. May looks easier…June could finish the Reds off with 6 in a row vs the Pads and Twins. Their home games that month aren’t any easier with Phillies, Braves and Padres. If the Reds can stay above 500 by all the star break though… look out.

    • Grand Salami

      I love Tucker as a leader. My sons favorite player. He still wears his Tucker-signed wristband when he watches games.

      Tucker moved to the left side of the plate to emphasize his strength. Despite that, his OPS+ was .77, that doesn’t merit the majority of starts. Even with a GG season his WAR was .8 He is dramatically on the decline and may perform better playing 35-45%. He and Joey should be better with more rest.

  7. LDS

    Hopefully, Stephenson hits well enough that even Bell makes the right choice. I’m probably too optimistic on both points.

    • JayTheRed

      Bell did play Garcia over Galvis last year so maybe that is a little hope.

    • 2020ball

      You don’t sound very optimistic lol

  8. NYRedsfan

    I like Bell’s comment “I typically don’t go into a situation where we try to match guys up with a starter”. Isn’t that what he is always doing with all his lineup adjustments.

  9. ClevelandRedsFan

    My only hope is that Stephenson doesn’t become another platoon player. I like the 50/50 split, but the Reds need to focus on player development as well. That is an obvious deficiency in the org, specifically on the offensive side. I fear Senzel, Winker, and now Stephenson will all become platoon players and miss that development window of seeing same-handed pitchers.

    • Kevin Patrick

      I think this is a legitimate concern, but I wouldn’t get too worked up about things looking like a platoon this year for Stevenson anyway… his main focus should be calling a good major league game whomever he faces in the box.

      • Kevin Patrick

        I hate mis-spelling “Stephenson”. lol

    • TR

      Imo, Stephenson’s chances of being a platoon player, in the next few years, are good with Bell as manager.

  10. docproc

    Jeopardy answer: 88, 81, 77
    Jeopardy question: What are Barnhart’s OPS+ numbers the last three years?
    Jeopardy answer: 1.0
    Jeopardy question: What is a bWAR level that Barnhart hasn’t reached in the last three years?
    Jeopardy answer: Go make a sandwich.
    Jeopardy question: What should you do when watching a Reds game on TV and Barnhart comes to the plate?

    Please, please give Stephenson the lion’s share of catching duties this year.

    • Mark Moore

      answer: +500
      question: what am I awarding for the innovative chuckle you just gave me?

      • 2020ball

        “innovative chuckle” lol. The prior comment and those two words gave me the same.

    • Doug Gray

      Pay little attention to catchers WAR. In no way, shape, or form does it capture the defensive value of catchers.

      • docproc

        I wasn’t talking about his defense. He has two Gold Gloves. But he’s a black hole on offense.

      • Doug Gray

        If you aren’t talking about defense, then you shouldn’t quote WAR, which includes defense (even if it is missing a lot of defensive value, particularly for catchers).

      • Grand Salami

        This just in. Doug’s advocation 4/5 starts for Tucker!


  11. MuddyCleats

    I think Bell discussed the topic well. Ideally, it should work itself out and become obvious who should be playing more. Good pts on Tucker’s contract which should b part of the equation/consideration. In that light, I think Reds should consider playing Tyler at 1st some in ST to get a few more ABs? If this kid takes off, Reds may want his bat in the lineup more often than C would allow? This kid has shown the ability to be an offensive weapon in limited periods of play. Really like to see Tucker do well. IMO, he has an obvious hitting flaw of dropping his head and back shoulder which often produces pop-ups. Not sure if he’s considered changing his approach or not?

  12. Michael B Green

    Some fun facts.
    Luis Castillo ERA (2020 – Barnhart 5.33 Casali 2.01)
    Luis Castillo ERA (2019 – Barnhart 3.66 Casali 3.10)
    Sonny Gray ERA (2020 – Barnhart 3.25 Casali 4.09 Stephenson 13.50)
    Sonny Gray ERA (2019 – Barnhart 3.32 Casali 2.47)
    Tyler Mahle ERA (2020 – Barnhart 3.07 Casali 4.50 Stephenson 10.12)
    Tyler Mahle ERA (2019 – Barnhart 4.61 Casali 4.61 Farmer 9.72)
    Wade Miley ERA (2020 – Barnhart 1.17 Casali 10.80)
    Michael Lorenzen ERA (2020 – Barnhart 2.63 Casali 10.80 Stephenson 13.50)
    Michael Lorenzen ERA (2019 – Barnhart 2.27 Casali 4.47 Farmer 0.00)
    Tejay Antone ERA (2020 – Barnhart 2.35 Casali 3.15)

    Those stats tell me that Stephenson catching Castillo is a possibility. Barnhart’s cERA shows that he should handle the majority of starts for Gray and Miley. Mahle leans toward Barnhart but I could see a split there since Stephenson’s control years will encompass that of Mahle. Lorenzen is clearly a match with Barnhart. Antone may lean toward Barnhart but I could see a split there too.

    This probably points to a 2/3 to 1/3 time split between Barnhart and Stephenson. I hope that is enough consistent PT for Stephenson but that should serve the staff best. Stephenson will need to prove he can handle the staff when its his turn though. I’m very high on him but pitching and defense wins championships and that should be the goal for this team.

    • RiverCity Redleg

      Answer: This.
      Question: Can you provide me an example of using stats with too small of a sample size to be significant?

  13. TR

    The top goal for this years Reds should be getting runners on base and scoring without the priority of hitting a homerun at every trip to the plate.