As I’ve been writing about the past few days, the Rays have a need at the catcher position, and one way for them to fill that need is through the draft. This post is Part 2 of my attempt to give an early profile of the 2012 MLB Draft’s top catching prospects so we can figure out who could be the players that the Rays draft as they strive to turn the catcher position from an organizational weakness into an organizational strength.
Once again, these players in this post are in the order of where I project them to be drafted. The overall order (counting Part 1 and after this, Part 3) is roughly based off of MLB Draft Guide‘s Top 30 catchers list, although I edited the order within each post to the order I think is correct. The scouting reports are my own.
Kevin Plawecki (Purdue)
Info: 6-1, 200, 21 year old in February, Junior at Purdue University
Plawecki is a scrappy catching prospect whose hustle makes his solid tools play better. Plawecki has a short swing that he uses to make contact at an incredible rate. He struck out just 21 times in his first two college seasons at Purdue, and even though his plate discipline is just decent, he still had a great 21 to 26 strikeout to walk ratio. Plawecki’s swing leads to a nice amount of line drives, but most of those line drives are singles rather than extra-base hits. He will hit for a relatively high average, and he has shown gap power and occasionally flashes of raw power, although if that power hasn’t appeared yet, it’s unlikely it will ever materialize. Plawekci is by no means an elite offensive prospect, but he’s the kind of scrappy hitter that pitchers will have trouble getting out. Plawecki has overall average speed (good for a catcher), but he hustles whenever he sees an opportunity, allowing to take extra-bases that vast majority of catchers wouldn’t take. Plawecki is a true all-out baseball player who makes the most of his ability.
Defensively, Plawecki is solid. He moves well behind the plate and has a pretty good arm both in terms of strength and accuracy.
Evaluation: Plawecki isn’t a player with standout tools or upside, but he’s just a rugged baseball player who gets the most out of what he does have. He’ll be drafted in the 3rd to 5th round range, and he has a chance to be a solid big league catcher. I feel like the Rays would like a player like Pawlecki becomes he embodies the way they play they game of baseball and even though he doesn’t have too much upside, he seems like a pretty good bet to be a starting catcher someday.
Jason Goldstein (Highland Park High School, Illinois)
Info: 6-0, 190, 18 years old in March, committed to Illinois
Goldstein is a polished high school catcher who is very efficient in his motions both at the plate and behind it. Goldstein has a simple, smooth stroke that allows him to hit quite a few line drives. He has some decent raw power, but as a right-handed hitter, he has actually shown his best power to right-center. He has dealt with the problem of trying to hit for too much power and having too long of a swing, but you have to hope that he’s gotten by that. Offensively, Goldstein is a pretty good prospect, and it’s intriguing that he goes to the opposite-field so much as a prep hitter.
Defensively is where Goldstein shines. He doesn’t have the greatest arm, but it rates a tick above-average and it has played considerably above-average because Goldstein is very smooth in his motions behind the plate and gets rid of the ball very quickly on stolen base attempts with good accuracy. He’s also good at blocking balls and some of the other intricacies of the catcher position, and once he get all of those down pat, he could be a very good defensive catcher long-term.
Evaluation: Goldstein needs some work on both sides of the ball, but he’s a good prospect. Offensively, he has to maintain the consistency he showed late in 2011, and defensively, he has to continue improving so scouts don’t worry too much about his arm, which lags behind his other defensive tools. Goldstein looks like a 4th to 6th round pick at this point, although he could be a player whose stock could move pretty far up or down over the course of the season. I don’t think he’s the type of catching prospect the Rays have in mind because of the questions surrounding him offensively and to a lesser extent, defensively, but he has good potential as a prospect.
Chris Chinea (Gulliver Prep School, Florida)
Info: 6-0, 205, 17 years old, committed to LSU
Chinea is a good all-around catching prospect that can do a bunch of different things well. He has an easy line drive swing with some nice raw power, although his swing is a little bit long. When he connects, he seems to always hit the ball hard, but he has to work on plate coverage and shortening up his swing.
