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New D-backs catcher Caleb Joseph searches for power, role

Catcher Caleb Joseph, left, speaks to D-backs coaches on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019, at Salt River Fields. (Logan Newman/Arizona Sports)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Newly-signed catcher Caleb Joseph has been with the Arizona Diamondbacks for just two days, but he’s familiar with at least one person on the roster.

In 2013, Joseph beat outfielder Steven Souza Jr. in the Eastern League All-Star Game Home Run Derby.

“That was cool, I do remember that,” Joseph said. “I actually think he let me win it because it was like my third All-Star game there and he felt bad for me, so I think he let me win. He’s a good guy, glad to be teammates with him.”

While being an All-Star is good, being a frequent participant in the Double-A game without being promoted isn’t ideal. But Joseph’s 2013 performance of batting .299 with 22 home runs and 97 RBI prompted a 2014 call-up to Triple-A and eventually the major leagues.

The power has come and gone since then. After hitting 20 home runs over his first 182 MLB games in 2014 and 2015, Joseph only has 11 in the three years since. He thinks it still might be there.

“I’m not sure that I’ve been able to really put out the potential that I have in the bat,” he said. “There was a huge, heavy importance on defense when I was in Baltimore and so I kind of neglected my offense a little bit to focus solely on defense because I didn’t have as many experiences with those guys and I was rushed into game experiences with them.”

He was replacing Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star who only played 26 games in 2014 due to an arm injury. The team finished as American League East champions with a 96-66 record.

Joseph’s performance impressed now-Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo, who was then with the Boston Red Sox.

“Joseph stepped in and made people not miss Matt Wieters as much as he could have possibly been missed,” Lovullo said. “The pitching staff, the way that the games were run, did not take a step backwards when Caleb stepped in there. Very unusual for a young catcher.”

Now 32 and entering his sixth MLB season, Joseph could be a piece to replace Jeff Mathis, who often caught pitchers Zack Greinke, Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray. Mathis signed with the Rangers this offseason.

If Joseph can serve as a strong defender and an adequate offensive option, he could fill a needed role. Last season, no Diamondbacks catcher hit more than nine home runs. Only John Ryan Murphy batted above .200 – he sat at .202.

Joseph isn’t likely to be an offensive threat, per se, but if he can get his play back to his 2017 level of a .256 average and eight home runs in 89 games, it would be an improvement over the other options at the plate.

With that said, there’s no guarantee Joseph will make the team.

Other competition to make the major league roster at catcher includes Murphy, Alex Avila and Carson Kelly, the last of whom was acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals in the Paul Goldschmidt trade.

Joseph has played his entire career in the American League, but he doesn’t see that as a detriment. With technology today, he can research pitchers he’ll work with and hitters he’ll face without being in the backstop.

“I’ve got experience. That always plays, especially the catcher position,” Joseph said. “I know the league, know the players and when it comes to game calling and working with pitchers, it’s something I kind of pride myself on.”

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