By Chad Stewart
Ever since the disastrous 2011 trade that saw the Angels trade homegrown catcher Mike Napoli to Toronto in exchange for outfielder Vernon Wells and his monstrous contract, the Angels have longed for a long-term solution at catcher. As it turns out, the Angels may have found the solution they have been searching for later in the same year of that infamous trade that still haunts them to this day.
A 31st-round pick out of the University of Arizona in 2011, Jett Bandy steadily progressed through the minors and now finds himself as an integral part of the big league club.
From 2011 to 2013, Bandy produced decent numbers in the minors, but nothing notable or spectacular; he was just a 31st-round after all.
In 2014, his second season in Double-A, Bandy began showing promise. In 93 games, he posted a .348 on-base percentage to go with 13 home runs. He was promoted to Triple-A the following year, and he managed to put together a similar season to his 2014 campaign, earning himself a call up to the majors in September. He was only granted two plate appearances, but he made the most of his limited opportunity and immediately put his power on display, crushing a homer in one of them.
Following the 2015 season, the Angels signed veteran catcher Geovany Soto. Soto was expected to split time behind the plate with Carlos Perez, who made a strong impression in his 2015 rookie season, though his offensive numbers left something to be desired. Therefore, Bandy was seemingly stuck in Triple-A and was there just to provide depth.
That depth was needed rather quickly, as Perez couldn’t hit and Soto couldn’t stay healthy. On May 18, Bandy received the call to the big leagues, and he has flourished ever since, already producing 1.1 Wins Above Replacement.
In 45 games, Bandy is hitting .266 with an .798 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, which is third-best among American League catchers with at least 150 plate appearances. His 155 plate appearances provide a small sample size, but what bodes well for future success is that he is walking a fair amount (6.5% of his plate appearances) and not striking out very often at all; his 14.2% strikeout-rate ranks second among AL catchers.
His aforementioned power has certainly been on display, as well. Bandy’s impressive .482 slugging percentage is seventh-best among all catchers, just ahead of perennial All-Star Buster Posey. He has eight home runs in just 155 plate appearances, which is the most by an Angels rookie catcher since Napoli’s 16 in 2006, and if he stepped up to the plate as many times as Napoli did in 2006, Bandy’s current pace would put him on track for 17 big flies.
Is Jett Bandy the second-coming of Mike Napoli? Offensively, maybe. Defensively, certainly not.
He is much better.
Shutting down an opponent’s running game is one of a catcher’s most vital responsibilities, and Bandy has been more than capable. Bandy has thrown out 45.71% of attempted base stealers this year, third-best in the majors. In his rookie year, Napoli threw out just 31% of attempted base stealers and just 24% in his Angels career.
Last year, Perez looked like he may be the Angels’ catcher of the future, but he never displayed an ability to be a consistent offensive threat. Still, his stellar defense more than made up for what he lacked in the batter’s box. That was no longer the case this year when he turned into one of the worst hitters in the league. Because of this, a small window of opportunity was opened for Bandy, and he burst through it, cementing himself as the best all-around catcher in the Angels’ organization both right now and likely for many years to come.
Not bad for a 31st-round pick.