Defensively, Chinea is fluid in every facet of the catcher positon, being a catcher that movies well, releases the ball quickly, and blocks balls in the dirt effectively as well. His arm is probably his worst defensive tool, but it’s still slightly above-average.
Evaluation: Chinea does things well both offensively and defensively and that complete package will get him picked in the first 7 rounds of the draft, probably in the 4th to 6th round range at this point, at least partially because he suffered some type of injury over the summer according to Perfect Game, although if healthy he could get back into the 2nd to 4th round range that his tools would seem to suggest he should be drafted in. If Chinea can have a nice, healthy 2012 high school season, he’ll be a sought after player because of his all-around talent, and the Rays could be involved.
Peter O’Brien (Miami)
Info: 6-3, 215, 22 year old in July, Senior at The University of Miami, transfer from Bethune-Cookman University, previously drafted by Colorado Rockies (3rd round, 2011)
O’Brien elected not to sign after being a 3rd round pick by the Rockies in 2011, and that could end up really costing him. O’Brien has always had good raw power, and that finally came out as a sophomore at Bethune-Cookman University in 2010 as he shot up from 11 doubles and 4 homers as a freshman to 13 doubles and a Mid-Eastern American Conference-leading 20 home runs. O’Brien also cut down on strikeouts that season while walking quite a bit more. In 2011 though, O’Brien regressed as he hit 14 doubles and 14 homers, and while he improved his walk rate, he struck out more as well. Nevertheless, O’Brien was drafted by Colorado in the 3rd round, but he declined a $250,000 bonus for multiple reasons: 1) he thought that he could raise his value with a good senior season and 2) he transfered to The University of Miami because of a family issue that must have played a factor in his decision. O’Brien has good power, but he utilizes his power with a relatively long uppercut swing that has some clear holes, leading to a high strikeout rate, along with not allowing him to hit enough line drives to hit for a high average long term. His plate discipline has improved, but it’s still right around average. O’Brien could get right back into the first few rounds of the draft by showing improvement offensively right now, but entering the 2012 season, his draft stock is considerably down.
Defensively, O’Brien still is very raw defensively. He has a solid arm and moves decently behind the plate, but his needs a lot of work at things such as blocking balls in the dirt and releasing the ball quickly. Especially considering his power, O’Brien could be a CINO (catcher in name only) and end up as a first baseman as a pro.
Evaluation: If O’Brien has a resurgence offensively at Miami, he’ll be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Right now, he’s looking more like a 5th to 7th round pick because of all the questions surrounding both his offense and defense. O’Brien has nice power, and the Rays desperately need that. But O’Brien probably won’t end up as anybody’s catcher of the future, and his stock depends much more and his bat than his glove.
Daniel Garner (Sparkman High School, Alabama)
Info: 6-1, 195, 18 years old in January, committed to Mississippi State
Garner is a toolsy prospect who lacks the polish right now to be considered a top talent. Garner has very good bat speed with excellent raw power, and he accomplishes that with an Evan Longoria-esque stance where he starts in the back of the batter’s box and steps into an open stance as the pitcher enters his windup. But his long stride has occasionally messed up his timing, leading to swings and misses and weak contact, and he has shown holes in his swing that lead to concerns that he could strike out a lot as a pro. When everything is right in his swing, Garner looks like a great hitting prospect, but he’ll have to show more than just occasional flashes of greatness to move up the draft boards.
Defensively, Garner has quick reflexes behind the plate and he gets rid of the ball very quickly on stolen base attempts. But his movements are often rushed, leading to some problems blocking balls in the dirt in addition to wildness on throws. Garner does possess a very good arm, so he needs trade a little of his pop time on stolen base attempts for some accuracy.
Evaluation: Garner has talent both offensively and defensively, but he has to get his mechanics right on both sides of the ball and display his talent consistently rather than in random intervals. Garner is a 6th to 8th round prospect right now, but he has the potential to rise with a steadier senior season. Especially since he swings like Longoria (just kidding), the Rays could look at Garner as a project worth undertaking. He has shown flashes of greatness, and if he can sustain that greatness he could be a nice prospect.
