Is the Diamondbacks’ next long-term catcher already in the organization? (2024)

In the Diamondbacks’ home clubhouse at Chase Field, all three catchers occupy a corner at the back of the room. If a bit of Alex Avila and Jeff Mathis rub off on John Ryan Murphy, the Diamondbacks won’t be upset.

Murphy stands apart from his fellow backstops in several ways. He’s clean-shaven and they’re bearded. They have short-cropped hair while he favors a longer cut that’s almost a ’90s throwback. But mostly, what stands out is Murphy’s youth.


Mathis is 35 and Avila is 31, both with less of a big-league career ahead of them than behind them. Murphy is just trying to get his careerstarted. He’s 26 and entered the season with two years of service time but only 381 career plate appearances. Out of the three, he’s played the least this season, despite being the only catcher to produce at all offensively with a 103 OPS+ in 39 plate appearances.

“It’s kind of the cliché answer, I guess, but my role on this team is to do my job when I’m asked to do it,” Murphy said. “If that’s once a week, it’s once a week. But the advantage I have is learning from two guys who have done it a long time.”

Murphy’s value to the Diamondbacks may not have a ton to do with 2018, anyway. Mathis will hit free agency after this season, and Avila is under contract only through 2019. Murphy can’t hit free agency until after the 2021 campaign.

Murphy is the seldom-used third catcher who might be in Triple A if he had options remaining, but that says something about how the organization values him. The Diamondbacks could have found myriad other catchers capable of moving between the majors and minors in order to spell Mathis and Avila now and then. But they wanted to hold on to Murphy, whom they acquired from the Twins for a minor league reliever last July, even at the cost of some roster flexibility.

“We think he could be a big piece to our future,” general manager Mike Hazen said. “That’s why we acquired him.”

Having a Catcher of the Future would be quite a luxury for the Diamondbacks. They haven’t had one in a while.

Is the Diamondbacks’ next long-term catcher already in the organization? (1)

Miguel Montero caught his last game for the Diamondbacks in 2014. That winter, he was traded to the Cubs as the new Dave Stewart- and Tony La Russa-led front office looked to shed as much of the team’s salary commitments as it could. The 34-year-old remains third in franchise history in games played at 906, exactly 350 more than the next catcher, Chris Snyder.


Eleven players have caught at least one game for the Diamondbacks since, and none of them have stuck around longer than two seasons. Welington Castillo was also acquired by Stewart and Co. in 2015, caught 193 games and hit well but was non-tendered when the current regime took over. Chris Herrmann was another holdover who lasted a season under Hazen but was released in favor of keeping Murphy as a third catcher this spring.

The last minor league call-ups at the position were Tuffy Gosewisch and Óscar Hernández. Gosewisch toiled in the minors until he was 31 and profiled as a career backup, and Hernández was a raw Rule 5 pick thrust into the majors before he was ready. Both are in other organizations now. Since Montero’s departure, two front office regimes have gotten by filling the position externally.

“Certainly, we would like to find and have stability at that position,” Hazen said. “We value that position quite a bit. But, I think there’s different ways to put it all together.”

It’s possible Murphy provides that stability, even if he doesn’t hit. Hazen’s group has prioritized defense and pitch-framing behind the plate more than offense when it comes to finding catchers, and Murphy certainly comes with that reputation. Catchers who can hit and excel defensively are hard to find.

But, for the first time in recent memory, the Diamondbacks have some prospects coming up the pipeline who could work their way into the organization’s long-term plans.

Is the Diamondbacks’ next long-term catcher already in the organization? (2)

One play stands out in the mind of Diamondbacks farm director Mike Bell. It was the fourth inning of a California League game in the middle of April. Arizona’s High A affiliate, the Visalia Rawhide, was on the road against the Modesto Nuts, and former high-round pick Daulton Varsho was behind the plate.

Modesto hitter Donnie Walton attempted a 1-1 bunt but popped it up down the first-base line. Visalia pitcher Connor Grey and first baseman Ramón Hernández converged on each other in foul territory. As Grey peeled off to give him right of way, Hernández made two stabs at the catch, first in front of him, and then behind him. He couldn’t reel it in.

Then, out of nowhere, Varsho appears. He’d sprinted up the line, slid feet-first to avoid a three-player crash and then propelled himself forward to nab the ball before it touched the ground. It’s the type of athleticism rarely seen in a catcher.

Is the Diamondbacks’ next long-term catcher already in the organization? (3)

“He can absolutely fly,” Bell said. “He’s fun to watch play. You just don’t see it that often.”

That explosiveness has the Diamondbacks intrigued by Varsho’s future behind the plate, but it’s a future the 21-year-old still has to earn. He was drafted 68th overall last year with an offensive reputation – well-deserved, as Varsho has hit .303/.374/.518 at two levels of A ball since joining the organization – but with some questions about how long he’d catch.


