Newman’s Own: Best Catchers Of 2012

Seeing prospects in person is my passion. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit parks in five different leagues — collecting information and video on 200 legitimate prospects or more. The lists released over the next few weeks will highlight the best prospects I’ve seen in person at each position during the 2012 season. The rankings will be adjusted based on projected position at the major league level, not present position. Additionally, I’ll do my best to rank based on notes/video from the park and avoid adjusting for statistics after the fact. Keep this in mind when working through the lists and understand this is not meant to be a complete list of the best prospects at each position across all of Minor League Baseball, but the best of what I’ve seen.

In 2012, the ability to travel more afforded me the opportunity to see more legitimate catching prospects than ever before. And while I haven’t been able to list 10 prospects of note in previous years, finding complete young catchers is as difficult as ever.

1. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

Admittedly, my only in person look was as a designated hitter in the Southern League playoffs. However, I came away so impressed with his bat speed and loft-generating swing that I’m comfortable assigning Zunino top billing based heavily on offensive potential. If Zunino is 85% the defensive catcher he’s reported to be, then it’s a slam dunk. Many doubted Zunino as the third best talent in the 2012 draft, but he has exceeded expectations to the point where he may push for the starting job in Seattle out of spring training.

2. Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres

While difficult to not place Grandal at the top of the list based on 2012 performance, my look at the Padres catcher was in spring training during an early rough patch. At a time when he was struggling, Grandal still presented as a balanced backstop with the ability to contribute both offensively and defensively. He’s probably not a 6 WAR/600 plate appearance player over a full season, but give him credit for being a major factor in the Padres turnaround.

3. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

At 19, Sanchez presented with catch-and-throw skills and power to spare. Concerns include a propensity to swing-and-miss, as well as a perceived lack of agility behind the dish which hurts his ability to block balls and shift laterally mid-pitch — A skill needed for framing. Sanchez is certainly a top-100 prospect and one of the better minor league catchers in the game, but his floor is too low to crack the top two.

4. Christian Bethancourt, Atlanta Braves

Badly rushed with the bat, I’m comfortable giving Braves catching prospect Christian Bethancourt an offensive mulligan through the 2013 season. Why? Bethancourt has bat speed to spare, above average contact skills and showed major signs of offensive development in 2011 before the quick promotion schedule began in earnest. On defense, his catch-and-throw skills are off the charts resulting in regular sub-1.9 pop times. Add to this his excellent athleticism and the potential is there for things to come together quickly in spite of his .566 OPS.

5. Jorge Alfaro, Texas Rangers

It’s impossible to not be enamored with Jorge Alfaro’s physical gifts, but projecting how they come together on a baseball field is awfully difficult. On defense, he presents as a catcher with little refinement and a demeanor bordering on lackadaisical. On offense, Alfaro has impressive raw power, but is a bit out of control combining unbridled swings with poor plate discipline. Few catchers can match Alfaro in terms of ceiling, but his floor is potentially non-existent.

6. Derek Norris, Oakland Athletics

While an extremely brief look in spring training qualifies the Athletics catcher for this list, Norris’ ranking comes more from perception than first person information. For years, prospect followers have been enamored with his combination of walks and home runs making the Norris and the Athletics a perfect match. However, one often overlooked aspect of prospecting is players who walk a great deal at the minor league level often have limited offensive ceilings as additional growth is hard to come by in areas like plate discipline.

7. Will Swanner, Colorado Rockies

Rockies catching prospect Will Swanner posted huge offensive numbers in spite of lofty strikeout totals in the South Atlantic League last season. His catching is a bit suspect at this point, but he has the frame and athleticism to become at least a fringe average catcher. In person, the arm needed work and his baseball movements were a bit loose both offensively and defensively, but the numbers already point to added polish this past season over 2011. One scout recently told me, “Swanner might not end up a catcher, but boy can he hit!” My thoughts exactly.

