Drafting College Catchers a Risky Business

Finding a competent pro catcher from the collegiate ranks is harder than you might think. Only 10 out of the 30 projected 2012 starting catchers at the MLB level came from a college program. The majority of the backstops came from the international market or the prep ranks. Those 10 players are:

Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers, Louisiana at Lafayette, (3rd round)
Chris Snyder, Houston Astros, U Houston (2nd)
Nick Hundley, San Diego Padres, U Arizona (2nd)
Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, Florida State U (1st)
Tim Federowicz, Los Angeles Dodgers, U North Carolina 7th
Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels, U North Carolina (4th)
Kurt Suzuki, Oakland Athletics, Cal State (4th)
J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays, U Tennessee (1st)
Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles, Georgia Tech (1st)
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers, U Alabama (5th)

Let’s take a look at the breakdown of the college catchers taken in the first five rounds of the past six drafts (2006-11). A total of 41 backstops were taken and signed during that span. In general it’s a pretty uninspired group… with the odd exception (Matt Wieters, Buster Posey).

(Name, Current Club, College)

James McCann, Detroit Tigers, Arkansas
Andrew Susac, San Francisco Giants, Oregon State
Pratt Maynard, Los Angeles Dodgers, North Carolina State
John Hicks, Seattle Mariners, Virginia
Jake Lowery, Cleveland Indians, James Madison
Beau Taylor, Oakland Athletics, Central Florida

It’s far too early to form too many opinions on the college catching crop from 2011. However, McCann and Susac enter 2012 with the highest profiles.

Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres, Miami
Mike Kvasnicka, Houston Astros, Minnesota
Blake Forsythe, New York Mets, Tennessee
Micah Gibbs, Chicago Cubs, Louisiana State
Rob Brantly, Detroit Tigers, UC Riverside
Cameron Rupp, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas
Cody Stanley, St. Louis Cardinals, UNC Wilmington
Ben Heath, Houston Astros, Penn State

Grandal was the star attraction in 2010, going 12th overall to the Cincinnati Reds who later flipped him to the Padres in the Mat Latos deal. The Astros originally relocated Kvasnicka to a less demand position in hopes that it would allow his bat to propel him quickly through the system. The new front office, though, recognized that he has far more value if he sticks with the tools of ignorance.

Tony Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston College
Josh Phegley, Chicago White Sox, Indiana
Robert Stock, St. Louis Cardinals, Southern California
Mark Fleury, Cincinnati Reds, North Carolina
Jason Hagerty, San Diego Padres, Miami
J.T. Wise, Los Angeles Dodgers, Oklahoma
Toby Streich, Minnesota Twins, West Virginia

Both Sanchez and Phegley have seen their values take a hit due to significant stints on the disabled list. I have Sanchez earmarked as a breakout prospect for 2012 as he looks to put his previous issues behind him. Stock, a very highly regarded two-way player in high school, recently gave up squatting behind the plate and returned to the bump in hopes of kick-starting his floundering pro career. Hagerty is a sleeper. He’s hit better in the lower levels of pro ball than expected but he struggled in 2011 in both double-A and the Arizona Fall League. The 2012 season will be huge for him as he returns to double-A in an organization that has some pretty solid catching depth.

Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants, Florida State
Jason Castro, Houston Astros, Stanford
Jake Jefferies, Tampa Bay Rays, UC Davis
Petey Paramore, Oakland Athletics, Arizona State
Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers, Alabama
Dock Doyle, New York Mets, Coastal Carolina

Posey is arguably the best college catcher acquired through the draft between 2006 and ’11. Like many on this list, though, he’s been slowed by injuries. The same can be said for Castro who will look to become the Astros’ starting catcher in 2012. Avila has been a huge steal for the Tigers thanks to a breakout 2011 season that saw him assert himself as one of the best young catchers in baseball.

Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles, Georgia Tech
J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays, Tennessee
Jackson Williams, San Francisco Giants, Oklahoma
Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics, Auburn
Mitch Canham, San Diego Padres, Oregon State
Ed Easley, Arizona Diamondbacks, Mississippi State
Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers, Louisiana Lafayette
Lars Davis, Colorado Rockies, Illinois
Andrew Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Christian

From a pure quantity standpoint, the ’07 draft was a solid one for catchers as three big league starting catchers came from this draft: Wieters, Arencibia, and Lucroy. Williams and Easley are two very good defensive catchers who just haven’t hit well enough to settle into back-up jobs. Donaldson, originally drafted by the Cubs, is currently being considered as a replacement at the hot corner for injured A’s third baseman Scott Sizemore so his days behind the dish are mostly a thing of the past.

Matt McBride, Colorado Rockies, Lehigh
Chad Tracy, Colorado Rockies, Pepperdine
Jon Still, Boston Red Sox, North Carolina State
Tyler Reves, Chicago White Sox, Texas Tech
Chris Hatcher, Miami Marlins, UNC Wilmington

The most interesting name from this draft is Hatcher, who made his MLB debut as a catcher in 2010 but then moved to the mound in ’11 and returned to the big leagues as a reliever just a few short months later. Tracy had a nice offensive season in triple-A in 2011 but he’s given up catching and his best hope for a decent paycheck might hinge on his willingness to play in Japan.

* * *

With the 2012 college baseball season in its infancy here is a list of the Top 5 college catchers who have been ranked among Perfect Game’s Top 200 draft-eligible prospects. Only the first two appear to have a shot at going in the first round.

1. Mike Zunino, Florida (Oakland A’s, 2009, 29th)
2. Josh Elander, Texas Christian (Washington Nationals, 2009, 37th)
3. Tom Murphy, Buffalo (Never drafted)
4. Peter O’Brien, Miami (Colorado Rockies, 2011, 3rd)
5. Dane Phillips, Oklahoma City (Seattle Mariners, 2009, 49th)

Others: Ronnie Freeman, Kennesaw State (Never drafted), Kevin Plawecki, Purdue (Never drafted)

Scouting Reports

Mike Zunino: It’s easy to see why Zunino is the most highly coveted catcher in the college ranks. He offers solid defensive skills to go along with an outstanding offensive game, which includes above-average opposite field power. At the plate he shows a quiet lower half with a short stride but he may have to quiet his hands when he joins the professional ranks. He has a sturdy body that should withstand the rigors of catching but he’ll have to watch his conditioning.

Josh Elander: Elander looks a little more athletic and loose than the average college catcher but I’m not a fan of his hitting mechanics. He gets jumpy on off-speed pitches and gets out on his front foot. Elander appears to have decent bat speed but his swing is long and he doesn’t do the best job of transferring his weight during his swing, which eliminates some of his natural power. He is a little bit more fleet-of-foot than the average catcher and he shows good movement behind the plate too but his defensive skills are just average. He has plus makeup and strong leadership.

Tom Murphy: Murphy is at his best when he uses a line-drive swing but, too often, he incorporates a metal bat approach to his swing. It works OK for him in college ball but a lot of those hits may turn into lazy fly balls in the pro ranks. He doesn’t use his lower half enough in his swing and relies on his upper body and arms to drive the ball. Murphy is an average defender with decent pop times but his receiving skills need some work. He has a reputation for being a strong worker who is a dedicated teammate.

Peter O’Brien: O’Brien turned down an opportunity to play pro ball after the Colorado Rockies drafted him in the third round of the 2011 draft. He was almost ineligible to play his senior year of college ball when he chose to transfer from Bethune-Cookman to the University of Miami. The NCAA originally deemed him ineligible after the transfer but reversed its decision after O’Brien appealed the decision. He has a strong, lean frame. O’Brien has power potential at the plate but he may not hit for a great batting average. His mechanics are stiff and he bends over a bit too much during his swing, causing inconsistent contact which could lead to a lot of weak fly balls and pop-ups with wood bats. O’Brien is not the most gifted fielder but he works hard at it and has improved a lot since graduating high school. His best defensive asset is his strong arm.

