What is a Bullpen Catcher: Explained (incl. Salary)
As you’ve noticed, the majority of the posts on this website relate to the catcher – the guy (or gal) who sits behind home plate.
But – what about the Bullpen Catcher?
I don’t blame you if you don’t recognize this role on a baseball team. The people who perform these duties often go unnoticed, but can certainly help in the outcome of a game.
This article aims to explain all there is to know about this unique role typically reserved for professional or high level teams. We look at their role, what they do for a team, how much they are paid, and whether or not they can partake in team activities like travel or accepting awards.
So whether this is the first time you are hearing about a Bullpen catcher or you want to know more (and perhaps even become one someday) then this article is what you need.
What is a Bullpen Catcher?
We have all seen the Bullpen at a professional baseball game where pitchers begin getting ready to possibly enter the game.
But what about the catcher in the bullpen? It should be pretty self explanatory at this point, but the bullpen catcher is an individual who assists pitchers typically from the bullpen area on the field.
While they have a very particular role on the team and for the organization, the bullpen catcher is technically not part of the team. The bullpen catcher is a member of the team’s staff and not technically a player. Most of the time, the bullpen catcher is a former player at some higher level of playing experience. Their position is almost similar to an emergency goaltender in hockey, but the positions have very different roles as we will go over later.
What Does a Bullpen Catcher do?
Simply put: a bullpen catcher shows up, fill their role, and goes home just like every other team member.
The main duties of a bullpen catcher are:
- Serve as a catcher when relief pitchers are warming up to enter a game (related: Pitcher and Catcher relationship)
- Act as the catcher between innings, allowing the starter a few throws before the other team gets up to bat
- Help to warm up starting pitchers prior to the game
In addition – they may also be used as a stand in for the catcher when the primary catcher is taking off equipment after an at bat, but they do not go into the game. Bullpen catchers wear a uniform and have a numbered jersey, but they are not considered coaches.
Certain bullpen catchers take on even more duties to help their teams. For example, the Blue Jays bullpen catcher – Alex Andreopoulos also served as the batting practice pitcher for the team. Another weird quirky fact is that Alex would also sort and cleans the baseballs during spring training. According to this 2016 article, Alex claims the Blue Jays go through 11,000 balls during spring training. The balls that are not clean enough go into the batting cage, and after that they get shipped to the Jays minor league team.
Are bullpen catchers needed on a team?
The position was made after teams stopped carrying three catchers on their rosters. The position was filled by the bullpen coach initially, but that was short lived.
The position is now usually filled by former minor league pitchers, or candidates that have significant baseball experience. In all honesty – this position was a dream come true for former players who weren’t skilled enough to make it to the big leagues on their own. They get to help their teams and make a decent living doing so, but most do it for the love of the game.
Bullpen catchers are very important inside the bullpen, but depending on the catcher, their roles vary. Many of these guys wanted to make it to the big leagues but it wasn’t in the cards, now they make a decent living taking pitches from million-dollar arms, helping those pitchers perfect their craft.
Other than helping with the pitching staff, they kind of wander around the team helping out where they can as members of the staff. Most bullpen pitchers are in it for the love of the game, as previously said. They never made it to the major leagues themselves, but they still have an opportunity to live those dreams and be part of baseball history. They stay with the team from spring training to the end of the playoffs, and can be considered as a member of the team – but not a roster player.
Can a bullpen catcher play in the game?
The answer to whether or not a bullpen catcher can play in a game is unfortunately no. I’ve often wondered if there should be some sort of rule similar to what they do in hockey but for now there is not.
In hockey a team has two goalies – the starter, and the backup. It is now a league rule to have one emergency backup goalie in each arena for every NHL game. This “player” is available to both teams and is not a roster player. This emergency goalie is able to potentially play in the game – though a lot has to go wrong for them to do so.
Although rare – when it does happen, it prevents a nice story. One such occurrence took place in 2018 when the Chicago Blackhawks had to suit up an accountant who had not played a competitive game of hockey in over ten years. After both goaltenders were injured, Scott Foster found himself on the ice and ended getting the win! How is that for a story?
What happens if all catchers are hurt in baseball?
So that begs the question – what if the same situation occurred on the baseball field where both the starting and backup catchers are injured?
Unfortunately in baseball this is handled in a different way.
An emergency catcher cannot be the bullpen catcher or any other non-rostered person. The emergency catcher must be a rostered player. So in the case where both catchers are injured on a team, it would come down to a player brave enough to sit behind the plate.
Fortunately, on just about every baseball team there is at least one player that has minimal experience as a catcher. These players are considered the emergency catcher and would fill in if they were needed to do so. There have been discussions in the past that making the bullpen catcher the emergency catcher would make logistical sense, considering most teams have two emergency catchers at least. But with the roster rules in the MLB, it does not look like that will ever be the case.
How much do Bullpen catchers make and can they travel with the team?
