Who is the greatest catcher in the history of the Colorado Rockies?
If you are a hadrcore fan or historian of the team, you may have an answer to that question and it’s probably Chris Iannetta, a player most baseball fans don’t remember.
The fact is that however many fond memories he or Yorvit Torrealba and a handful of others may have brought during their tenure, the club in Colorado has never had an All-Star catcher.
They’ve rarely had catchers who are productive on both offense and defense, though to be fair, this is a problem across all of MLB. It’s a hard job to do.
Still, it does seem odd that the Rockies have rarely made large public pushes to better their situation behind the dish, seeming resigned to general mediocrity at the position.
During their most recent run of relative success, they counted mostly on Tony Wolters who was a good-to-great defender and an excellent battery mate for his pitching staff, but also usually one of the worst qualified hitters in the Bigs.
So they’ve shown that you can make the postseason with this defense-first strategy, which is why it might make some sense to continue to not spend any resources here. But it also helps that right now Colorado has two of the most intriguing catchers they have had in a long time.
Let’s give out another grade.
This grade is based primarily on where the tandem stands right now. The truth is, Elias Diaz and Dom Nunez both have the potential to be much more than they are currently, but also the potential to sink into the obscurity that has swallowed most Rockies backstops.
Diaz was quietly a revelation for the Rockies in 2021. After getting off to a truly dreadful start that may have seen him on the brink of demotion, Diaz produced one of the single most dramatic turnarounds in franchise history.
In his first 24 games, he hit .125/.180/.153 for an OPS of .332, easily the worst numbers in baseball. He lost his starting gig to Nunez and quickly became the ire of fans any time Bud Black would write his name into the lineup.
But, on May 24, he hit a home run in New York against the Mets that, without anyone realizing it at the time, turned everything around.
Over his next 82 games, Diaz became one of the best hitting catchers in MLB, slashing .278/.345/.549 with 18 home runs, 41 RBI, and a couple of walk-offs.
Suddenly, for the first time in over a decade, the Rockies had legitimate reason to place a catcher in the middle of the order instead of their traditional eighth spot in the lineup.
Was this just a hot 82-game stretch or did the 30-year-old who has never been given regular starts finally figure out a regular approach that works for him?
Time will tell but the fact that he even has the ability to hit that many homers while playing quality defense gives him a much higher ceiling for potential output than anyone the Rox have had here in quite some time.
When you add in another 10 home runs from Nunez, Colorado got 28 dingers out of their catchers last season, good for ninth best in MLB.
Nunez adds a ton of potential to the equation, showcasing tremendous natural athleticism that allows him to hit some truly monster blasts. He still strikes out way too much and isn’t making enough contact with a career .187 batting average but the .284 on-base, .293 last season, shows a player who can take a good at-bat and draw a walk when he needs to.
Of course, it really does all come down to a combination of power and defense with him. He has well-above average maneuverability behind the plate and seems to get better at the daily details of catching (pitch framing, game calling) with every game.
He isn’t a consistent offensive threat yet but a back-up catcher who can give you double-digit home runs is a rare thing in baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals got 12 homers from the catcher spot, the San Diego Padres hit 11 as a team, and the Boston Red Sox hit nine.
So Nunez brings a certain value but clearly needs to improve on parts of his game in what will be just his second full year of MLB competition.
Either way, this is one of the toughest positions in all of pro sports to evaluate. Catchers have to be able to be equal parts hitter, defender, game manager, and pitcher therapist. They have to do more research and preparation than anyone else on the roster and more often than not it is the immeasurables that set the truly great ones apart.
But for what we can measure, the Rockies current tandem sits just above the league average thanks to their impressive power output and decent-though-not-elite work while wearing the tools of ignorance.
They could always take a step back, in baseball sometimes you get figured out. But don’t be surprised if at the end of the season, two players most people have never heard of, have propelled the Mile High ballclub into territory they’ve never been in before: having a truly elite catcher.