The Detroit Tigers made it clear this past season that upgrades to positions of need would come this offseason, and they wasted no time in doing just that when they acquired Tucker Barnhart from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for minor league infielder Nick Quintana only a day after the World Series had ended.
It was clear that adding a catcher was essential especially with Jake Rogers undergoing Tommy John surgery late last season which will most likely keep him out until the 2023 season, and although Eric Haase had a very encouraging rookie campaign, it is extremely difficult to pencil him in as the team’s starting catcher. Barnhart is a two time gold glove winner and is regarded as one of the premier defensive backstops in the Major League and is regarded as a fantastic leader and handler of a pitching staff.
According to Baseball Savant, Barnhart posts a pitch framing rate in the 79th percentile out of all Major League catchers, and sported an above average 28% caught stealing rate behind the dish. In terms of hitting, do not expect him to blaze any trails, so to speak, as his 2021 slash line of .247/.317/.645 illustrate below average numbers and showcase his limited abilities at the plate. However, I believe that his defensive abilities will more than make up for his offensive production, and is why the Tigers made Barnhart a top target on their offseason wish list.
Throughout last season, we fans had to witness lackluster defence from Tiger catchers such as Wilson Ramos and Grayson Greiner, and their inability to receive and frame pitches well was an extreme detriment to the Detroit Tigers young pitching staff. Rookies need all the help they can get when they first start their careers, and the amount of times borderline pitches would be called as balls because of the poor framing and receiving from the catchers was extremely frustrating and cost the team some wins throughout the season.
Therefore, I believe Barnhart’s ability to frame and receive pitches at a high level will do wonders for the young pitching staff. Having an experienced and proficient defensive catcher is such a valuable asset to a team, and this value is only amplified when a staff is made up of younger pitchers due to the catcher’s ability to guide them through a lineup and call a game that puts the pitcher in the best position to succeed. Barnhart will no doubt implant confidence in the Tigers staff and with the combination of himself and pitching coach Chris Fetter working with the pitching staff, I expect all members of the young staff to make massive strides next season.
The big question that many fans have been pondering since the acquisition of Tucker Barnhart is how he will fit in and complement Eric Haase who exceeded all expectations in his rookie season with the Detroit Tigers.
I hold the belief that Barnhart will be the opening day starting catcher for the team and in terms of a full season outlook I envision Barnhart to get the bulk of the starts against right-handed pitchers as he hits from the left side and Haase starting against left-handed pitchers. However, as we saw last season, Eric Haase is a very streaky hitter and with AJ Hinch’s willingness to switch lineups regularly, the reps and playing time for each catcher may very well change based on their respective performances throughout the season.
Looking beyond the baseball field, Barnhart is sure to have a major positive impact inside the Tigers clubhouse, and his teammates in Cincinnati have already attested to the kind of attitude and culture he brings with him. Speaking with the Detroit Free Press, Barnhart’s catching partner in Cincinnati, Tyler Stephenson discussed the impact he will have in Detroit, saying “obviously, there’s what he can do on the defensive side, but controlling your pitching staff and helping their development, take it all in”.
Stephenson witnessed firsthand the value of having a player like Tucker Barnhart on a team, along with what he brings on the field and in the locker room daily. The Detroit Tigers are a young, up-and-coming team looking to make the next step in competing for the playoffs, and having veterans around the young players is essential for the team culture throughout the grind of a 162-game season.
This signing is not a jump off the page blockbuster deal by any stretch, but winning teams make these subtle moves that have a significant impact over the course of a season, let us hope this holds true for the Tigers and Barnhart.