Bullpen catchers are indeed paid, but they don’t make big money like the players or other coaching staff does. Typically, bullpen catchers in the professional ranks can make anywhere from $60,000 to $110,000 per year. It can even be as low as $30,000 a year depending on the team. In most cases each professional team carries 1 or 2 bullpen catchers.
The salary for a bullpen catcher varies from team to team. Richer teams can afford to pay their excess coaching staff more where less wealthy clubs may not. In general it is a little bit of a secret on how much each bullpen catcher makes as like many jobs – it’s typically not advertised. They are members of the coaching staff, so they obviously get a salary – it’s just not a salary that is public information.
Salary at the college level
College bullpen catchers are a different story. They do not get scholarships and they are not even considered members of the team. They can be members of the coaching staff, but they do not do any coaching at all.
Most of the time, they are walk on college students who just want to help their college teams! They have no stress of putting up stats and they know for a fact they won’t be put into the game. They get to contribute and help the team, but don’t have to deal with pressure of being a player. Similar to major league bullpen catchers, they do travel with the team and get some of the benefits of being a player but is more or less of a volunteer job while in college.
What are the travel requirements?
The next question around bullpen catchers relates to how much they travel with the teams they work with. At the professional level a bullpen catcher will normally show up at the first day of training camp and will go all the way to end of the season. They get to travel with the team, stay in luxury hotels, and they even get per diem.
Sounds great right?
But it is indeed a full-time job. Bullpen catchers can sometimes catch over a thousand pitches a day!
To say the least, they do get most of the benefits that some players get but don’t need to worry about entering the game or getting wins. Their main responsibility is getting pitchers warmed up and keeping their arms hot.
To me – the position sounds like a dream come true. You get to know some of the best talent in the game, travel the country, and not have as much stress. It is an enviable position in sports that’s for sure!
Can a Bullpen Catcher get a World Series ring?
Bullpen catchers do indeed receive World Series rings if they are so fortunate to be part of a championship team. Baseball, unlike other sports, doesn’t have strict rules on who can or cannot get a World Series ring. Bullpen catchers, front office staff, medical staff, announcers, interns and even traded players are able to get rings. Typically, teams shorten the list considering how expensive the rings can get so no guarantees! However – it is highly likely.
Some people might wonder why a bullpen catcher should get a ring if they didn’t help out directly with any wins & losses. In my opinion, bullpen catchers are part of the team staff just like scouts and coaches. They show up like all other team members, travel with the team, and participate in most (if not all) team activities. They help the team every single day in a multitude of ways, assisting around the club house, equipment duty, and making sure the pitchers are warmed up and ready to go.
With all that being said it makes total sense why teams would give their bullpen catchers a ring for all their efforts and devotion.
How can you become a bullpen catcher?
If you want to become a bullpen catcher, the best thing you can do is get behind the plate early in life, play college baseball and try your hand in the minors.
Unfortunately that is the cold hard truth as it’s a dream job that not many will ever get the opportunity to obtain. You need to seriously know the game, how to take a pitch, work with different pitchers, and be able to be a jack of trades around the clubhouse. It is an underrated but certainly not underappreciated job on a baseball team.
You could also become a bullpen pitcher for a minor league team, but the pay is not great at all. There are multiple ways you can get to the MLB bullpen, but the best way is to have some serious experience behind the plate and have an expert level of baseball knowledge to assist the pitchers in any way you possibly can.
Why is it so hard to become a bullpen catcher?
There aren’t many concrete rules to how to become a bullpen catcher. But for the most part – to even be considered for a big league team – you would need to have a ton of baseball experience and knowledge.
You might be wondering why you need so much baseball experience for a position that looks to just catch balls in warm-up for pitchers. Think about this: you wouldn’t let a random person fix an F1 car before a big race, would you? Absolutely not!
Most MLB bullpen catchers have played many games in the minors or in college. They are basically lifetime baseball players who have lived and breather the game for their entire adult life. They know the game, they know the pitchers, they know the mechanics, etc.
What about in college?
College baseball is slightly different as the bullpen catcher can be a walk on. However you would still need to have baseball experience in order to help out in a productive way.
College bullpen catchers typically have experience as well, but it really depends on the program. Smaller programs usually don’t mind if some economics major wants to give their free time to helping the team, and gaining some valuable life experiences and stories.
Larger programs prefer you be able to hold your own against D1 pitchers. These bullpens usually have high school varsity catchers in their bullpen.
It is of course easier to become a bullpen pitcher in college other than in the MLB. As an example, the Phillies bullpen catcher, Bob Stumpo was drafted in 2011, 1011th overall, and played baseball in college for West Chester University. He then rolled around in the minors before becoming the Phillies bullpen catcher.
As we’ve outlined above – the Bullpen Catcher is a very unique role in the sport of baseball. It is a great role to have if you’ve progressed as far as you can in your catching career. As a bullpen catcher you are able to provide the same help to pitchers as you could in your full time playing days. Although you will never see them enter a game or be credited for anything they do – they play an important role on a competitive high level team. One might consider them the unicorns of a baseball team!