The 2020 MLB season is insane and the first of its kind with all of the nuances and protocols in place that each team has to adhere to.
This past weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays played their first of what could possibly be several double-headers this season. During the second game of the now 7-inning twin bills, the Rays brought in their third catcher, Kevan Smith, to take over behind the plate. This was not new, the Rays have been utilizing three catchers all season in order to allow as many pinch hitting opportunities as possible. What was surprising was that after the game the Rays made the decision to designate Smith for assignment.
In removing Smith from the 40-man roster, the third catcher on the roster is now free to sign with any team, or return to the Rays as depth.
In the meantime, the decision to potentially part ways with Smith leaves the Rays with just three catchers on their 60-man squad: Mike Zunino, Michael Perez, and the most heralded catching prospect the Rays have had in two decades, Ronaldo Hernandez.
Accordingly, with the Rays heading to Boston for their first trip to Fenway this season, and with Tampa Bay required to have at least three catchers available for the games, they have added Ronaldo Hernandez to the ‘taxi-squad’ for the road trip.
Hernandez’s story is an interesting one as he was originally an infielder when the Rays first signed him as a teenager in 2014. He possessed an above-average arm, and a projectable offensive body, but he did not posses the fleetest of feet so the Rays slotted him behind the plate and he went to work learning all of the intricacies that come with being a catcher.
After moving stateside in 2016, Hernandez showcased his offensive capabilities and continued to do so over the next several years; over 217 games from 2016 thru 2018, Hernandez hit .311/.367/.495 with 32 home runs over 924 plate appearances.
In 2019, Hernandez was moved up to the High-A and met the offensively restricted confines of the Florida State League. Although his power numbers were sapped, Hernandez still produced 104 wRC+ over 427 plate appearances. All the while, Hernandez’s abilities behind the plate have been in a work in progress, with him steadily improving with each passing season.
The Rays moved Hernandez to the 40-man roster this past offseason and obviously believe in their 22 year old stud catching prospect. In a sign that power was not gone, Hernandez put on a show during the Rays summer camp. Since then, he’s been at the Rays alternate site.
By adding him to their taxi-squad to potentially make his big league debut, the Rays will be an injury away from having their faith in his abilities tested behind the plate possibly at some point over the next several days.