Pitchers and catchers report: For many baseball fans, those four simple words are enough to push every other sport to second place for the next seven-plus months.
Players have been trickling into team complexes in Arizona and Florida for days now, but all 30 teams have reporting dates from today through Friday, and full-squad workouts start Monday and Tuesday. But anyone who’s been counting down the days since Houston’s game seven win over Los Angeles on Nov. 1 and the start of spring training has been using today as the bookend: pitchers and catchers report.
Earlier this week MLB.com writer Andrew Simon took a look around the 30 franchises and tried to predict each team’s opening-day starter. That makes sense — taking the bump on the season’s first day is a pretty big honor. But pitchers need someone to receive what they throw — let’s call them catchers — and that means there’s 30 guys behind the plate on opening day as well. But who?
There are a fair amount of obvious choices, where a team’s ace is comfortable pitching to the top catcher, such as the Cardinals’ top battery of Carlos Martinez and Yadier Molina. There also are a few known combos where a stud pitcher has a well known personal catcher, as in the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw preferring to throw to Yasmani Grandal, although Austin Barnes is actually the team’s No. 1 backstop.
To compile a complete list, I looked at Simon’s list of probable opening-day starters, then checked those pitcher’s 2017 game logs to see who was catching those pitchers down the stretch in 2017. A few times it was useful to crosscheck against a team’s depth chart to make sure there hadn’t been a change at catcher. For example, the Twins might open with Jose Berrios on the mound. And while he’s pitched to Jason Castro before, last September as Minnesota battled for a wild card spot, he frequently paired with Chris Giminez, who now is in major league camp with the Cubs as a non-roster invitee.
Simon did a good job sorting his pitching picks from virtual locks down to stabs in the dark, and I’ve preserved his order. Any manager is going to choose the pitcher first and slot in the catcher second, though there are some teams where a veteran catcher has much more pull than anyone in the bullpen. Still, here’s my best guess if Simon’s picks are right and no one gets hurt:
- Atlanta: Julio Teheran, Tyler Flowers
- Arizona: Zack Greinke, Jeff Mathis (ex-Cub Alex Avila is the Diamondbacks’ No. 1 catcher)
- San Francisco: Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey
- Cubs: Jon Lester, Willson Contreras
- Cleveland: Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes (instead of Roberto Perez)
- Washington: Max Scherzer, Matt Wieters
- Tampa Bay: Chris Archer, Wilson Ramos (although No. 2 Jesus Sucre has a shot)
- Boston: Chris Sale, Sandy Leon (not No. 1 Christian Vazquez)
- Colorado: Jon Gray, Tony Wolters (displacing Chris Iannetta)
- Toronto: Marcus Stroman, Russell Martin
- Milwaukee: Chase Anderson, Stephen Vogt (although No. 1 is Manny Pina and 2017 opening day catcher Jett Bandy is still on the depth chart)
- San Diego: Clayton Richard, Austin Hedges
- Philadelphia: Aaron Nola threw to Jorge Alfaro, Cameron Rupp and Andrew Knapp in each of his last three 2017 starts.
- Texas: Cole Hamels, Robinson Chirinos
- Kansas City: Danny Duffy, Salvador Perez
- Detroit: Michael Fulmer, James McCann
- White Sox: James Shields, Omar Navarez (who is third on the chart; No. 1 is Wellington Castillo, new to the South Side; Kevan Smith is between them)
- Houston: Justin Verlander, Brian McCann
- Seattle: James Paxton, Mike Zunino
- Miami: Dan Straily, J.T. Realmuto
- Mets: Jacob deGrom, Travis d’Arnaud
- Baltimore: Kevin Gausman, Caleb Joseph
- Pittsburgh: Jameson Taillon, Elias Diaz (No. 1 is Francisco Cervelli)
- Yankees: Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez
- Angels: Garrett Richards, Martin Maldonado
- Oakland: Kendall Graveman, Bruce Maxwell (he’s also thrown regularly to Josh Phegley and Dustin Garneau)
- Reds: Anthony DeSclafani, Tucker Barnhart. DeSclafani didn’t pitch at all in 2017, but Barnhart caught him routinely in 2016.
I try to follow the entire league, but this experiment proved how little I actually know. Still, it increased my excitement for real baseball, which, from a fan’s perspective, is precisely the point of spring training.