The Recent First Round Catchers

This is the second part of a three-part series highlighting a 20-year history of first-round catchers.

Since 2003, another 24 catchers have been drafted in the first round. This includes a 2007 draft that saw eight catchers taken, starting with Matt Wieters and ending with Ed Easley. Seven of those players have already reached the Majors with varying degrees of success: Wieters, Daric Barton, Mitch Maier, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Landon Powell, Josh Donaldson and Jeff Clement (I’m not counting Buster Posey). Two of the 24 can already be qualified as busts, as neither Jon Poterson or Max Sapp are playing professional baseball. That leaves us with 15 players today to discuss.

Neil Walker, Pirates, 24, AAA, .336/.404/.601

Never good enough defensively to be a catcher, never enough bat for the third base experiment to work. But he’s competent and consistent, and now capable of playing first, second, third, left field and probably serves that emergency catcher role. He’ll be on a big league bench.

Brandon Snyder, Orioles, 23, AAA, .200/.289/.300

Snyder has shown some nice offensive improvements since his disastrous 2006 full-season debut, but has fallen off a cliff since reaching Norfolk in midseason 2009. I don’t see 2 WAR ever happening, as good as his 58 games at Bowie almost had me fooled.

Hank Conger, Angels, 22, AAA, .240/.325/.385

The warning sign I saw consistently with busts is a significant drop-off once reaching Double-A. At first blush, Conger’s 58-point OPS drop looks as it qualifies. But when considering the context — a tougher offensive environment, far more PA’s, improved patience — he actually improved. Conger isn’t the power bat we thought he might become, but if his defense allows it, his contact ability could certainly see him become Mike Lieberthal.

Devin Mesoraco, Reds, 22, High-A, .328/.418/.608

Was written off a little fast, considering his first two seasons were the Midwest League at 20 (.710 OPS, 83 G) and the Florida State League at 21 (.692 OPS, 92 G). He’s healthy now, and in the same place as a lot of his peers that chose to attend college instead. Showing every skill, including improved defense. I think he was written off too early, but I wait to see how he handles Double-A to elevate his prospect status too heavily.

J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays, 24, AAA, .226/.299/.391

I’m a little concerned about Arencibia. He was given much praise after a 2009 hot start in the FSL, but that was just half a season. He then finished that year up with a .282/.302/.496 line in Double-A, and now through 146 career AAA games, has a line of .234/.287/.434. There is juice in the bat, no other real skill. I don’t have high expectations.

Travis d’Arnaud, Blue Jays, 21, High-A, .328/.362/.547

On the shelf with a backstrain, d’Arnaud looked like he might be having a breakthrough season. There is a lot to like, but there is also a long way to go. Can’t wait to see what he can do when healthy.

Jackson Williams, Giants, 24, AA, .225/.389/.348

Has improved going up the ladder, but he started so low, that I’m not sure the future holds much. He was a budgetary pick the season the Giants had three first round picks, and is known more for his defense. It would be a smart thing for Williams to continue with this newfound patience, as defense and patience could lead to a long career backing up Buster Posey.

Mitch Canham, Padres, 25, AA, .200/.296/.290

It’s not looking good for Canham, who is the one person on the list so far that I really can’t see playing in the Major Leagues.

Ed Easley, Diamondbacks, 24, AA, .273/.377/.364

No power and marginal defensive skills aren’t a good combination. Easley was a questionable first-round pick when it happened, and he’s done nothing to make me think he’s a Major Leaguer.

Buster Posey, Giants, 23, AAA, .338/.435/.535

And has thrown out 46% of opposing baserunners. The Giants affinity to Bengie Molina remains the most baffling aspect of this Major League season for me. #freebuster

Kyle Skipworth, Marlins, 20, Low-A, .273/.329/.516

If the Marlins had taken the conservative route with Skipworth and held him until short-season ball last year, his prospect status would be much higher today. As it stands, Skipworth is repeating Low-A, and doing a very nice job of it. His defense is much improved, the power is back. But his 10/43 walk-to-strikeout rate leaves much to be desired. I don’t have real high hopes, but the talent is there.

Jason Castro, Astros, 23, AAA, .259/.394/.296

Has now played 96 games above the California League, and has 19 extra-base hits in 400 plate appearances. I like the defense, I like the walk rate, and he makes enough contact. But until Castro starts to hit the ball with authority, the brightness of his future is in question. A good-not-great prospect.

Tony Sanchez, Pirates, 22, High-A, .294/.401/.460

This is, to a degree, where Castro was a year ago. The difference is that Sanchez is doing it in a much more difficult environment, and is much less polished defensively. He’s going to make the Majors, but the chance of him becoming a star doesn’t seem high for me.

Steven Baron, Mariners, 19, Low-A, .176/.208/.231

There was a lot of wondering why the Mariners were so into Baron, and it isn’t going to stop soon. Baron is overmatched as a teenager in the Midwest League, and not waiting to play him in the Northwest League seems like a bad decision. If he makes the Majors down the road, it will not be for his bat. But that will have to come a long way to even have that discussion.

