Cleveland Indians Position Preview for 2021, Catchers
While our other position previews, being the starting rotation and the outfielders, we broke it down by spot and player. However, the catching unit for the Cleveland Indians only has two players, maybe three, and they are all very similar in style and what they bring to the table in the upcoming season.
For the better part of the last 10 years or more, the Indians have relied on strong backstops that have played just as much of a role in their starting pitching success as the coaching staff. While some teams have looked for offensive production from the catcher position, the Indians have at times sacrificed that for better defensive play and higher baseball IQ.
Having a duo of catchers at the big league level that can play at an elite level defensively will be a huge advantage for the Cleveland Indians. On top of that, there is always the chance of an offensive outburst at some point during the season. We’ve had sparks like that in the past and the possibility of it happening again are still there.
Expected to be the every day starter behind the plate, Roberto Perez will be the main guy at this position once again. Originally a backup behind Yan Gomez at the position, Perez has been stellar since becoming the regular starter in Cleveland. His bat is lacking at times, but his defensive prowess is why he’s such a valuable piece of the team.
Perez is currently coming off his second consecutive Gold Glove Award, following a perfect season in the field during the 2020 season. He also had just three errors in 2019 when he posted a .997 fielding percentage for his first Gold Glove. In addition to his fielding, Perez has also been long credited to the success of the pitching staff, specifically Trevor Bauer when he was in Cleveland.
Offensively, Perez has had flashes, but hasn’t been able to sustain production beyond one season. In 2019 he smacked 24 home runs while slashing .239/.321/.452. If he can return to those numbers, then that would be a huge gain for the Cleveland Indians in the upcoming season.
Expected to backup Perez will be Austin Hedges, another defensive catcher who arrived to Cleveland through the Mike Clevinger trade. A second round pick in the 2011 Draft, Hedges had high expectations. However, he’s hit an average above .200 just twice in his career with the last time being during the 2018 season.
However, Hedges is about as good as Perez behind the plate. During the 2020 season, he had just one error behind the plate for a .998 fielding percentage while being perfect in Cleveland after arriving through the trade. For his career, he has a .989 fielding percentage.
Most teams carry just two catchers on the active roster during a normal season, but should the Indians need to call up another catcher for injury, trade or something else, they have options. With Hedges having one year of arbitration left after this season and Perez having an expensive club option for next season, the catcher position could see turnover in the near future.
The Indians also have Beau Taylor on the 40-man roster. At 30-years old, Taylor is the typical fringe major leaguer that can play at the major league level if needed due to injury or anything like that. He most likely isn’t the future of the position, but rather an insurance option to keep in Triple-A.
The future of the position lies further in the minors with Bo Naylor, the brother of Indians outfielder Josh Naylor. The first round pick of the 2018 Draft and just 20-years old, Naylor is the expected catcher of the future in Cleveland. Naylor is currently listed as the No. 4 prospect in the organization behind only Nolan Jones, Tyler Freeman and Triston McKenzie.
There are a lot of question marks surrounding the Cleveland Indians as we head into the 2021 season, but the catcher position is one that doesn’t have many. The team would like to get more offensive production, but that’s not the priority. The baseball IQ and defensive ability of both Perez and Hedges give the Indians an advantage at the position over almost any team in the league.