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Toolshed: Potential pitcher-catcher pairings

Previewing which batteries could feature together in 2021
Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez could give one Orioles affiliate two top-30 overall prospects. (Joey Gardner/FotoJoe, Cliff Welch/
February 12, 2021

Pitchers and catchers. With feeling now. Pitchers and catchers. OK, one more time. Pitchers and catchers! Those words will be on the tips of baseball fans' tongues next week when hurlers and backstops report for their first Spring Training workouts in Arizona and Florida between Feb. 17-19. Several of the

Pitchers and catchers.

With feeling now. Pitchers and catchers.

OK, one more time. Pitchers and catchers!

Those words will be on the tips of baseball fans' tongues next week when hurlers and backstops report for their first Spring Training workouts in Arizona and Florida between Feb. 17-19. Several of the game's top prospects will be included in those initial report dates, either as members of the 40-man roster or non-roster invitees.

But just because top pitching and catching prospects will be in camp together, that is far from a guarantee they will work in tandem from the beginning of the regular season. With that in mind, this edition of the Toolshed looks at notable pitcher-catcher batteries that could combine at the start or at some point of the 2021 Minor League campaign.

Adley Rutschman-Grayson Rodriguez, Orioles:'s No. 2 and 27 overall prospects did work together for three games (including one in the South Atlantic League postseason) while with Class A Delmarva in 2019, and the pair got to know each other better at last year's alternate site. At 23, Rutschman is the older of the two former first-rounders by about two years, but he is still awaits a full season of Minor League play unlike Rodriguez, who received that in 2019. A move to Double-A Bowie would make sense for both and continue their development timelines, assuming they would have seen time at Class A Advanced in a normal 2020. It should make for fun viewing. Rutschman is known for his gamecalling and receiving abilities, and that should only aide Rodriguez, who utilizes three plus pitches in his heater, slider and changeup. The two worked together on six hitless innings on Aug. 29, 2019, and there could be more where that came from very shortly.

Luis Campusano- MacKenzie Gore, Padres: Another repeat pair with even more history. Campusano and Gore were teammates at Class A Fort Wayne in 2018 and Class A Advanced Lake Elsinore in 2019. That should come as no surprise since they were the Padres' first two picks in the 2017 Draft out of high schools in Georgia and North Carolina respectively. The difference here is that Campusano has slighter defensive tools than Rutschman. Don't get it wrong, his arm has plus potential, and his receiving has drawn praise for its improvements over close to four years. But that work has been done to make an average backstop, rather than a player who may have had to move to first base a few years back. His biggest assets remain his power and plate discipline that would make his offense a positive at any position. He notably homered in his one Major League appearance. Gore, on the other hand, has been one of the top pitching prospects in the game with a deep and well-rounded arsenal from the left side. Campusano got a one-game cup of coffee with the Major League club last year, while Gore (technically the better prospect) still waits for that debut. Both should expect to start at Triple-A, one step from making the NL contenders even deeper at the top level. (Note: Campusano was charged with felony marijuana possession in Georgia this offseason, and while those charges remain, it's possible he could miss time in the upcoming season. For now, the Padres have said they expect him to participate in Spring Training.)

Keibert Ruiz- Josiah Gray, Dodgers: With another club, Ruiz definitely would be competing for a Major League job this spring, and Gray probably would already have a few top-level starts on his resume. But this is the defending World Series champions that sport two impressive catchers in Will Smith and Austin Barnes and a loaded rotation that just added Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer to the mix. Ruiz and Gray -- the No. 57 and 58 overall prospects respectively -- are almost guaranteed to head to Triple-A Oklahoma City together when things get going. Ruiz has a little more development needed for his work behind the plate and should focus on adding a little more pop in his return to Triple-A, where he spent nine games in 2019. Gray is L.A.'s top pitching prospect, thanks to a low- to mid-90s fastball that features good life and two improving breaking balls. Both are in a position in which every Triple-A start will feel like a Major League audition to join arguably the game's best team. No pressure.

