There is a player in this draft, you may have heard of him, that has already shown scouts an ability to catch, but may become an outfielder in professional baseball to expedite his timetable to the Major Leagues. The guy swings a big stick, after all, and despite good arm strength, is pretty raw behind the plate. The catcher vs. outfield question will surround him for the definite future. That guy is University of Minnesota right fielder Mike Kvasnicka. What? Not who you thought I was talking about?
What’s important to understand is Dave’s analysis that Bryce Harper should be moved to the outfield does not apply to most players. You don’t need me to tell you that Harper is a special breed, and that he should be treated like the odd-duck he is. I agree with Dave’s analysis, but want to point out that it does not apply to all bat-first, maybe-catchers, and Kvasnicka offers us a concrete example. The Golden Gopher slugger has been rumored as a back-up plan for teams drafting as high as the top 10, and shouldn’t go to bed tonight without knowing where his future lies. But his destination will only be with an organization that believes he can catch — and it only should be. Kvasnicka is a first rounder behind the plate, and a fifth rounder (at best) in the outfield.
Because Minnesota has a defense-first catcher named Kyle Knudson, Kvasnicka hasn’t caught much in three seasons, as scouts have just 38 attempted steals in three seasons to work off. Kvasnicka threw out just 10 of those runners, but you certainly can’t blame him for being raw. He didn’t even catch in the Northwoods League last summer, so scouts are left to really project how he’ll catch based on athleticism, arm strength, body type and more. But they will see it through rose-colored glasses, because they understand what we do: that over a full season, the positional adjustment difference between a catcher and a right fielder is 20 runs, or two wins.
The PNR Scouting Report for Kvasnicka reads thusly about his defense in right field: “[C]ould be an average defender at a corner with enough arm for right.” Let’s say, for illustration purposes, he is a league average right fielder, playing in 600 plate appearances per season. Or, given that he’s raw defensively, let’s say as a catcher that he’s minus-5 over 500 plate appearances. To be worth 3 WAR in RF, he would need to be +17.5 with the bat, or one of the best 60 hitters in any given season. At catcher, that bat would need to be worth just +5.8 to hit the three-win threshold, a far more achievable feat.
When you draft a player like Harper at first overall, and pay him what will be an eight-figure bonus, your worry is how to best set him up for prolonged Major League success. Dave is talking about 10,000 Major League plate appearances. For a draftee like Kvasnicka, your worry is getting him to the big leagues at all. We’re talking about a guy with gap power, who, in his first two seasons at Minnesota, posted a walk-to-strikeout ratio of 25-to-103. It was a much healthier 46/28 this season, but at a sink or swim position like right field, where you need a plus bat just to get an opportunity, his resume looks a little more dicey.
In prospect analysis, there is not one philosophy that can guide you through decision-making, instead, decisions have to be made on a case-by-case basis. For Harper, the right move is the outfield. For Kvasnicka, his only chance is probably behind the plate.