Catchers are weird and splits are deceptive. That really has been the story of Cameron Rupp’s rookie campaign. Catchers develop in a very non-linear way (as most prospects do anyway) because there is a lot to their job outside of hitting, so it is not rare to see pieces of a profile display later in a career than a normal prospect. Beyond catcher weirdness, it was a weird season for Rupp who hit 7 home runs in August and mashed vs left handed pitchers making his season line quite different from what happened over the season.
What Was Written Before the Season:
I am going to be totally honest, I forgot before the season that Rupp was prospect eligible. If I had remembered I would have said that his odds of being a backup catcher were on life support after he struck out in more than 30% of his plate appearances at both the AAA and major league level. Rupp had flashed some power but nowhere near the necessary abilities to tap into that power. Rupp had a chance to fight for a job in Spring Training and with the Phillies not bringing in other options the path appears open.
What Happened in the Minors:
Nothing, Rupp skipped right to the majors this year.
What Happened in the Majors:
Stat Line: 299 PA 9 HR 8.0% BB 23.7% K% .233/.301/.374 .291 wOBA
Major League Debut: September 10, 2013
Over the course of the season Rupp seized the starting catching job from Carlos Ruiz, but it might as much have had to do with Ruiz’s decline. For the most part Rupp showed the same things he has always done. He strikes out a lot, walks at an ok rate, and at times he will show big power. His swing is a bit slow and he lacks mid swing adjustments due to his stiff arms. He can hit a baseball hard in his zone, but pitchers had a lot of success with offspeed pitches against him.
Rupp’s full stat line is a bit deceptive because he mashed left handed pitching (147 wRC+) and greatly struggled against right handed pitchers (59 wRC+). It was a similar split to fellow righty Darin Ruf, though Rupp was better against RHPs than his catching mate Carlos Ruiz (39 wRC+). Due to being the primary starting catcher down the stretch, Rupp saw more RHPs than LHPs on the year (by a sizeable margin).
On to defense where Rupp was more just average. Rupp has a strong arm and did throw out 38% of base runners (league average was 28%) and base runners only attempted 53 times against him. His pitch framing was slightly below average this year (-0.9) according to Baseball Prospectus (Carlos Ruiz was the worst in baseball). Rupp also struggled with balls in the dirt allowing a decent amount of wild pitches and passed balls. Overall he was passable but did not show the signs of being a good defensive backup.
It is really hard to see Rupp as anything more than a backup catcher. He is already 27 and he does not offer much in the way of projection. The only real place for growth is his pitch framing where he has rated poorly for a few years. In theory he could improve against right handed pitchers, but the stiffness and length in the swing do not portend positive future growth. This is also a problem because it is more difficult to platoon a catcher than any other position because it is dependent on their workload and which pitcher they are working with (also they cannot be lifted for a pinch hitter late in games). All of this should give Rupp a chance to start a bunch of games over the next year or so until the Phillies’ catching prospects arrive in the major leagues, after that he will need to fight keep a spot on the roster as the team transitions into being competitive.