Phillies prospect Logan O’Hoppe’s meteoric rise through the minors…What does it mean for the future of several starters?
Phillies catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe, 22, has been mashing pitching at the minor league level over the past two seasons and now projects as an everyday catcher. What does his emergence mean for JT Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, and several other Phillies starters next offseason?
In the 2018 draft, the Phillies took a shot on a catcher from Long Island, Logan O’Hoppe, in the 23rd round. His talent far exceeded his selection round; most teams avoided taking him as they were fairly certain he would forego signing a professional contract in order to accept a scholarship to play at East Carolina University. Honored by the selection and only then realizing he could actually fulfill his dream of playing professional baseball, O’Hoppe signed for an over-slot bonus of $215,000.
After a pair of average seasons as a teenager and another lost to the pandemic, O’Hoppe found himself outside of the majority of Phillies top 30 prospect lists. In the eyes of many scouts, if everything went right with his development, there was a possibility he could provide utility as a backup catcher in the league.
Then in 2021 something clicked for O’Hoppe. Suddenly he started tearing up minor league pitching, slashing .270/.331/.458, while making the rare leap across three levels from High-A Jersey Shore to AAA-Lehigh Valley.
Suddenly O’Hoppe was skyrocketing up the list of top Phillies prospects and he earned himself a spot in the Arizona Fall League, playing amongst the game’s best young talent. In the AFL he dominated for the Peoria Javelinas, slashing .299/.440/.519 over 22 games, was named to the AZL All-Star team along with Bryson Stott and Damon Jones, and also took home the Dernell Stenson Leadership Award, an award given to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work, and leadership.
In 2022, O’Hoppe has been predictably lighting up the pitching at AA-Reading, hitting .301/.414/.583 and taking home honors seemingly every week. Now, ranked as the Phillies #4 prospect and seen by scouts as a potential everyday player, the young catcher could force his way onto the Phillies 25-man roster and potentially the starting lineup. Just today, it was announced that O’Hoppe had cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospect list.
This is, of course, a wonderful development for the Phillies, who are pushing up against the payroll luxury tax limit and desperately need to find cost controlled starting caliber players. But if O’Hoppe experiences early success when called up this September or early next season, Dave Dombrowksi will have to make difficult decisions to find a spot for him in the lineup.
The catcher position is currently the most barren in terms of top-end talent in the major leagues and is perhaps the weakest it has ever been in the modern era. That is exactly what makes Phillies starting catcher JT Realmuto so valuable, even with a long-tong term contract at an AAV of $23 million. Realmuto is simultaneously among the top-5 offensive and defensive players in the league at his respective position and a workhorse who, if healthy, can be relied on to catch somewhere north of 130 games per season.
Unless Realmuto is traded, which is unlikely given ownership and the front office’s “win-now” mentality, I don’t see a scenario in which O’Hoppe is able to overtake him as the teams starting catcher. Moving JT to first base and replacing Rhys Hoskins seems like a solution on the surface, but Realmuto’s value is totally reliant on his defense behind the plate and above average batting for the position. Move Realmuto to first base and is he suddenly a below average starter at the plate and defensively.
One potential scenario for O’Hoppe is serving as JT’s backup, starting at catcher every third day and giving the 31-year-old veteran some rest, while keeping him in the lineup as the designated hitter. That would allow O’Hoppe to get around 300 at bats in his first season, a manageable number for a rookie who will undoubtedly struggle through portions of the season.
The most likely casualty of O’Hoppe’s success is first basemen Rhys Hoskins, who will enter his last year of arbitration in 2023 and should have a salary in the $7-10 million range. That makes Hoskins a prime trade candidate for a team in need of a veteran 1B/DH at a reasonable price for what amounts to a one-year deal. Don’t get me wrong, the Phillies would surely miss Rhys and his career 124 OPS+, but it’s clear this team needs to improve defensively if it is ever going to challenge for a championship.
Alec Bohm, who has had his own defensive issues at third base this season, would benefit from moving across the diamond back to first base. At 6’5”, first base appears to be a more natural position for the lanky 25-year-old. I know this doesn’t exactly solve the problem of how to get O’Hoppe’s bat into the everyday lineup, but at least it improves the defensive outlook and grants the option of getting all three into the lineup at one time.
The third option is trading O’Hoppe at this summer’s trade deadline in a package to acquire an established veteran. You could argue that O’Hoppe’s value has never been higher and that by trading him in July before he ever logs a major league at bat you could acquire someone able to help the club this season in pursuit of a playoff berth.
This is my least favorite choice. Unless you are acquiring a player with multiple seasons of club control, I don’t believe it is a wise team building strategy to deal away potential everyday position players. Whatever Dombrowksi and the front office decides, O’Hoppe’s recent meteoric rise up the prospect rankings is a great thing for the future of the Phillies and could very well shape the lineup of this team going forward.