The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants have swapped catchers. Sort of.
Former A’s All-Star backstop Steven Vogt — who did not play in the major leagues last year due to shoulder surgery — has signed a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants, and former Giants backup Nick Hundley has signed a minor league deal with the A’s. Both have received invitations to major league spring training.
The Giants, with starting catcher Buster Posey not quite ready to assume a full catching load after hip surgery, wanted to add catching depth behind Posey and Aramis Garcia, so signing lifelong Giants fan Vogt was an easy addition to the four three catchers in camp as non-roster invitees, who include Rene Rivera, Hamlet Marte, Cameron Rupp and top draft pick Joey Bart.
Vogt, who spent four and a half season with Oakland, has experience as a starter, having played in 136 and 137 games in his two All-Star seasons of 2015 and 2016, respectively.
He played in 99 games with Oakland and the Milwaukee Brewers in 2017, hitting .254 in the National League with eight home runs, seven doubles and 20 RBIs.
In late February of 2018, Vogt suffered a shoulder strain, and opened the 2018 season on the disabled list. He re-injured his shoulder while on rehab assignment with the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers, and had season-ending shoulder surgery. He was outrighted off the roster on Nov. 1, but elected free agency.
Vogt, according to a report from the Associated Press, has yet to begin throwing from a crouch. When he’s been healthy, he’s caught a slightly-below-average 26 percent of runners trying to steal, and posted a full-season mark as high as 32 percent in 2015, but his percentage fell from 28 percent in 2016 to a dismal 14 percent in 2017.
Hundley, who spent the last two seasons backing up Posey in San Francisco, was expected to get a major league deal, but instead is signed to a minor league deal with the A’s, with the chance to earn the starting catching job.
“Gamer,” was how manager Bob Melvin — himself a former catcher — described Hundley to reporters on Monday. “He gets it, behind the plate. Someone we’ve been talking about for a little while. We did some homework, and actually got to see him last year. He’s one of those quarterbacks on the field, and I think he’s a big pickup for us.”
A career .248 hitter, Hundley could serve as a bridge to top prospect Sean Murphy, who hit .288 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs in 68 games at Double-A Midland last season and got a taste of Triple-A towards the end of the campaign.
Oakland had felt fairly good about its catching situation — platooning Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann — but wanted to add a piece who could truly be a starter.
Phegley hit just .204/.255/.344 last season, and Herrmann is a career .205/.282/.351 hitter in the Majors.
Last season, the 35-year old Hundley hit .241/.298/.408, with 10 homers in 305 plate appearances. Much like last season’s late acquisition Jonathan Lucroy, Hundley would be a veteran hand to guide what’s expected to be a very young rotation. He’s spent 11 years in the Major Leagues, and has caught 862 games.
“You always want a veteran guy that, especially for my job, that you have the type of communication where you have a leader who goes out in the field,” Melvin said. “He’s a big pickup for us. You always need depth, so we’d have been fine going into the season, with the other two, but this just adds to our depth. We’ll figure it out at the end.”
Defensively, Hundley may be a downgrade from Lucroy, who signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim this winter. He was at the bottom of the league in framing (-13.2 runs framing) compared to Lucroy, who was not at his career best, but still far better in the framing department (-3.7, compared to his -17.9 in 2017). In 2017, though, Hundley was near league-average (-1.1).
Hundley’s caught-stealing rate fell to a below-average 21 percent in 2018, but he was a bit above the league average at 29 percent in 2017, and for his career, he’s thrown out 26 percent of runners. He’s also drawn average or above-average marks in terms of blocking pitches in the dirt.
Hundley reported to A’s camp — which opened on Monday — and immediately got to work.
“He’s one of those guys you see picks up stuff right away,” Melvin said. “He caught a couple of our veteran guys, he’s very aware of the league, he’s very aware of how to deal with pitchers. Exactly what I thought. Similar to a Lucroy, a guy that’s very aware of how to go about his position. He’s been around for a while, been in different organizations and does a nice job. It didn’t surprise me to see how he went about his business today … He did all the things that veteran guys do.”