Ivan Herrera-Matthew Liberatore, Cardinals: Things could get a little tricky here. Since it seems likely that the non-Triple-A Minor League season will be delayed to open 2021, it's possible teams could get aggressive with their top prospects with assignments to Triple-A or another alternate site in order to keep them close by in case of the need for a quick callup. Herrera is one of only three catchers on the St. Louis 40-man roster, and even though he is still only 20, the Cards could choose to give him such a push, at least to start 2021. If they don't and hold him back for Double-A, that would be because he has only played 18 games above the Class A level. Indeed, he and Liberatore, who turned 21 in November, would likely be on the same level in a vacuum. That would be good news for the development of both. Liberatore still hasn't technically made his Minor League debut with the Cards and would get to do so with a strong defensive backstop in Herrera, who has grown quickly behind the plate. Herrera, on the other hand, would continue that growth by working with a left-hander capable of showing three above-average to plus pitches. As St. Louis plans for life after the re-signed Yadier Molina, this could be a duo who would be together for a long while yet.

Francisco Alvarez-Matthew Allan, Mets: Speaking of the lower Minors, this pair definitely should open up away from Triple-A, considering they both lack full-season experience in the Minors and are still only 19. (Allan turns 20 in April.) At No. 48 overall, Alvarez has become the Mets' top prospect on the strength of a well-rounded set of tools for a catcher -- a strong overall hit tool, plenty of promising power, enough glove to stick at catcher and a good arm. He just needs the more consistent reps, some of which he got at last year's alt site in Brooklyn. Allan also stood out on Coney Island, where his mid-90s fastball and plus curveball drew promising reviews. Like so many, it will be mutually beneficial if Alvarez and Allan get their first tastes of full-season ball together. Allan can throw to a solid receiver, while Alvarez will work with the type of advanced pitcher he'll see much more often the higher he climbs. It's the type of relationship that could make both top-40 overall prospects by year's end.

William Contreras- Kyle Muller, Braves: Getting out of Top 100 talk briefly here, but that shouldn't undermine what these two Atlanta prospects are capable of achieving in 2021. Contreras -- brother of Cubs backstop Willson Contreras -- got in four Major League games last season prior to his 23rd birthday, so he should be one step away again this upcoming season. The Braves seemed pleased with his defensive improvements, and like his brother, he shows plenty of pop from the right side. It could be a real debate over whether Contreras or top 2019 pick Shea Langeliers could be the catcher of the future in Atlanta. (Langeliers is a better defender, but faces more questions with the bat. He appears to be more of a Double-A option to open this season.) Ian Anderson should be a lock to make the Majors out of spring, making the left-handed Muller the top pitching prospect Contreras likely will work with in Gwinnett. Muller features plenty of velocity with an upper-90s fastball that can touch triple-digits on rare occasions. The 6-foot-7 southpaw should focus on the off-speed stuff in his first trip to Triple-A. Contreras and Muller bring some loud tools to the table, and their mutual development could be a boon for a Braves club hoping to hold serve in a deep NL East.

Miguel Amaya-Brailyn Marquez, Cubs: Amaya caught two Marquez starts after the latter was promoted to Class A Advanced in August 2019. Some things have changed since then, but perhaps not enough to keep either from working together again to start 2021. The biggest change was Marquez's lone Major League appearance. Pay no mind to the stat line (five earned runs in two-thirds of an inning). The important thing to focus on is the fact Chicago thought Marquez was worthy of a brief look. He's headed back to the upper Minors, where he'll refocus on being a starter -- one with easy high-90s velocity and a decent slider. Whether that's Triple-A or Double-A, there's a good chance Amaya joins him. The 21-year-old backstop is entering his second season on the 40-man roster. His defense has trended upward the fastest following some work at the alt site, while a lot will be asked of the bat now that he's facing in-game competition again. At the very least, he should help get the most out of Marquez if and when they're paired up again.

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.