Analyzing things strictly through a developmental lens, right now is a particularly good time to be Garrett Stubbs.
A 2015 eighth-round draft pick out of the University of Southern California, Stubbs, 28, was traded from the Houston Astros to the Philadelphia Phillies for outfielder and 2021 10th-round pick Logan Cerny earlier this offseason — and it seems like he’s walking into an optimal situation.
Stubbs’ new manager, Joe Girardi, caught in the big leagues for 15 years. Stubbs’ new organization (despite its well-documented struggles in developing young talent) has recently built somewhat of a reputation as a catching factory. Still, he’ll likely enter the season as the frontrunner to win the backup job with the Major League club, where he’d learn directly from arguably the best catcher in baseball: J.T. Realmuto.
So when Stubbs received a phone call on Nov. 19 from Astros general manager James Click informing him of the trade, he acknowledged the nostalgia and those he’ll miss in Houston while also looking ahead with anticipation.
“I had been stuck behind [Martín] Maldonado and then a couple backups the last few years over in Houston, so [Click] found a good situation over there with me in Philly,” Stubbs told Phillies Nation following a Feb. 5 USC alumni game. “So I’m excited. It was a really awesome day for me.”
Stubbs spent parts of three seasons with the Astros following his 2019 debut, which came four years after winning the 2015 Johnny Bench Award for college baseball’s best catcher. Stubbs has spent the majority of pro ball behind the plate, but he’s also seen time at second base and left field and even played a touch of first and right as well. He’s known for his defense, throwing out 43% of would-be base stealers across the majors and minors (4-for-8 at the Major League level) and receiving high marks for his framing.
That defensive focus might suit the Phillies nicely in the backup role should he occupy it, and the circumstances should only accelerate his production. Stubbs said he’s looking forward to picking Girardi’s brain, as well as watching Realmuto — “probably the best” catcher in baseball, as he put it — “do his thing” and trying to emulate his tendencies behind the dish.
But Stubbs’ mentorship in Philadelphia won’t even stop with the abundance of past, present and future backstops in the Phillies’ organization: He’ll also be working with a starting pitching staff that could be one of the better rotations in baseball this year. Beyond 2021 National League Cy Young runner-up Zack Wheeler, Stubbs has heard plenty about Aaron Nola, and though he still has to acclimate to the rest of the group (he said he’ll utilize Realmuto in that regard), he’s optimistic about its potential.
“They’re in the National League, so I’ve got some homework to do on getting to know their pitchers,” Stubbs said. “But being able to just see what they were able to do this past year — they are really close to being able to make a push in the playoffs.”
Should such a playoff push materialize, Stubbs’ role on the team would assume an additional layer. On the Phillies’ current 40-man, there are just four players who have made at least five different postseason series rosters: Didi Gregorius leads the pack with eight; Corey Knebel, Johan Camargo and Garrett Stubbs are all tied for second with five.
Stubbs’ role in his five postseason series — the 2020 AL Wild Card Round, ALDS and ALCS, as well as the 2021 ALDS and World Series — was limited. He found his way into two games and didn’t record a plate appearance.
The experience, though, was nonetheless valuable.
“As a non-starter over with the Astros, I really got to sit back and watch the guys every day and see their routines and see how they handled themselves,” Stubbs said. “Hopefully with my experience over in Houston, I’ll be able to bring a few things over there and hopefully help us get to that next level and be a playoff team.”
Stubbs’ additional role in Houston as a high-energy clubhouse presence could very well have added to his appeal in replacing former backup Andrew Knapp, who occupied a similar role during his five-year Phillies tenure. Astros writer Michael Schwab began calling Stubbs the Astros’ “hype man” in August, and the “🕺🏻” emoji he assigned the catcher became Stubbs’ pictographic representation in Houston.
Stubbs, of course, can’t become the Phillies’ hype man until the beginning of spring training, the first time he’ll be able to familiarize himself with his new teammates and coaching staff. Stubbs said he chatted with Girardi and a few members of the Phillies’ front office immediately after the trade, but it’s been all silence since MLB locked the players out on Dec. 2. Still, Stubbs said that the offseason has been largely typical for him; he’s sticking to his usual training program and working out in Scottsdale, Ariz. while he and the rest of the players await the call.
When it comes, Stubbs will finally get to meet his Phillies teammates and begin the process of trying to break the franchise’s 10-year playoff drought. And with the team in contention each of the last few years but unable to quite get over the hump, perhaps Stubbs’ combination of defense, versatility and — for lack of a better term — “hype” could be one of the puzzle pieces the Phillies have been missing.
Stubbs, for one, is bullish.
“They’re a winning ballclub over there in Philly,” he said. “They haven’t been able to make the playoffs, but they’re a winning ballclub, and they’re so close to getting to that next level and becoming a playoff team.
“They’re a good organization, and they got really good players, so it should be a lot of fun.”
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