The Oakland A’s activated catcher Chris Herrmann from the 60-day injured list, the team announced Tuesday. To make room on the 25-man roster, fellow catcher Beau Taylor was optioned to Triple-A Las Vegas. To make room on the 40-man roster, injured pitcher Marco Estrada was transferred from the 10-day IL to the 60-day.
The A’s signed Herrmann last winter to be their primary catcher in 2019, but his spring training was cut short due to knee surgery that ended up costing him the first half of the season. The 31-year-old has lackluster career numbers, but at times he’s shown flashes of the ability to take a walk and hit for power. Oakland will be his fourth MLB team, with the following stats through 898 plate appearances since 2012:
Herrmann, MLB career: .205/.282/.351, 68 wRC+, 24 HR, 9.5 % BB, 27.1% Ks
More recently, Herrmann went on a rehab stint in Triple-A and posted monster numbers in 13 games (58 PAs), with the caveat that just about everyone is posting monster numbers in Las Vegas and around the Pacific Coast League.
Herrmann, AAA: .333/.397/.667, 150 wRC+, 4 HR, 10.3% BB, 31.0% Ks
While Herrmann was out, the A’s made due with three other catchers. Josh Phegley secured the bulk of the playing time with a breakout performance, including a 104 wRC+ and career-highs of nine homers and 42 RBI, and he remains in the MLB picture alongside Herrmann. However, 35-year-old veteran Nick Hundley struggled mightily, with a 54 wRC+ and a bunch of GIDPs before going down with his own back/knee injuries.
The third name on the list was Taylor, who now heads back to Vegas. He had a wonderful few weeks filling in for Hundley, finding his way into eight games and making some legitimate contributions. He displayed his well-known on-base mettle, reaching nine times in 24 plate appearances (.375 OBP), and he also blasted a pair of homers. The dingers were the first of his MLB career, and one of them came off Cardinals star Adam Wainwright to open the scoring in an eventual narrow 2-0 victory.
Taylor, MLB: 4-for-19, 4 BB, HBP, 5 Ks, 2 HR, 143 wRC+
It was only a handful of at-bats, but Taylor’s success gives some peace of mind that the A’s do indeed have a viable backup catcher waiting in Triple-A. Top prospect Sean Murphy is still out after tearing his meniscus (knee) at the end of April, but he’s “doing fielding drills and starting to block balls in the dirt, a significant hurdle for catchers returning from a meniscus injury,” reports Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman, via Melissa Lockard of The Athletic.
As for Estrada, this move is purely administrative and tells us nothing about his status. The right-hander has been on the injured list since April 17, so he’s already been out more than 60 days anyway. This transaction merely clears his roster spot for now until he’s ready to return. He’s begun throwing but there is no timetable for his recovery from a strained back.
The success of Taylor takes some of the shine out of this news, because he was hitting so well that the catcher position didn’t feel like a problem at all. But it’s exciting that the A’s now have the duo that they’d expected to open the season with, and getting back your expected starter supersedes a small-sample burst from a backup. And of course, anytime a player gets healthy enough to play again, that’s just generally peachy on a human level.
Herrmann bats lefty, too, so he forms a more proper partnership with the righty Phegley than fellow righty Hundley did. Of course, Taylor is also a lefty, so again that hadn’t been a problem lately.
As for what Herrmann has to offer, a deeper look at his stats shows why some of Athletics Nation sees him as a breakout candidate. He had his walk rate up over 11% in each of the last two seasons (in 343 PAs), and in 2017-18 he totaled 16 homers (in 422 PAs). Since 2016, in 509 PAs, he boasts an 85 wRC+ (around average for a catcher) with a 10.8% walk rate and a .182 isolated slugging.
Welcome back to action, Chris, and to Oakland for the first time!
Piscotty out, Barreto up
I was away from the computer last weekend, so let’s take this moment to catch up on one more piece of injury news. On Sunday, outfielder Stephen Piscotty was placed on the 10-day IL and infielder Franklin Barreto was called up to replace him.
Piscotty hurt his knee on Saturday, on an awkward slide into second base, after which he was helped off the field. He was diagnosed with a right knee sprain for now. That wrapped up a tough month of June for the right fielder, who also had a melanoma removed from his ear a couple weeks prior. The A’s are optimistic that this new injury might not be as bad as it looked on the field, pending the results of Monday’s MRI, reported the S.F. Chronicle on Sunday. (UPDATE: No tear in the knee, might only miss a month, reports Ben Ross of NBCS.)
After a great 2018 campaign, featuring a 125 wRC+ and 27 homers, Piscotty has struggled to get going this season. His numbers are down across the board, except for an uptick in walks, and his 88 wRC+ is the second-worst in the starting lineup (ahead of just Jurickson Profar).
Piscotty, 2019: .242/.306/.391, 88 wRC+, 9 HR, 8.2% BB, 21.3% Ks
Furthermore, Statcast suggests it’s not just bad luck, but rather less quality contact overall. Piscotty’s xwOBA was a robust .354 last year, but has fallen to a weak .314 this year, with league average being in the low .320s range.
As for Barreto, the 23-year-old was on absolute fire in Triple-A. In his last 30 games for Vegas, he utterly crushed the ball, with 29 of his 49 hits going for extra bases. Perhaps more importantly, he finally cut down on his strikeouts, which has been his biggest obstacle in getting the call up to the majors. His numbers since May 26 (in 138 PAs):
Barreto, AAA lately: .374/.391/.771, 171 wRC+, 10 HR, 6 SB, 2.9% BB, 18.8% Ks
That hot streak raised his season mark to a 124 wRC+ and lowered his season mark to a 24.8% strikeout rate, after a terrible first two months (and after an untenable 29.3% strikeout rate in 2017-18 combined).
Better yet, instead of sitting on the bench like he usually does when getting the call to replace an injured player, Barreto is actually playing this time. He started at second base for the A’s on Sunday in place of Profar, going 0-for-4 with two Ks, and he’s in the lineup again on Tuesday. Is this finally the former Top 50 prospect getting his first real, honest chance in the majors? Stay tuned to find out! (UPDATE: Yes, Barreto is going to get a real chance at second base, reports insider Martin Gallegos.)
Hot takes: If there’s a bright side here, it’s that the A’s had a logjam of good outfielders and so the loss of Piscotty is one they can cover for perhaps better than any other position, even before factoring in his current slump. Mark Canha carries a sterling 140 wRC+ buoyed by a massive .278 isolated slugging and an equally impressive 15.6% walk rate, but he was having a tough time finding a consistent place in the A’s lineup. He was a clear candidate for more playing time, and he’s now started both games that Piscotty has missed (including Tuesday’s upcoming contest).
It’s great to see Canha getting some well-deserved at-bats, and to see Barreto finally getting some MLB playing time, but of course we wish Piscotty a speedy recovery. The best thing of all would be to have all three of them contributing to a winning A’s team.