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2020 Offseason

What role will catcher Rafael Marchan have in 2021?


Catcher Rafael Marchan made his major-league debut in 2020. (Cheryl Pursell)

This past season was one like no other for Philadelphia Phillies’ catching prospect Rafael Marchan. What’s in store for him next season is still unclear.

In a normal year, Marchan likely would have spent most, if not all, of 2020 with Double-A Reading. But with all the changes to baseball’s structure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the young catcher ended up making his major-league debut despite never playing a game above Single-A.

After impressing defensively at the original spring training, Marchan spent the start of the season honing his skills in the team’s alternate site at Lehigh Valley. When the Phillies designated Deivy Grullón for assignment at the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the 21-year-old Marchan became the most experienced catcher in the organization outside of the two backstops on the major-league roster, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp.

Marchan was then promoted to the majors in mid-September following a hip injury by Realmuto. He played three games with the Phillies, recording a hit in each of them.

The highlight — and probably the most surprising moment — of the catcher’s season was when he hit his first professional home run, a game-tying three-run shot, against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 18. Marchan had never hit a home run in his four minor-league seasons, but got his first one to help salvage a game for a team with postseason aspirations down the stretch:

With Marchan’s first experience in the major leagues now behind him, his role with the team going forward has yet to be determined. What happens this offseason with Realmuto, now a free agent, could be a key deciding factor in that.

If the two-time All-Star Realmuto signs with another team and the Phillies do not acquire another full-time catcher to replace him, it’s possible that Knapp could get the bulk of the playing time in 2021 with Marchan as his backup. This would probably not be the optimal set up for Marchan’s long-term development, however. The switch hitter slugged just .345 in the minor leagues, and could benefit from more playing time at Triple-A to add more power to his solid contact abilities.

Marchan’s defense does appear to be major-league ready if needed as a backup, which is a trait that could make him an interesting trade candidate if the Phillies do re-sign Realmuto. He is advanced at receiving and handling base stealers. The Phillies could be able to find a team interested in a rising catcher, and put together a trade to add to a core that includes Realmuto.

The team could also keep Marchan in Triple-A next season if they re-sign Realmuto, and help develop him into a player who can platoon with Realmuto as he ages. Realmuto will turn 30 before the start of next season, and has been injured near the end of the last two seasons. Having a solid, younger catcher to split time with the veteran in the later years of a potential free-agent contract could be the optimal situation for the team.

No matter the role Marchan ends up having in 2021, next season will be about refining his tools and continuing along his development path. He showed promise in the opportunities he was given this past season. His progress — along with the Phillies’ strategy for roster construction — will decide what his opportunities are in the future.

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