The Oakland A’s signed catcher Nick Hundley to a minor league contract on Monday, first reported by insider Jane Lee. The signing was confirmed by Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle, who says Hundley can earn $1.25 million if he makes the majors.
It’s safe to say Hundley is a bat-first catcher. He’s capable of hitting double-digit homers, even in part-time duty, and has averaged 10 per year since 2013 with a solid .162 isolated slugging during that time. He doesn’t get on base and his career 89 wRC+ is mediocre at best, but it’s significantly higher than that of Oakland’s incumbents at the position. His 2018 stats (in 305 plate appearances) are a perfect reflection of what the right-hander has to offer:
Hundley, 2018: .241/.298/.408, 91 wRC+, 10 HR, 7.2% BB, 27.9% Ks
On the downside, his defense gets poor marks. Baseball Prospectus ranked him as one of the worst catchers in the sport in both ‘16 (103rd-of-104) and ‘18 (115th-of-117), though on the bright side he was around neutral in ‘17 between those duds.
The A’s catching position has been in a bit of limbo this winter. They have an impact prospect in Sean Murphy who might reach Oakland this summer, but in the meantime the team is trying to contend and can’t just punt the position until he arrives. They already had Chris Herrmann and Josh Phegley on hand, but Slusser reported last week that the A’s were “unlikely to go into the regular season” with just that platoon. Now they’ve added another MLB-caliber option to the mix, which likely ends the catching search, says Lee.
The 35-year-old Hundley spent the first half of his career with the Padres, but more recently he played the last two seasons across the Bay with the Giants and was honored there as an excellent teammate. In a coincidental twist, on Monday the Giants also signed a former A’s catcher in Stephen Vogt, via Janie McCauley of the AP. For his part, Hundley had great things to say about his new organization, and claimed to have picked the A’s “from a pool of six or seven clubs he was talking to for the last week,” reports Lee.
This sounds about right. It made sense to add another reliable body behind the plate, but not to spend much on it. The A’s found someone, but without committing any real money nor a roster spot until they see how everything shakes out in the spring. This is the Jerry Blevins signing, but for catcher depth, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see either or both on the Opening Day roster.
As for Hundley, he’s a depth name I’ve looked at in past years so it’s interesting to see Oakland finally get him. Unfortunately he’s the polar opposite of what I would have liked this winter — I wanted plus defense, and while Jonathan Lucroy was a terrible hitter last year it was at least interesting how his high-contact bat contrasted with the team’s otherwise powerful but whiffy ways. Instead, Hundley is a negative behind the plate, and his skill set on offense is a lite version of what the A’s already have. All that said, though, he’s still probably an upgrade over the status quo.
As a right-handed batter, Hundley is presumably more likely to replace Phegley than Herrmann. However, I’d assume it’s at least possible that the team cares about more than just platoon side when choosing their two backstops, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be strictly right/left. If it does end up as Herrmann/Hundley, though, the pair could feasibly have a chance to combine for upward of 20 homers, as Herrmann has also popped 10 before as recently as 2017 and sports a .183 isolated slugging over the last three seasons.
Finally, this news gives me the chance to share one of my favorite baseball name facts. There have been three players named Hundley in all of MLB history, and all of them were catchers: Randy, Todd, and Nick. The other two are related: Randy is Todd’s father, and both were All-Stars who each played 14 years in the league. However, Nick is completely unrelated to them. He just happens to have the same name, and by complete coincidence he plays the same position as every other person ever to have his name in the majors. It’s not quite a Jeff D’Amico story, but it’s pretty good.