The San Diego Padres catching carousel

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Since the San Diego Padres hired A.J. Preller (the current president of baseball operations and general manager since 2004), the organization has conducted a catching carousel.

When Preller arrived in San Diego, Rene Rivera and Nick Hundley manned the position, but they both moved on. Since then, an ever-changing cast of characters has included Adam Moore, Derek Norris, Austin Hedges, Rocky Gale, Hector Sanchez, Luis Torrens, Francisco Mejia, A. J. Ellis, Rafael Lopez, Austin Nola, Jason Castro, Victor Caratini, Webster Rivas, Jorge Alfaro, Brett Sullivan, Luis Campusano, and Gary Sanchez.

According to FanGraphs Community, the key defensive positions are center field, the left side of the infield, and catcher. However, Preller’s moves have demonstrated that he favors backstops who can hit.  Hedges is a case in point. In 2017, in 933.1 innings, his DRS rose to its highest point in San Diego at 21. However, he might as well leave his bat in the dugout, as he has an overall average of .189/.246/.321.

This year, Sanchez will be catching for the Milwaukee Brewers, and Preller draftee Luis Campusano will take over behind the plate. Preller chose him in 2017 out of Cross Creek High in Augusta, Georgia. In 49 games last year, Campusano batted a lofty .319/.356/.491. However, his defensive performance has been below average at DRS -3 and FRM -1.6.

In interviews, Preller has said that “Luis is capable of being the guy. … I think that’s the next step for Luis is just showing that he’s both skill-wise and consistency-wise able to do that — and just being able to stay on the field from a health standpoint, which is always a challenge for all catchers.”

The likely backup catcher will be 33-year-old Kyle Higashioka, who was included in the trade that sent Juan Soto to the New York Yankees after the season ended. Last year, he batted .220/.269/.391, but his defense made up for it, as he was 7th in framing, behind Patrick Bailey and Hedges, ranked first and second.

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With the Yankees, Higashioka batted .236;/.274/.413 Advanced fielding DRS 1 last year and 14 overall since 2017. In 72 games, fellow catcher Gary Sanchez batted just .218/.292/,500. However, his 7 DRS 7 placed him behind only two Padres–Fernando Tatis Jr., 27, and Ha-seong Kim, 16.

Campusano’s bat has been far better than his glove. Rumor has it that last year, San Diego’s pitchers voiced their preference to throw to Nola, a converted infielder. However, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell praised Campusano’s performance behind the dish. Still, he needs to improve the caught stealing rate, which was an abysmal 1 out of 30 attempts.

Therein lies the conundrum—which is more important at the catching position, defense or offense? In general, Preller has favored offense over defense, and his search for just the right backstop has led to a lack of continuity in the position. In less than ten years, at least 19 catchers have spent time in San Diego. No doubt, the lack of continuity challenges pitchers.

This year, Camusano and Higashioka will fill the position. Can the duo provide both offense and defense? Or will the catching carousel keep turning?

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