8. Gabriel Lino, Philadelphia Phillies

I traveled to Asheville for Dylan Bundy and came away enamored with his battery mate Gabriel Lino. Since then, Lino was dealt to Philadelphia for Jim Thome, so others must have liked him too. Another diamond in the rough, Lino combines power with a strong foundation of defensive skills. The hit tool lags significantly behind the rest of his all-around game leaving him with an extremely low floor as well.

9. Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox

Billed as an offense-minded catcher, Swihart struggled to produce in the South Atlantic League. It’s a smooth swing and I didn’t see any glaring omissions from his defensive game, but I’m on the fence as to whether Swihart has fringe average or average tools across the board leaving the projection pretty murky. One thing’s for certain, Swihart will have to hit more to really establish himself as a force within the organization.

10. Andrew Susac, San Francisco Giants

Another brief look in spring training, Susac was lean and athletic behind the dish. One has to wonder how the grind of a full season would affect him at the Major League level. A 95 wRC+ at 22 in the California League is a bit scary considering my expectation that college hitters should dominate the league. Entering 2013, his prospect status is a bit fringy and it’s difficult to project an offensive rebound should he be promoted to the Eastern League.

11. Kellin Deglan, Texas Rangers

Deglan is a prospect I often try to will myself into liking. He’s athletic behind the dish, has power and catch-and-throw skills, but the sum of the parts is a messy mix of strikeouts and poor performance. Entering 2013, the former first round pick is likely off the prospect radar until further notice. The Rangers haven’t made many mistakes in recent years, but picking Jake Skole/Kellin Deglan in the first round of the same draft would be difficult for many organizations to overcome.

12. Gorman Erickson, Los Angeles Dodgers

Late in 2011, I received my first look at Gorman Erickson and wondered why the massive young catcher didn’t receive more playing time considering the lack of hitting prospects throughout the Dodgers organization. In Arizona, seeing him rope two hits off of Rangers pitching prospects left me thinking 2012 would be a successful year for the 24-year old switch hitter. After stumbling out of the gate, Erickson never really recovered posting a .673 OPS with below average defense behind the plate. The only silver lining is he handled lefties well (.303/.394/.449), so the potential is still there for him to become a platoon partner at the big league level.




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Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.


67 Responses to “Newman’s Own: Best Catchers Of 2012”

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  1. Jonathan says:

    No Lavarnway?

    I know he’s up in the bigs right now, but he spent pretty much the entire regular MiLB season down in AAA.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Note, I’m mainly inquiring this point more in the “Why Swihart and not Lavarnway” sense. Lavarnway had a much better year than Swihart did in the Sox system.

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      • Mike Newman says:

        Keep in mind this is a list of the best catchers I’ve seen in person in 2012. By no means is it meant to be a complete list of all catchers in minor league baseball. That is discussed in the opening.

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    • Charlie says:

      He’s worse than Derek Norris at the dish.

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    • jon says:

      Because Lavarnway is a AAAA player and has never really been a prospect?

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      • Mike Newman says:

        If you are familiar with my work over the past few years, you would know I’ve never understood the excitement surrounding Lavarnway in general. I saw him in 2009 and was more so-so on him than anything. I didn’t view him as a legit catching prospect even though the bat had potential.

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  2. Eminor3rd says:

    Did you see any Josh Phegley? If so, where would he rank?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      I haven’t seen Phegley in quite awhile — Since Kannapolis actually. I thought he was OK then and his defense had received a much worse rap than was warranted. I doubt there’s a starter there, but he should get some big league time in the not to distant future.

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      • Senior Circuit Court says:

        I saw Phegley a few weeks ago in the International League playoffs. He turned on a Gerrit Cole fastball for about 420 feet. He looked healthy with a quick bat. I think if he stays healthy, that he’ll hit well enough to be Pierzynski’s heir apparent.

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  3. Spike says:

    Hicks? Marder? Freitas?

    where do these rank???