Some of that is because the 5-10, 190-pound Varsho is so athletic that he easily could play other premium defensive positions. Some scouts have expressed concern about his arm strength, but Bell said Varsho’s transfer is so quick that his pop times are consistently under two seconds, which is big-league average.

“I’ve seen guys with more arm strength that take longer to get to second base,” Bell said. “He has plenty of arm to throw runners out, there’s no question.”

Is the Diamondbacks’ next long-term catcher already in the organization? (4)

Varsho has less defensive work to do than another offense-first catcher the Diamondbacks took in the second round the year before. But Bell sees progress from 19-year-old Andy Yerzy as well.

Yerzy has entered the pros as more of a project than Varsho. Bell likens him to outfielder Marcus Wilson, who spent the better part of three years in extended spring training and the Arizona Rookie League before hitting affiliate ball.

Yerzy was drafted out of a small Canadian high school as a 17-year-old known more for his bat than his glovework, and the change in competition level showed. His first taste of pro ball, he had 20 passed balls in less than 300 innings. It was humbling.

“I thought I was a pretty good catcher,” Yerzy said. “[Then] I had an extremely rough first year behind the plate, a little bit of a culture shock and a wake-up call.”

Yerzy’s bat took off last year – he hit .298/.365/.524 with Rookie-Advanced Missoula – but he’s wound up in extended spring training for the second consecutive year. There is work to be done defensively, although Yerzy has made some progress.

He started eating better and dropped 20 pounds off his frame between instructional league and extended spring training. He now measures 6-3 and 210 pounds, and he can feel the difference not only in his mobility, but also in his focus. He made a couple spry plays during a recent extended spring training game, including throwing out a runner trying to advance on a ball that bounced in the dirt and off his chest protector.


Blocking and controlling the running game are big parts of catching, but the skill the Diamondbacks value most is receiving, which includes the art of framing pitches. The Diamondbacks have Trackman sensors at all of their minor league fields – including at Salt River Fields – and can show young catchers exactly where they’re lacking when it comes to stealing strikes.

Yerzy is on board. He’s studied Braves catcher Tyler Flowers – big-bodied like he is, and a strong pitch-framer – and raves about Mathis’ ability to frame the low-and-away pitch. That’s a pitch Yerzy was charged with improving on this spring, and he knows his future will be somewhere other than catcher if he doesn’t.

“They talk to us a lot about it, like, ‘That’s our main goal, and if you can’t do that, you aren’t going to catch here,’” Yerzy said. “There’s a little bit of incentive in that way. If you want to stick behind the plate, you’re going to have to catch.”

Is the Diamondbacks’ next long-term catcher already in the organization? (5)

Varsho and Yerzy aren’t the only catchers on whom the Diamondbacks are hanging their hopes, although they’re the only two to show up among the team’s top 30 prospects as ranked by (Varsho is sixth and Yerzy is 19th.) The Diamondbacks have other young catchers throughout the minors they hope will pan out.

They took Low A catcher Tim Susnara in the eighth round last year, although Susnara is off to a glacial start at the plate. They signed Double A catcher Matt Jones out of independent ball before the 2015 season, and Jones started hot with an .817 OPS before landing on the disabled list. Dominic Miroglio, a 20th-rounder a year ago, comes with a strong defensive reputation and has surprised with the bat in a timeshare with Varsho in Visalia.

The closest to the majors is Triple A catcher Michael Perez, whom Bell feels fortunate to still have in the organization. The 25-year-old Perez is a former fifth-round pick that Bell now thinks he rushed up the organizational ladder. Perez became a six-year free agent after a solid year at Double A this past winter but re-signed with the team on a minor league deal. He’s hitting .347 in 82 plate appearances in Reno.

“It definitely takes a long time for catchers,” Bell said.


The Diamondbacks certainly have more intriguing catchers in the organization now than they have in the recent past. But that’s no guarantee that one clicks and graduates to a long major league career. Some of those catching prospects won’t ever hit enough, some will succumb to injury and some will be moved to less-demanding spots on the field. It’s a position of attrition.

Bell, Hazen and catching coordinator J.R. House all said they’re encouraged by the catching depth in the minors, but each one of them hedged that optimism with an acknowledgment that the organization’s depth at catcher could be better.

“There’s quite a few guys who have potential to have bright futures, but at the same time there’s still a lot of work to do,” House said, “and a lot of way to go before we can start proclaiming anyone as the next king.”

(Top photo of John Ryan Murphy:Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Is the Diamondbacks’ next long-term catcher already in the organization? (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Mr. See Jast

Last Updated:

Views: 5535

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (75 voted)

Reviews: 90% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Mr. See Jast

Birthday: 1999-07-30

Address: 8409 Megan Mountain, New Mathew, MT 44997-8193

Phone: +5023589614038

Job: Chief Executive

Hobby: Leather crafting, Flag Football, Candle making, Flying, Poi, Gunsmithing, Swimming

Introduction: My name is Mr. See Jast, I am a open, jolly, gorgeous, courageous, inexpensive, friendly, homely person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.