The Angels have made a number of acquisitions this offseason. GM Perry Minasian and his staff addressed virtually every area of the roster in some capacity. Hunter Renfroe came in via trade to bolster the outfield. Gio Urshela and Brandon Drury were brought aboard as infield help. Tyler Anderson signed a three-year deal for the rotation. Carlos Estévez and Matt Moore step into the bullpen mix.
The primary exception is behind the plate. While the Halos were tied to top free agent backstop Willson Contreras at the start of the winter, they ultimately head into Spring Training with a trio of catchers who were on the roster to finish last season. That’s not especially surprising — catcher never looked like the biggest area of concern for the group — but it represents one of the areas that’s least solidified at the moment.
Manager Phil Nevin told reporters this week he views the catching situation as an open competition going into camp (via Sam Blum of the Athletic). With that in mind, it’s worth examining the options at his disposal.
Acquired from the Phillies last summer in a surprising deadline deal that sent center fielder Brandon Marsh to Philadelphia, O’Hoppe is one of the sport’s top catching prospects. He’s been a minor leaguer of some regard for a few years running but took things to a new level last season. O’Hoppe spent the vast majority of 2022 with the Double-A affiliates for the respective clubs. He combined for a .283/.416/.544 line with 26 home runs, a massive 15.7% walk percentage and a modest 16.6% strikeout rate during his age-22 campaign.
At the very end of last season, the Halos rewarded O’Hoppe with his first MLB call. He appeared in only five games, far too small a sample upon which to draw any conclusions. The move was more about giving him an opportunity to get acclimated to an MLB atmosphere than in providing useable data for the front office to determine his readiness for 2023.
O’Hoppe is widely praised by prospect evaluators. Baseball America considers him the top young talent in the organization, placing him 42nd among prospects overall. The Athletic and ESPN each slot him towards the back half of their respective top 100 lists. All three outlets credit him for a well-rounded game with solid expected contributions on both sides of the ball.
He’s clearly far too advanced for Double-A. He has zero Triple-A experience and only a cup of coffee in the majors, though, so there’s certainly risk in turning over the primary job on a club that hopes to compete for a playoff spot right out of the gate. O’Hoppe is the organization’s hopeful catcher of the future. They’ll need to determine whether he’s ready to take that mantle immediately. He still has a full slate of minor league option years remaining.
Stassi is much more of a known quantity. 32 next month, he’s played in parts of 10 big league campaigns. Stassi only started garnering legitimate playing time in 2018, his sixth year logging some MLB action. Between 2018-21, he looked like one of the sport’s more underrated catchers. Over that stretch, Stassi hit .222/.306/.382. That’s roughly average output for a catcher, though the cumulative slash is weighed down by an atrocious 2019 season. He was an above-average hitting catcher in the other three years, including a .241/.326/.426 showing for the Halos in 2021.
The veteran paired that solid offense with consistently excellent marks from public defensive metrics. He wasn’t especially adept at controlling the running game but garnered glowing reviews from pitch framing evaluations. The Halos signed him to a $14.5MM extension covering the 2023-24 seasons (with a ’25 club option) last spring. It seemed a firm commitment he’d be their primary catcher for the next few years, though that predated an underwhelming 2022 showing.
Stassi hit just .180/.267/.303 with nine homers in a career-high 375 plate appearances last year. His formerly excellent defensive grades slipped to almost exactly league average. His bat-to-ball skills and hard contact percentage each took steps back. It obviously wasn’t the kind of season he or the club had envisioned, meaning he’ll need a rebound showing if he’s to secure regular reps again. Stassi can’t be optioned to the minors, so he’ll be on the big league roster in some capacity. Whether that’s as the starter or reserve is up in the air.
Thaiss was a catcher at the University of Virginia. A bat-first player, he was selected in the first round in 2016 and immediately moved to first base. Scouts questioned whether he’d have the receiving skills to stick behind the plate. The Angels didn’t give him the chance to work on his defense, instead hoping his bat would launch him quickly through the minor leagues.
The lefty-hitting Thaiss proved a fine but not exceptional minor league hitter. He paired quality plate discipline with above-average contact skills but never made the kind of power impact one would expect from a first baseman. In 2021, the Angels started giving him reps back behind the plate with Triple-A Salt Lake. He’s played 99 games there the past two years and started 11 MLB contests at catcher last season.
Thaiss owns just a .205/.299/.373 line over 278 MLB plate appearances, striking out at an uncharacteristic 30.6% clip. He only fanned in 18.4% of his trips with a robust 13% walk rate for the Bees last season, hitting .268/.364/.451 over 77 Triple-A games. He’s an interesting depth player but comes with questions about both his offensive impact and receiving ability behind the plate. Thaiss has exhausted his option years; the Halos have to keep him in the majors or make him available to other teams via waivers or trade.
Anaheim will also get looks at Chad Wallach, José Godoy and minor leaguer Anthony Mulrine in camp this spring as non-roster players. Mulrine has never hit in the minors and looks to be an organizational depth piece. Wallach and Godoy have played in the big leagues but typically function as third/fourth options on a depth chart.
The initial playing time will almost certainly be divided among some combination of O’Hoppe, Stassi and Thaiss. Carrying O’Hoppe in a reserve capacity feels unlikely. He should play regularly, either in the majors or at Salt Lake. Whether the Halos deem him ready out of the gate — and if they do, whether they feel there’s room to keep both Stassi and Thaiss on the bench — are key questions for the front office and coaching staff over the next month and a half.