Josh Phegley, White Sox.

Phegley is currently on the Disabled List with ITP Syndrome, a virus that attacks platelets in your body. Baseball has been put on hold for the Indiana University product, and we wish him the best of luck in his comeback.

We learned yesterday that just 8 of the 31 catchers drafted in a 15-year stretch ever contributed 12 WAR or more at the Major League level. If so, we can expect just 3-4 members of this group to do it. My guess is Posey, one of Sanchez/Castro, d’Arnaud and one of Conger/Mesoraco.

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5 Responses to “The Recent First Round Catchers”

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  1. dustin says:

    The bit about Buster Posey looks like something didn’t get pasted correctly. He’s a pretty good prospect, but I still think he needs a little more introduction than that.

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  2. First, Jackson Williams was not a budgetary selection. For that to be true, his bonus would have to be substantially lower than the picks around him. He received exactly what he was slotted for.

    Second, can you guarantee that Posey would have hit over .700 OPS for most of the season? The Giants are playing for the playoffs this season and an underperforming offensive producer at C would have hurt their chances. Would you fans and pundits been willing to contribute enough money for the Giants to buy an adequate catcher from another team should you all been wrong and Posey not hit over .700 OPS say by the end of May?

    Before you answer this, consider that Matt Weiters was considered a superior hitting prospect than Posey, outhit Posey in their first full year as a pro, but when he was brought to the majors in late May, struggled for nearly 4 months to keep his OPS over .700. As of September 14, he was hitting .265/.318/.366/.683. And he’s considered a better hitter!

    And his OPS was in the 600’s for 19 of the 26 games he played in August, so it wasn’t like he got hot then cold, he was mostly cold. After one month in the majors, his low point was roughly .675 OPS, which he hit a number of times, last hitting it on September 4th. His high point was .770, which he hit on July 5th and quickly fell from. He did reach .768 during his hot stretch in the last two weeks of the season. Prior to the hot streak, from May 31 to September 15, that 3 hit game that got him to .768 kept his OPS in the 30’s and 40’s before falling back to the 700 OPS range again. And he’s considered better than Posey. I would also add that his OPS is again in the 700 OPS range this season, so it is not like his hot streak from last season continued into this season.

    Add to that, the pitching rotation of the Giants is the jewel that allows them to compete, and Tim Lincecum has openly supported Bengie Molina, crediting him for some of his success. The other starters support Molina too, Zito has said that he liked having him as his catcher.

    The Giants this year has been built based on risk mitigation, trying to ensure enough talent at each position so that if one should fail to contribute, whether due to injury or lack of performance, there was another player who could conceivably step in and provide similar production.

    In addition, the plan is for Posey to come up mid-season for Molina to mentor him and better ensure that the transition from Molina to Posey as starting catcher will go as smoothly as possible. Being a major leaguer is tough enough, but to have to produce offensively as well as defensively, then also have to handle the pitching staff as well, as a catcher, is a lot to do. This helps transition him better, giving him time to learn under Molina this season before having to handle the reins next season. This gives him more preparation and less of a stressful situation in which to learn things before taking over. In business, when there is a mentor to help smooth the transition, it greatly helps the process.

    So yeah, maybe he might have been ready and the Giants could have saved some money, but if he failed then the Giants would have been screwed or stuck with another catcher alternative like Yorvit Torrealba, a lifetime OPS around 700 (which includes a large stretch of time in Colorado boosting his stats).

    Instead, we have a starting catcher who keeps our starting rotation consistent with last season, one that has offensive talents that tires out by late season but hopefully will be given enough rest with Posey coming up around mid-season, and if he should fail, then we still have Posey.

    Meanwhile, Posey works on the defensive deficiencies that he still has but would have had to learn at the MLB level to correct (read Baseball America’s description for him, they point that out) and in the middle of a pennant race, get further experience with the bat (Ron Shandler’s research shows that the odds favor a successful promotion if the prospect had a full year in AAA), come up and be mentored by Molina, plus in the playoffs we would have Molina in the lineup plus perhaps Posey or at least Posey would be a potent bat off the bench. He would also be our DH should they make the World Series.

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    • Bryan Smith says:

      This is a missive that is worthy of your username, and I don’t have a lot to say about Posey. Agree to disagree, ultimately.

      But as far as Jackson Williams goes, he was selected because he was a lock to sign for slot. He was an overdraft by every definition, and leave it to me to guess it might be because the team was spending more money on the draft than they ever had before.

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  3. brent in Korea says:

    Arencibia had offseason surgery to deal with kidney problems. I’d give him two seasons before writing him off.

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    • Aaron/YYZ says:

      Arencibia has never shown much plate discipline since the moment he was drafted. Yes, he’s got big power, but that won’t make him much more than a backup catcher if he’s getting eaten alive by major league off-speed stuff.

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