DETROIT – The Detroit Tigers now have four catchers on the 40-man roster, but only two will stick with the team for Opening Day.
Grayson Greiner and Jake Rogers are candidates to make the team once again. The Tigers also signed Austin Romine and traded for Eric Haase.
There are arguments in favor of all four candidates, but two of them will likely begin the season in the minor leagues. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each catcher.
Chance to make team: Lock
If Romine is healthy when spring training comes to an end, he’s a lock to make the Opening Day roster. He’s also the favorite to be the regular starter.
Since becoming a full-time MLB player in 2016, Romine has never played in half his team’s games. His most at-bats in a season came in 2018, when he finished with 242 in 77 games.
Romine is coming off his best offensive season, batting .281 with a .748 OPS, eight home runs and 12 doubles in 72 games with the New York Yankees. Over the last four years, he’s posted a .671 OPS with 24 home runs and 44 doubles in 291 games.
The Tigers certainly didn’t get a star when they signed Romine. In fact, he’s never even been an average MLB hitter. But as a 31-year-old on a one-year deal, this was a low-risk move. Ron Gardenhire will simply ask Romine to manage what’s soon to be a young pitching staff, and any offense he provides will be a bonus.
Despite the team’s apparent logjam at catcher, there’s a good chance Romine will exceed 80 games for the first time in his MLB career.
Chance to make team: Least likely
Rogers is one of the top prospects in the Tigers’ farm system, but he wasn’t ready for MLB pitching when the team called him up last season.
In 35 games, Rogers managed just 14 hits while striking out 51 times. His ability to draw walks and hit for power mostly disappeared, as he finished with four home runs, three doubles and 13 walks in 128 plate appearances.
There’s still plenty of potential in Rogers’ bat. He posted a .963 OPS in 28 games at Double-A Erie last season before being promoted to Toledo. He struggled there, batting just .223 but maintaining his strong power and on-base numbers.
Rogers is considered one of the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He’s ready to handle an MLB pitching staff, especially since he’s spent time with the likes of Casey Mize, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo and Tarik Skubal. But the hard truth is he can’t hit around .200 and strike out in nearly half his at-bats if he wants to stick at the MLB level.
Rogers will likely start the season at Triple-A, and he’ll have more to prove this time before getting called up. He won’t turn 25 until mid-April, so fans shouldn’t give up on him, but there are legitimate concerns about what happened at the end of last season.
Chance to make team: Safe backup option
It feels like the Tigers will stick with Greiner as the backup catcher, even though he has less upside than the other two young options.
Greiner entered 2019 as the team’s Opening Day starter, but injuries and offensive inconsistencies knocked that plan off the rails. He ended up playing just 58 games, batting .202 with 11 extra-base hits, 70 strikeouts and 13 walks.
During a short 30-game stint at the end of 2018, Greiner showed a strong grasp of the strike zone -- drawing 17 walks and striking out 32 times. Despite batting just .219, he posted a respectable .328 OBP.
But Greiner has shown no home run or gap power in 88 games at the MLB level. He has just 17 extra-base hits and a .299 slugging percentage. If he doesn’t provide any power, he needs to get on base more often than 25% of the time.
This season could be one last chance for Greiner to prove he can hit MLB pitching. If it doesn’t work out, Rogers and Haase could pass him in the pecking order.
Chance to make team: Don’t count him out
The Tigers sent cash to the Cleveland Indians last week to acquire Haase, and it was a savvy, low-risk move by general manager Al Avila.
Haase is the opposite of Greiner at the dish. He’s been a consistent power threat in the minor leagues, most recently hitting 28 home runs in 102 games with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers. His 43 extra-base hits were good for a .517 slugging percentage, and he was a productive run producer, finishing with 60 RBI and 67 runs scored.
He’s never gotten a true chance at the MLB level. Cleveland played him in nine games two years ago and 10 games last season. He’s just 3-32 in those opportunities. In 2019, his only hit was a three-run home run against the Washington Nationals.
Detroit should strongly consider giving Haase a chance on the Opening Day roster. No, he hasn’t been successful against MLB pitching, but 32 at-bats is hardly enough of a sample to write off a player in his mid-20s.
Greiner might be the safer option because he’s spent parts of two seasons with the Tigers already. But Haase has more upside and could add valuable pop to the bottom of the lineup.
For comparison, Greiner has 32 home runs, 62 doubles and a .692 OPS in 374 career minor league games. Haase has 130 home runs, 147 doubles and a .794 OPS in 704 minor league games.
The Tigers desperately need help on offense, and Haase is the most offensively gifted catcher of this group, with the possible exception of Rogers. He has a firmly established track record as a very good hitter in the minor leagues. It’s time for someone to give Haase an extended chance to prove himself at the MLB level, and it makes sense that the Tigers purchased him for that reason.
What Tigers should do
Avila didn’t sign Romine to send him to the minor leagues. While he’s a career backup, it looks like Romine will have a chance to be the No. 1 catcher on this thin Tigers roster.
So the question is really which of the other three options will share duties with Romine. Rogers has the top prospect pedigree of the trio, but last season was such a disaster that the Tigers seem likely to give him at least half a season to get his swing figured out in Toledo.
Between Greiner and Haase, there’s just not much reason for the Tigers not to give Haase a chance. He’s never gotten a true opportunity in the big leagues, and he has nothing left to prove at Triple-A.
Greiner is a serviceable backup catcher, but that seems to be the best-case scenario for him. There’s at least a chance -- however small -- that Haase could be more than just a backup catcher, so why don’t the Tigers give him a chance to find that potential?
Avila acknowledged the team’s lack of power by signing Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron to one-year deals. That suggests Haase might have a chance to make the team because power is his calling card.
A catching duo of Romine and Haase would be more exciting than what the Tigers had in 2019. The best-case scenario is for Romine to begin the season as the starter with Haase earning at-bats in situations where he can succeed. If he gains some confidence in those situations, his playing time could increase.
Haase won’t hit free agency until 2026. If he can bring power to the lineup, the Tigers should roll with him.