Since the first time he walked into Barbara Accomando’s classroom, even before that, Logan O’Hoppe has been a catcher. So one day a few years ago, over lunch at St. John the Baptist High School in West Islip, N.Y., the teacher asked her former student what he finds so appealing about the most demanding position on a baseball field.
“He goes, ‘Well, when I was in the outfield, I was picking too many daisies,’ ” Accomando recalled, laughing through the phone. “He became a catcher, and now he has to pay attention to the game.”
It was more than that, of course. Folks who know O’Hoppe from back home on the south shore of Long Island or as a rising Phillies prospect say he’s naturally curious, with uncommon maturity for a 21-year-old. They describe him as diligent, easy to talk to, and eager for the responsibilities of being involved with every pitch. O’Hoppe wasn’t born with a catcher’s mitt, as Accomando likes to tease his mother, but it has been an extension of his left hand for most of his life.
O’Hoppe put it to good use last season. He rocketed from high-A Jersey Shore to double-A Reading and got a sneak peek at triple-A Lehigh Valley in September. In all, the Phillies’ 2018 23rd-round draft pick batted .270 with 17 home runs and a .789 on-base plus slugging in 104 games. His numbers improved in the second half, too, notable considering many minor leaguers hit a wall after not playing games in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But it was a six-week stint in the Arizona Fall League that really put O’Hoppe on the prospect map. In 22 games, he went 23-for-77 (.299) with three homers, a .960 OPS and more walks (21) than strikeouts (15), and got high marks from rival scouts for his improving defense. Few players in the Phillies’ farm system experienced a bigger breakthrough.
“He may be their top prospect,” one scout from a National League team said.
If only O’Hoppe wasn’t a catcher.
The Phillies have one of the best backstops in the game, and he isn’t going anywhere. J.T. Realmuto, who will be 31 in March, is under contract through 2025 for $23.875 million per year, the highest annual salary ever for a catcher. Defensive whiz Rafael Marchán is behind him in triple A. And although backup Andrew Knapp was let go after last season, potential replacements Garrett Stubbs and Donny Sands came over in November trades with the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, respectively.
But the Phillies don’t plan to move O’Hoppe, 6-foot-2 and 213 pounds, to another position, according to first-year farm director Preston Mattingly. Minor-league spring training is set to open in March, regardless of the MLB labor situation, and Mattingly said there’s “no question” O’Hoppe will remain a full-time catcher. Some team officials are bullish on him following the path of another late-round pick, Darren Daulton, to a successful major-league career.
“You hear about guys when you’re in other organizations, and getting to see it for myself in person in Arizona was a treat,” said Mattingly, hired in September. “I have not seen the whole run of catchers throughout all the minor leagues, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a bunch of guys that are more talented than Logan.”
Posing with Buster
If O’Hoppe’s commitment to catching ever wavered, a chance encounter with Buster Posey cemented it.
To O’Hoppe and his twin sister, Melanie, midwinter school vacations usually meant trips to Florida for spring training. When they were 12, their parents called an audible and took them to Arizona. In the hotel lobby, they befriended a sportswriter who later appealed to Posey, by then an All-Star and World Series champion with the San Francisco Giants, to autograph a sheet of paper for an aspiring catcher.
Posey’s message: “Thanks for making the trip out. Hope you have a great time!”
“He was as great as a player can be to a little kid at the time,” said O’Hoppe, who keeps the paper at home and looked at it again last fall after Posey announced his retirement. “I always looked up to him and still do now. Even if it was quick like it was, in passing because he had to get to a bullpen, the fact that he took the time out to look me in the eye and have a small conversation meant the world to me.
“Buster was kind of the first dude I looked up to when I started catching. I was pretty locked in after that trip.”
O’Hoppe caught in high school and would have done so for East Carolina University, his father’s alma mater and Melanie’s college of choice. But the Phillies heard about him from international scouting director Sal Agostinelli, a fellow Long Islander, and were among the teams that came to see him play. When they called his name on the final day of the 2018 draft, O’Hoppe faced a decision.
Many high school players who get picked in the middle and late rounds opt to go to college and re-enter the draft a few years later. But O’Hoppe seized the opportunity to turn pro, signed with the Phillies for $215,000, and reported to their rookie-level team in Clearwater, Fla.
“This kid’s been forced to grow up in a hurry,” Accomando said. “He went from a very protective high school environment to the minor leagues. He had to make decisions and think sensibly as an adult, and he didn’t even know what being an adult was yet.”
And that was before the pandemic wiped out an entire minor-league season.
O’Hoppe spent the summer of 2019 playing for the Phillies’ erstwhile affiliate in Williamsport, then played winter ball in Australia. The Phillies surprised him with an invitation to their summer camp before the shortened 2020 season and gave him an at-bat in an exhibition game at Yankee Stadium, where his dad took him to games growing up. (O’Hoppe once caught a Manny Machado home run in the second deck there and chucked it back onto the field.)
Last year, as O’Hoppe climbed the ranks, his father was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma and began undergoing chemotherapy. He completed his treatments in November and had a stem-cell transplant earlier this month.
It was a lot, especially for someone who would be a senior in college this year.
“Luckily I had really great people surrounding me to help me through all that,” said O’Hoppe, who specifically credited his parents, personal trainer Adam Belding, and Jersey Shore roommate/fellow catcher Vito Friscia. “It was a roller coaster, up and down. But I learned a lot this year.
“One thing I took away was more comfort playing the game. It was nice to step in the box and not feel overmatched. I feel like I really got my feet wet and learned a ton. It gave me an idea of what to expect going forward.”
Forging a path
O’Hoppe likely will open this season in double A. He will turn 22 next month. The Phillies won’t rush his progress.
But the arrow is pointing up. Another NL scout described O’Hoppe as “very athletic, similar to Realmuto, with great leadership qualities as well.” O’Hoppe is focused on improving in all areas, but especially his release on throws from behind the plate. Asked about O’Hoppe’s defense, the scout said, “I believe it will be above average if they develop him.”
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski watched O’Hoppe up close for a week in Arizona and called him “a really good all-around player.” Dombrowski’s tendency is to trade from what he considers to be a positional surplus. With the Boston Red Sox, for instance, he put outfielder Manuel Margot in a deal for Craig Kimbrel because Margot was blocked by Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. He put Yoán Moncada in the Chris Sale trade in part because the Red Sox had Rafael Devers coming up.
It’s possible, then, that the Phillies will trade from their catching stable. Marchán is closer to being ready for the big leagues, but O’Hoppe probably has greater upside.
Mattingly was struck by the quality of O’Hoppe’s at-bats in the Fall League. But he also noted O’Hoppe’s dedication to developing a rapport with the pitchers, many of whom he was working with for only a few weeks. It’s little wonder that the league’s managers and coaches gave him the Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award.
“It speaks to who he is as a player, number one, and then who he is as a person,” Mattingly said. “He’s driven, he’s got a curious mind, he wants to get better every single day. Great leader. Just the way he works, it’s not typical amongst kids his age. I think he embodies everything we want as a Philadelphia Phillies player.”
Never mind that he’s a natural-born catcher with a three-time All-Star ahead of him on the depth chart.
“As long as [Realmuto] is around, you can learn from him,” O’Hoppe said. “I don’t think of it as a competition or anything because that would become a distraction. I view it that we all feed off each other and can make each other better.”