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Saw Freitas in 2011. Once again, this list ONLY includes the best catchers I saw this season. Had I done this last year, Freitas would have ranked somewhere on that list. Pretty balanced guy all-around, but nothing that really stands out.

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  4. Ross says:

    I feel like the Rangers Skole/Deglan draft was a lot more about bankruptcy than anything else. Who knows for sure what their plans were for sure, but that draft screamed of “just take someone who’ll sign”.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Might have been. It might also have had something to do with the re-allocation of funds from the amateur draft to IFA to sign a couple of top dogs. At any rate, those two first rounders have been awfully disappointing.

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  5. Spike says:

    Federowicz?

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  6. Phrozen says:

    Would have expected to see Sebastian Valle over Gabriel Lino for the Phillies.

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    • Phrozen says:

      But on second reading, your methodology is explained clearly and I biffed it. Nevermind.

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      • Mike Newman says:

        Valle would have been ranked more highly. I saw Valle while a member of the Lakewood BlueClaws and he was one of my favorite prospects that season. For me personally, no prospect frustrates me more than Valle. I know the tools are special, but the god awful plate discipline hurts him more than any prospect I’ve seen in person.

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  7. Spike says:

    can you list those you haven’t seen so those won’t be automatic snubs, if you will?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      In these lists I’ll pretty much include anybody noteworthy. If I really stretched, I could probably include Jordan Weems (Red Sox), Gorman Erickson (Dodgers) and Adrian Nieto (Nationals). To be honest, I just didn’t think they were worth another couple hundred words on top of a 1,000 word piece.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      That’s a pretty crazy request to be honest. Consider the fact Kellin Deglan is ranked 10th and I pretty much called him a non-prospect at this point. Couldn’t you pretty much take any catching prospect, compare him against the list and come to the conclusion I didn’t see that guy?

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  8. Nayr Mit says:

    This is funny, because I read most prospect lists and think, “No way has this blogger seen half of these guys play.” Finally, somebody finally comes in and is honest and does not pretend like he has seen every prospect enough to make a good opinion and he gets ripped for “leaving guys out”…I guess each way has its pros and cons.

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    • Spike says:

      I don’t think he’s being ripped. I think some (myself included) didn’t realize the qualification given for this list.

      I’d just like to know the ones we should exclude bc he hasn’t seen them, rather than not included just bc they aren’t top top 10 material.

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      • Mike Newman says:

        I don’t take it as being ripped. These lists are different. I mean who else ranks the best of what they’ve seen? Pretty sure I’m the only one. More than anything, I just want readers to have an accurate representation of where I’ve been in 2012 and the best of that crop.

        Wait until I start working on a top-100 of players I’ve seen in person at the MILB level. Heads are going to explode.

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      • This guy says:

        OH. MY. GOD. This is something different. There are a dozen other places you can go to get a list of catching prospects. Mike wants to rank and talk about the ones he’s seen. Can’t you just shut up and take it for what it is?

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      • Spike says:

        This Guy:
        omg, spare us your drama. I merely asked for MN to throw out some of the better known C prospects that he *hasn’t* seen so that I/we would understand that Cs left off this list aren’t necessarily snubs. How is that an unreasonable request? jeez.

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      • E-Dub says:

        ” I merely asked for MN to throw out some of the better known C prospects that he *hasn’t* seen so that I/we would understand that Cs left off this list aren’t necessarily snubs.”

        I was really hoping the guy above was right when he surmised you were joking, but I wasn’t counting on it. Do you really need a list of the catchers someone hasn’t seen when he’s ending his list with Kellin Deglan. Name one good catching prospect who would rank lower than Deglan.

