Detroit Tigers Position Battles: Eric Haase headlines catchers, with others vying for time in 2023

We’ve been diving into the perceived open positions for the Detroit Tigers heading into Spring Training. Earlier we discussed the left fielder options (or just corner outfielder, depending on Austin Meadows), and yesterday we laid out the potential candidates for the wide-open third base position. Now, it is time to look at the Tigers’ backstop options, knowing that Eric Haase will be the Opening Day starter.

Why it matters:

With Alex Avila’s departure in 2017, a trade that netted the Tigers Jeimer Candelario, and James McCann’s non-tender after 2018 the Tigers’ catching situation has been a bit of an unknown revolving door. They tried to right the ship last season, trading for Tucker Barnhardt, which did not work out well.

  • When Hasses starts on Opening Day in 2023, he will be the sixth different catcher to start for the Tigers since 2018.
  • The five players who have started since 2018 behind the dish have accumulated -1.8 WAR for the Tigers combined; Hasse was worth 2.2 WAR in 2022.
  • Having a consistent catcher is an important aspect of team-building and lack of consistency can hurt pitching staffs.

Potential Catchers for the Tigers in 2023

There are really only four potential catchers for the Tigers this season, Hasse will be the Opening Day starter, and from there it’s a battle to be the backup. Here are the candidates to backstop the Detroit Tigers’ defense in 2023:

Eric Haase – Bats: R | Throws: R

2022 Stats (MLB): 351 PA, .254/.305/.443, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 112 wRC+, .322 wOBA
Eric Haase 2022 Highlights on Baseball is Everything YouTube

The debate about starting catchers begins and ends with Eric Haase. He is the guy. Quietly, he was one of the bright spots for the Tigers in 2022 and has earned the spot as the lead catcher. However, the question becomes whether he will be able to hold on to it as the season wears and tears on. His 6.8% walk rate and 27.6% strike-out rate will need to improve, but his ability to produce runs (112 wRC+) will bode well for the Tigers in 2023. Defensively, he was a -6 in Catcher Framing Runs but boasted a 1.95 pop time, making him a viable option defensively.

Donny Sands – Bats: R | Throws: R

2022 Stats (AAA): 242 PA, .308/.413/.428, 5 HR, 34 RBI, 130 wRC+, .381 wOBA

Donny Sands || The Best Story in Baseball on Municipal YouTube

Sands came over in the deal with Matt Vierling and Nick Maton and is kind of the forgotten piece of the deal. He most likely projects to be the backup on the MLB club or starter on the AAA club, depending on how Jake Rogers handles Spring Training. He has only four games of MLB experience on his resume, but his numbers in AAA offensively looked really good. His 15.7% walk rate in AAA is an attractive attribute he will bring to the Tigers. Add to that his defensive metrics looked pretty good as well, and the Tigers may have something in Sands. Get a look at his defensive metrics, which were all positive:

Donny Sands defensive metrics via Baseball Prospectus.

Jake Rogers – Bats: R | Throws: R

2021 Stats* (MLB): 127 PA, .239/.306/.496, 6 HR, 17 RBI, 116 wRC+, .339 wOBA

Road to Detroit: Jake Rogers on Detroit Tigers YouTube

Rogers is the wild card that could throw a wrench into the entire plan for 2023. Having missed the entirety of 2022, there is a huge question mark surrounding Jake Rogers. Will he be able to handle the bat, something he was doing quite well leading up to the injury, or will the time offset him back to square one? Always considered a defense-first catcher, Rogers’s bat will be the determining factor in his placement post-Spring Training. Most likely, he will begin the season in AAA and need to make some noise to be brought up and not passed over by the likes of Dillon Dingler.
*2021 stats used due to missing the entire 2022 season with Tommy John Surgery

Dillon Dingler: Bats: R | Throws: R

2022 Stats (AA): 448 PA, .238/.333/.419, 14 HR, 58 RBI, 107 wRC+, .334 wOBA

Dillon Dingler: Checking The Boxes on Detroit Tigers YouTube

Called by Dan Dickerson, “The future of the catching position for the Detroit Tigers,” Dingler is on his way to Detroit, soon. Dingler will start the year in AAA, after a pretty good season in AA last year. The #3 prospect according to FanGraphs, and the second-best defensive catcher in AA last season, Dingler should grab hold of the catching duties full-time in 2024, if not toward the end of 2023.

The Bottom Line:

The Detroit Tigers’ catching situation has four guys who all seem capable of handling the duties behind the plate. A.J. Hinch has always said he wants his catchers to “catch and win and get a hit,” and with these four guys, that is something that can be accomplished.

Written by AJ Reilly

A.J. is a lifelong baseball fan and an avid storyteller. His debut novel, The Askren Boys, won the Literary Classics Gold Medal and Seal of Approval in November of 2018. When not writing, he is spending time with his wife Jessica, son Jack, daughter Nora, and new arrival Teddy. A.J. lives in Metro Detroit.


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