Diamondbacks C Tucker Barnhart’s Opening Day started at dawn of spring training

Mar 10, 2024, 5:29 PM

Tucker Barnhart...

Tucker Barnhart of the Arizona Diamondbacks during spring training at Salt River Fields. (Arizona Sports Photo/Alex Weiner)

(Arizona Sports Photo/Alex Weiner)

SCOTTSDALE — This has not been a typical spring training in various ways for 33-year-old catcher Tucker Barnhart with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

For the first time in a decade, Barnhart is a non-roster invitee battling for a spot on a major league roster after more than nine years of service time. He and Jose Herrera are Arizona’s options for backup catcher behind Gabriel Moreno, the only two backstops in big league camp after Adrian Del Castillo’s reassignment to minor league camp on Sunday.

“I’d be lying if I said (this spring spring wasn’t different). The thing for me was in years past, it’s been coming to spring training in shape and ready to play but then kind of working through things and and getting ready for Opening Day on March 28, or whenever it is,” Barnhart told Arizona Sports.

“This year to me, in my opinion, I came to spring training looking at February — whatever the first game was — as my Opening Day. So it’s definitely turned into more of a game-like feel in terms of regular season for now.”

Barnhart made a name for himself as a premier defensive backstop with the Cincinnati Reds, winning Gold Gloves in 2017 and 2020. He signed a two-year major league deal with the Cubs last season, but Chicago released him in August after he produced a .542 OPS.

Back on the market, Barnhart looked for a spot where he could compete and win, leading him to a minor league contract with Arizona after its World Series run.

“It made the most sense, the best team that had an option to go to,” Barnhart said. “At this point in my career, I want to win.”

Barnhart has only played in two postseason games in his career, which came in the wild card round of the expanded 2020 playoff bracket.

Manager Torey Lovullo has said he’s looking for consistency receiving, blocking and following game plans for his backup catcher, someone trusted to start 40 or so games.

“Just the calmness to his game,” Lovullo said of Barnhart. “The ability to go behind the plate and stay with the umpire, work with what’s going on up on the mound, developing relationships, evaluate what’s happening, what’s working, what’s not and then continuing to go back to the drawing board inning-to-inning.

“So it’s been very impressive. I think there’s just an ease to his game and the way he approaches his job.”

The Diamondbacks don’t have a catcher with Barnhart’s credentials in the organization. At 24, Moreno is an emerging franchise backstop who won his first Gold Glove and picked up offensively down the stretch last season and into the playoffs. When he didn’t start last year, the Diamondbacks were a sub-.500 club, and he was sorely missed while on the injured list with a shoulder issue during Arizona’s downward spiral in late July and early August.

Herrera has the benefit of continuity with the staff from his major league experience over the past two years, although Barnhart caught free agent signee Eduardo Rodriguez with the 2022 Detroit Tigers.

“Just catch the way I know I can,” Barnhart said is key to making the team. “I know I can compete and contribute offensively but for me it’s about managing the staff, it’s about helping young guys, offering input to Gabi and Jose as much as I can, just developing relationships with the pitchers and letting everything else play out.”

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Diamondbacks C Tucker Barnhart’s Opening Day started at dawn of spring training