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    • baty says:

      Personally, I appreciate a guy trying to be as transparent as possible with what what he’s experienced. There are too many scouts and evaluators out there who claim to “know” when their information is simply passed through word of mouth. On the other side, I don’t have a problem with a guy who relies on sources and has a network of people who’s observations can be trusted, but we never hear about the true source, so it’s hard to put that information into context. You end up speculating “a list” based on a slop pile of first hand observations, second hand accounts, guesses, statistical probability, statistical reality, and on and on…

      This article is more towards a different way of starting the conversation. Having said that, I would like to see a list of players that weren’t seen but do generally receive favorable attention by the masses because it is hard to imagine how these guys might fit within the big picture. At the very least it would be interesting to see how many of those guys you weren’t able to get to as a single scout.

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      • Mike Newman says:

        Baty,

        Very thoughtful post, but here’s the thing. If you read through the comments, you’ll notice I’ve seen pretty much every catcher readers have asked about, albeit not this past season. If anything, I could create another group of pieces discussing the top-10 I’ve seen at positions over the past four years.

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      • baty says:

        It’s cool… I like the idea of opening the door to commenters to create that discussion about those players very much. I guess that’s just me being lazy when it comes to wanting instant gratification, and having to make the list of players that weren’t a part of the article myself :)

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  9. Spike says:

    do you have an opinion on Hicks? He’s throwing out over 40% of runners and improving with the stick tho that could be Cal league aided…

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  10. Preston says:

    If you were the Yankees would you start Sanchez at A+ or AA next season. If he was at a different position I think you’d want to be aggressive with him. But is he defensively ready for AA?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      What’s the rush? Another half season in A+ would be good for him. I don’t think he did anything in the FSL to really show he was ready for the jump right now.

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      • Preston says:

        Thanks for the great article, I always enjoy your prospect write-ups. And thanks for the reply. The rush is that Russell Martin flirted with the Mendoza line most of the year and is a free-agent, Chris Stewart is horrible, Cervelli wasn’t much better at AAA and Romine’s back makes it a question if he’ll ever be able to catch. Add in the 2014 austerity plan and catcher isn’t looking so bright for the Yanks. Although none of these things are good reasons to move a prospect up. Just wishful thinking that if he was in AA to start the season he might be ready to make a big league impact by 2014.

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      • Mike Newman says:

        Preston,

        I liked Sanchez, but noted in my original piece concerns about the swing-and-miss present, as well as struggles moving laterally to frame/block pitches. For me, the risk of rushing him is too great versus the reward it might yield. There’s the potential for him to crash and burn if moved too quickly.

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      • Preston says:

        I know you trust your eyes over stats for young players, but I do think it’s encouraging that he dropped his K rate from 27% a year ago to 22% this year. I know he was repeating a level, but the K rate held constant after his promotion. Hopefully he can continue to improve in that area. His defense seems more troubling, because I don’t know how he’s going to improve in his lateral quickness. Is this an area where players can normally make substantial progress?

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      • Mike Newman says:

        Yes Preston. His dropping K rate is a great sign – Especially the fact Sanchez carried it over to Double-A. Being so young, I’m not overly concerned about the low walk rates at this point. However, when I say there’s a chance to crash and burn if pushed to hard, it’s due to concerns about Sanchez expanding the strike zone against more advanced pitching and not being able to adjust.

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  11. Average_Casey says:

    Mike,

    Do you have any projection for Zunino’s offensive abilities or a player comp? Thanks for the writeup.

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  12. Didn't Read the Article says:

    No Buster Posey?

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  13. Paul says:

    Hey Mike, since he’s in the same org and I think he went through the Sally, can you comp Swanner to the “Baby Bull,” who might have my favorite power hitter’s swing in MLB? Is he that same type of brute strength cripple pitch hitter, or does the hit tool play up a little more?

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  14. Baltar says:

    I appreciate the honesty and clarity of your methodology of only discussing players you’ve seen in person.
    On the other hand, your judgement of a player whom you might have seen in only one game without support from statistics has very validity.
    Buyer beware!

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Baltar,

      I think you vastly overrate the value of statistics at the lower levels of minor league baseball — Especially when it comes to players who are old for the level. Statistics become increasingly important as a player moves closer to the big league level. Think of it as a sliding scale. Don’t mistake them for having the same value as a MLB player.