Dane Phillips: Phillips needs to get his bat into a better starting position; it looks like a dead fish on his shoulder before the pitcher releases the ball. The left-handed hitter is slow getting his hands started, which hurts his bat speed and causes him to lunge at pitches, rather than sweep the bat smoothly through the hitting zone. Phillips is still raw behind the plate and it remains to be seen if he can stick there in pro ball. His arm is fringe-average behind the dish and his receiving skills need a lot of polish.

Print This Post

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

24 Responses to “Drafting College Catchers a Risky Business”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Norm says:

    So, 33% of projected starting 2012 catchers are from college…that sounds like a higher number than other positions?

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. DrBGiantsfan says:

    There are 3 major talent streams into professional baseball: College, High School and International. If 1/3 of the current starters are from College, I’d say that is exactly the percentage contribution you would expect.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Blake says:

      Doesn’t that completely ignore population sizes of those three streams?

      +22 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        Draft picks in the top 3 rounds where you get most of your drafted MLB talent is approximately evenly divided between college and HS picks. I don’t know the percentage of international signees vs draftees entering the pros each year but judging from rosters in the lower minors, I’d say it’s close to 1/3.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. gonfalon says:

    I sure hope Tony Sanchez has a breakout season in 2012.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Mr Punch says:

    Ryan Lavarnway was a 6th round pick in ’08, so he misses your cut-off, but he remains a live prospect.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. reillocity says:

    It won’t distort your numbers any but a healthy, hitting Jason Castro (another college player) is a virtual lock to be the Astros’ starting catcher. And he seems to be both healthy and hitting so far this spring.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Jared Graves says:

    Don’t forget the awful Bavasi draft pick of Eff Clement out of Southern California in the 05 draft just one year before your sample.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. matt w says:

    Rod Barajas was a junior college player, though he wasn’t drafted.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Pat says:

    Pretty interesting stuff.

    Also, not sure if there’s any hockey fans here but I thought it was funny there was a catcher named “Mark Fleury”.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Krog says:

    I love reading about the development of catching prospects. They must have the weirdest process of any position.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. TK says:

    An interesting read, but I have a hard time believing a study of this size has much if any predictive value.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Dan G says:

    I agree that a quick reiteration of the % of major leaguers that come from the prep ranks vs. college vs. international overall by whatever position the post is about would be helpful(and if a particular position is an outlier it would be helpful to know what the overall aveages of these three streams are). Also when choosing a draft round cutoff – providing some context as to the % of MLB’s at a particular position are drafted in the first 5 rounds would be helpful as well. Do any positions have very different results when divided between high round and lower round?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. El Guapo says:

    Surprised you left Austin Hedges off your list.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. displacedmariner says:

    Am I the only one who thinks that Petey Paramore and Dock Doyle sound like the best prohibition era gangsters ever?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. jesse says:

    So not counting the last two years 7 of 27 college catchers taken in are currently starting in the majors. That doesnt seem too bad considering.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. maqman says:

    Drafting every position is a risky business.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Joebrady says:

    In other shocking news, 1/3 of all starting SS’s come from college.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. Killua says:

    20% of the current top 50 hitting prospects come from college.

    A 33% ratio actually seems really good.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. BravesFan10 says:

    Have you ever even seen Dane Phillips play? Clearly not. The kid hardly ever got a chance to catch in college ball and now that he is, he has done very well. Also Phillips had a top batting average in the Cape Cod baseball league this summer, a big step up from NAIA pitching. Still you think that he won’t be able to hit at pro ball? Phillips strength is his bat. Plus he made All-Star catcher this summer for the Cape Cod east side. If you have ever seen Phillips play, he is a hard working teammate who continues to improve his defensive skills. I also love how every other catcher in this article is dogged on but Mike Zunino. Yes the kid is awesome and has a lot of tools, but you shouldn’t criticize each of these young men on their ability to play.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. bjoseph316 says:

    Grammatically, the headline should read “Draft College Catchers: A Risky Business.” Although, if you were really shooting for accuracy, it probably should have read “I Can’t Think Of Anything To Write So I’m Going To Put Together Something Painfully Obvious To, Well, Everyone.”

    Vote -1 Vote +1