Heading into the 2015 regular season, Cameron Rupp sat behind Carlos Ruiz on the Phillies’ catching depth chart. As the season progressed, that began to change as a manager Pete Mackanin started to favor the 27-year-old Rupp over the 36-year-old Ruiz.
And for good reason, too. The Phillies’ rebuild was already underway, and mainstays like Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Cole Hamels had already gone their separate ways. The organization was undergoing a transformation and players like Ruiz and Ryan Howard, the only players remaining from the 2008 World Series team, represent an old guard that the Phillies are trying to move on from.
Aside from Mackanin looking to see what his younger position players could do, Ruiz made the decision to favor Rupp at catcher an easy one due to his lack of production at the plate. In 284 at-bats, the fewest Ruiz had in a full season, he posted a slash line of just .211/.290/.285 with just 16 extra-base hits and 22 RBIs. Ruiz was not effective as a defensive catcher either, as he looked slower than in years past and his arm from behind the plate lacked noticeable zip. The 10-year veteran managed to throw out just 11-of-57 base-stealers to go along with 11 errors–the second most among major league catchers.
While Rupp wasn’t perfect, his age and his defense behind the plate made him the better play over Ruiz, especially on a rebuilding team. His 6’2″, 260-pound frame helped him reach wide pitches and balls in the dirt. Also, his cannon arm from behind the plate helped him throw out 20-of-33 base-stealers.
Offensively, Rupp posted a slash line of .233/.301/.374 to go along with 19 extra-base hits and 28 RBIs. But he struck out 71 times en route to a strikeout rate of 23.7 percent (13th among major league catchers). Rupp developed some power in his first full season after hitting none during his limited action in 2013 and 2014. He hit nine home runs including his first at the major league level on one of baseball’s grandest stages, no less.
Once Aaron Nola landed on the major league roster, Rupp became the right-hander’s battery mate and for reasons unknown, tore the cover off the ball in Nola’s starts. Over 13 of the 22-year-old’s starts, Rupp belted five home runs and recorded 14 RBIs.
Rupp’s .233 batting average wasn’t aided by his .211 average against right-handed pitching. However, Rupp did have success against lefties. In 66 at-bats, he posted a .303 average, a .545 slugging percentage, and a .915 OPS. Rupp’s month of August, where he hit .310 with seven home runs and 17 RBIs, helped him supplant Ruiz as the team’s starting catcher. In August and September combined, Rupp made 37 starts to Ruiz’s 19.
While Ruiz is signed through 2016, he will likely serve as the backup catcher next season. At 27, Rupp’s not a promising young prospect. But he showed enough promise both at the plate and behind it to earn a shot at the everyday catching job in 2016. His bat needs to be more consistent, especially against right-handed pitching, but he has the potential to become an outstanding defensive catcher.
On a lighter note, Rupp was responsible for one of the stranger moments in 2015 when he accidentally hit Sean O’Sullivan in the throat with a throw back to the mound. Poor O’Sullivan.