Nelson Rodriguez (George Washington High School, New York)
Info: 6-3, 230, 18 year old in June, committed to Central Arizona CC
Rodriguez is a bat-first prospect whose stock has been free-falling due to questions about his swing. Rodriguez has enormous raw power, but he has a long swing that will make him a big strikeout threat as well. He does have good plate discipline and he has power to all fields, but his swing makes him a questionable prospect at this point.
Defensively, Rodriguez has a strong and accurate arm, but his mobility behind the plate has been greatly restricted as he has grown physically and he’s essentially a CINO at this point.
Evaluation: Rodriguez is in trouble entering his senior season in high school. His tools are present, but nobody likes his swing and no one thinks he’ll stay at the catcher position going forward. He looks to be an 8th to 10th round pick at this point, but if he can shorten his swing and get his bat on the ball more often, he could move up quite a bit. If that adjustment doesn’t happen, Rodriguez could continue to slide in the draft. The Rays like upside, but nearly every team is staying away from Rodriguez right now.
Spencer Kieboom (Clemson)
Info: 6-0, 220, 21 years old in March, Junior at Clemson University
Kieboom is a gritty player, but he’ll have to be more than that to be a high draft pick. Kieboom played through a broken finger on his left hand at the 2007 Perfect Game National Showcase and this past season came back from a concussion. Kieboom has a line drive swing and he drives balls all over the field with his gap power, but his swing is just long enough that too often the contact he makes isn’t as good as he would like. Kieboom does have an excellent eye at the plate, and between that and his ability to make contact, he had an excellent strikeout to walk ratio at Clemson in 2011, 13 to 22. Kieboom isn’t a good hitting prospect, but he’s at least annoying for pitchers to get out.
Defensively, Kieboom moves pretty well behind the plate and is decent at blocking errant pitches, but his arm is fringe-average (although accurate) and he doesn’t release the ball very quickly. He’s a solid defensive catcher, nothing more.
Evaluation: Kieboom isn’t a great prospect, but you know what you’re getting when you draft him. He’s a fierce competitor who’s not an easy out and who plays decent defense. He’s the kind of backup catcher type that will be taken in the middle rounds. At this pont, he’s probably going to be selected somewhere from the 10th to 12th round. If the Rays wait that long to draft their “sure bet” catcher, I’ll be shocked.
Carlos Escobar Jr. (Nevada)
Info: 6-3, 200, turns 21 years old on December 31st, Junior at University of Nevada, previously drafted by Astros (41st round, 2009)
Escobar is a defense-first catching prospect who has been very inconsistent with the bat. Escobar has shown good bat speed and some nice raw power in the past, but holes in his swing has made Escobar into a frequent strikeout victim. He cut down his swing as a sophomore for Nevada, limiting the strikeouts but also reducing Escobar’s solid raw power into gap power. In the Northwoods Summer Collegiate League though, Escobar turned in an electrifying performance, hitting .345 with 16 doubles and 7 homers in 56 games. He hit 8 doubles and 4 homers in 48 games for Houston. You don’t what you’ll get offensively from Escobar.
But Escobar has really shown his stuff defensively at catcher. He led the Mountain West Conference by throwing out 17 attempted basestealers, and he also picked off 6 runners. Escobar has a strong and pretty accurate arm that has been an asset for him as a collegiate athlete. His motions behind the plate are solid as well.
Evaluation: We have to see what Escobar gives us as a junior at Houston in 2012 before we can really make a decision on him. He showed some nice hitting ability in the Northwoods League, and the question is whether he can sustain that type of performance. If not, Escobar is still probably an 8th to 10th round pick in the mold of Rays 2011 draftee Matt Rice as a backup catcher.
Blake Hickman (Simeon High School, Illinois)
Info: 6-5, 210, turned 19 on December 22nd, committed to the University of Iowa
Hickman is a big, projectable, athletic catching prospect who possesses a bunch of tools but needs a lot of work. Hickman could be a superstar in the future or he could completely flame out. Hickman has tremendous raw power, but his swing and approach at the plate require an incredible amount of work. He has a long swing that has induced way too many swings and misses, but when he has connected, he has hit the ball hard. Hickman has shown flashes of great bat speed, but he has to get his swing consistently shorter in order for him to really showcase his power. Hickman is deceptively fast for his size, running a 6.91 in the 60 (say a 4.57 in the 40), making him not really speedy, but fast enough to swipe an occasional base. Hickman has great talent, but he needs to work hard to put it all together as a senior in high school in 2012.
