We continue Red Reporter's player-by-player look at the 2015 Cincinnati Reds. We'll profile every player who got time for the Reds this year, and will imagine their tenure with the Reds going forward.
By the Numbers
274 PA, .252/.324/.326, 3HR, 18 RBI, 79 OPS+
During the early stages of 2014 (and in multiple occasions in the middle, along with the September call-up), Tucker Barnhart was pressed into action as the backup catcher due to hamstring and head injuries to Devin Mesoraco. Going into 2015 with Brayan Pena having a year left on his contract and Mesoraco coming off a career year, the Reds had their sights set on having Barnhart marinate one more year in Louisville, hoping he'd eventually find the batting stroke he'd need to stick in the majors.
Unfortunately, we know how that turned out. Mesoraco went down with injuries again, and Barnhart was forced to do his final bit of learning on the job. Needless to say, the bat is still the biggest question in the equation, but the returns aren't all that negative, depending on the role the Reds look for him to play in 2016.
2015 in Review
In 2014, Barnhart posted a similar PA total in Louisville as he did in 2015 in Cincinnati. The 2014 numbers: 292 PA, 1 HR, .246/.319/.316, good for a .636 OPS, all numbers lower than what he was worth at the big league level when pressed into service a year later. Further, it never seemed like Tucker was particularly "overmatched" at the plate (at least, not more than any of the other Reds batters) and while he's probably never going to be mistaken for a silver slugger, any more slight improvements to his year over year numbers and you have, at worst, a very solid backup catcher.
Just as a fun exercise, let's compare Tucker's numbers to a couple of other players:
So, all of these numbers are fairly comparative across the board and they all play very solid (or better) defense. Obviously, because of that, Player A was given more opportunity to accrue that WAR number. So, who are they?
Player A: 2015 Yadier Molina
Yes. There are plenty of caveats to this. Yadi was plagued by a multitude of maladies over the year and turned in the worst offensive production than he has in a decade, and he's nearly 10 years older than Barnhart. Regardless, Yadier's calling card has been defense for years, and that defense was still very solid and still enough to keep his plummeting bat in the lineup. You could argue that if his name weren't "Yadier Molina" (or, if the Cardinals had had someone a slight bit better than Tony Cruz to turn to), Molina wouldn't have ended up with 500+ PAs before missing the latter part of the regular season with a hand injury. The 2015 Cardinals are also a lot better equipped to survive a hole in their lineup in the name of defense.
All that being said, one full season of 2015 Yadier Molina figured less than one win above half a season of 2015 Tucker Barnhart, and Molina was the starting catcher for a 100 win team. If that's what you're looking at as your primary backup catcher, there are a lot worse situations you could be in.
Player B: 2009 Ryan Hanigan
This is a bit more of a fair comparison, and I use it because of Ryan's fan favorite status among Reds fans (particularly here at Red Reporter). 2009 was Hanigan's first year getting more than 98 PAs (similar to the 60 Tucker received in 2014). The offensive number are anywhere from a slight tick to legitimately better across the board, but then again, offensive numbers in 2009 were anywhere from a slight tick to legitimately better across the board than offense in 2015. My main point is this: it's a pretty similar start to their careers, and Hanigan was 4 years older when it happened. Hanigan went on to get on base at a .400 clip the next season and while I'm not suggesting that kind of rise for Barnhart, I'm saying that, at 25, he's worth an extended shot.
There is so much to be figured out about the Reds that this section seems to always read the same for every player that we do: We'll see?. A lot of this will hinge on what the Reds believe that Devin Mesoraco can do at catcher and what the free agent market shakes out at the position. Obviously, if Mesoraco is back and read to take on the majority of the catcher responsibilities, I wouldn't be at all surprised that Mesoraco and Barnhart break camp as the two catchers on the team. This, however, seems unlikely.
They may be looking to take back on Brayan Pena for one final ride, considering how awesome of a teammate he is and number of young pitching prospects the Reds have that Pena could serve as a mentor and teacher to. Pena figures to sign on the cheap and for a short amount of time: he'll be 34 when the season starts. Then again... he'll be 34 when the season starts and he's put up a negative fWAR in his two years with the Reds. That is, he figures to be worse than Barnhart, other than all the awesome, intangible, #NERTS feels he has going on with him.
That leaves them with the possibility of going out and getting a legit starting candidate to either pair with Mesoraco or plant squarely in front of Barnhart in the chance that Devin can't catch. Though, the market will dictate how viable an option that really is, as the choices aren't all that pretty.
First thing's first, they have to decide how much Mesoraco can go. That information is critical before any signing. Still, I look for Barnhart to get as much run as he can next year. It's the time to see what you've got.
Chance of making 2016 Reds roster: 85%