      As for one look, everybody would like to see a guy as many times as possible. On this list alone, I showed up to watch Blake Swihart catch 5 times and he was penciled in the lineup 2 times — once as a catcher. I’ve traveled to watch Gary Sanchez 3 times and he was in the lineup once. Does that mean don’t bother? After four-plus years of doing this, I’m confident in my track record whether it’s 1 look, 10 looks or 100 looks.

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  15. James says:

    Did you see Austin Hedges?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      No, but a contact did. I posted those thoughts under my Midwest League pieces earlier this year. In person, Hedges presented as the opposite of what was said pre-draft — Better bat, but not as much glove as was indicated.

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  16. Kevin says:

    Haven’t seen Deglan in person, but his numbers suggest he’s a bit more than a non-prospect. He’s throwing out 38% of runners this year and while his hit tool is definitely lacking, his ISO is over .200. Plus he’s still only 20 years old. When you consider he was a 1st round pick, overall it’s sort of disappointing so far, but he’s still a prospect at least.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Like I said… Some power and catch-and-throw skills. Having seen Deglan in 2011 and 2012, I just don’t think it comes together in the end. Maybe he winds up getting some time as a backup who runs into a fastball every now and then. I really want to like Deglan. I just can’t.

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  17. exxrox says:

    How about Travis D’Arnaud? Didn’t see him before his knee injury?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Saw D’Arnaud back in 2009 and went absolutely nuts over him. My previous work from Scouting The Sally is in need of a new home, but my piece back then would indicate I was extremely bullish on him and rated the bat higher than anybody else at the time.

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  18. pitchncatch says:

    Very Cool that someone is actually getting out from behind a computer to look at the people they are writing about. Keep up the good work!!!!

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    • Mike Newman says:

      I prefer the ballpark to internet research any day of the week. The only problem is that traveling costs money while Google searches aren’t charged by the keyword.

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      • pitchncatch says:

        These players are being judged by folks who only know stats. If it’s for fantasy leagues that’s cool, but if it’s actually trying to give an objective opinion on someone it’s not . Austin Hedges is a perfect example. He hit really well for his age and level. He really only caught “OK” this season. If you read what others wrote on him they are just taking the original draft talk and rewriting it. Here is what Jonathan Mayo wrote,” The SoCal high-school product may be the best defensive backstop from the Draft class, with a plus arm and outstanding receiving skills to go along with natural leadership skills. He’s received body-type comparisons to Craig Biggio and Brad Ausmus and he should have some power as a professional. His overall hitting potential remains to be seen. His bat is well behind his glove, but he should hit enough to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues down the road.
        I am not picking on Austin Hedges, but Jonathan Mayo picked him as the 5th best catcher in the minors??
        Keep up the great work

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  19. JT says:

    Were you able to see Christian Bethancourt this season or has he completely fallen off of the top prospects lists?

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Had I seen Bethancourt this season… oh wait… I could have listed him actually as I saw the Braves prospect all-stars early in the season. Thanks to you, I’ll probably have to go in and fix this list now!

      In 2010-2011, I probably saw Bethancourt 20 times combined? Maybe more. His tools are fantastic and it’s the best arm I’ve seen behind the dish. The Braves have really rushed the bat and that worries me.

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      • JT says:

        Thanks for adding Christian. I’m also worried about the Braves rushing him so fast. He’s still only 21 so he has time to develop offensively. Hopefully they leave him in AA again next season and don’t promote him again until his bat catches up to his defense a little.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Bethancourt was inserted as the 4th best catcher I saw in person. I also added prospects from the Braves prospect all-star game to other lists so I wouldn’t forgot to include them again.

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  20. Aman says:

    No Johnny Bench! Are you nuts?

    …..oh, wait

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  21. garrioch13 says:

    Great work Mike. Keep it up.

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