Defensively, Hickman moves anomalously well behind the plate for such a big guy, able to do everything from blocking balls in the dirt to throwing out attempted basestealers at a high rate. Not only does Hickman have a very good arm, but also he is able to release the ball quickly with pretty good accuracy. However, Hickman has become progressively more fidgety behind the plate as he has grown, and you have to wonder whether he will be able to stay at the position going forward.
Evaluation: Hickman has a lot of talent, but he is a complete wild card. He looks more like a 12th to 15th round project than anything at this point because you have no idea what he’ll give you on offense or whether he’ll be able to stay at catcher. It’s 50-50 whether he’ll be able to stick at catcher, and that’s certainly not what the Rays want right now. For most prospects, you have an estimated ceiling and floor. For Hickman, his floor is several hundred feet underground and his ceiling in in space. You just have no idea what he would give you, and you have to assume you won’t get much from him. His advanced age as a high school prospect doesn’t help matters either.
Boomer White (Houston Memorial High School, Texas)
Info: 5-8, 180, 17 years old, committed to TCU
White is not your conventional catching prospect. He’s undersized and his tools aren’t so apparent, but he makes up for his deficiencies in various ways. White has a quick swing that he uses to make a lot of contact and spray line drives around, although he has almost no power to speak of. He has overall hit the ball hard, although mostly for singles, but he has gotten into trouble when he has tried to pull the ball too often. White compensates for his lack of power with excellent speed for a catcher, running a 6.7 in the 60 (think a 4.4 in the 40), and he’s the kind of player who could swipe 15 to 20 bases.
Behind the plate, White moves well but has a below-average arm that makes things hard for him. He does release the ball very quickly and he is extremely accurate on his throws, but he’ll never be a good defensive catcher. White is known for being a commanding presence at the catcher position and calling his own games.
Evaluation: Boomer White is not a catching prospect. Look at everything about him and its clear that he should be playing second base or maybe even try out centerfield, where he does have some experience. He’s undersized, he’s fast, he’s scrappy, and his arm isn’t great. He’ll try his hardest to stay at catcher, but he’s best off moving to another position and trying to market himself as a tough out who could be a nice stolen base threat. The Rays appreciate those kind of players, but White is certainly not going to be their catcher of the future. White is probably a 13th to 15th round pick at this point because of his all-around game, but you have to expect him to move off the catcher postion.
Mike Lubanski (Wake Forest)
Info: 5-11, 212, turned 21 in October, Junior at Wake Forest University
Mike Lubanski is a player who has some solid talent but hasn’t had much opportunity to prove himself. Lubanski has good bat speed with nice raw power. Flaws with his swing lead to an abundance of strikeouts, but he has an outstanding eye at the plate that all but cancels that out. As a freshman at Wake Forest in 2010, he hit just .175 in 28 games as his power didn’t show up and struck out 21 times, 23.6% of his at-bats, but he still managed a .404 OBP because he walked 21 times as well. Lubanski was supposed to have his big break in 2011, but instead he injured his shoulder in March, ending his season. Lubanski has shown some nice offensive skills in the past, but he has to show them as a junior for teams to be sold on them.
Defensively, Lubanski is known for calling a good game, and he blocks balls well. On stolen base attempts, he releases the ball very quickly with pretty good accuracy, although his arm is fringe-average. Lubanski projects as a solid defensive catcher going forward.
Evaluation: Lubanski is really an unknown at this point because we have to see whether he can recover from his shoulder injury and show off his offensive tools. If the draft was right now, Lubanski would be a 30th round pick at best. But with a good offensive showing as a junior, he’ll shoot up in the draft. Every team is watching to see what Lubanski gives them in 2012. He could be a pretty good draft prospect, but we really don’t know right now.
That’s it for prospects 12 to 22. We’ll finish talking about the top catching prospects in the next post.
If you missed it, Part 1 is here.