If you haven’t had enough yet, here’s the third part of my early look at the top catchers available in the 2012 MLB Draft. We’re trying to figure out how strong this year’s catcher class is and who the Rays might draft. Once again, all the catchers in this post are in the order I project them to be drafted.
David Houser (AC Flora High School, South Carolina)
Info: 6-1, 210, 17 years old, committed to University of Tennessee
Switch-hitting catchers are always in demand. David Houser is no exception. From both sides of the plate, Houser shows very good bat speed, leading to a very good amount of contact and line drives. He has nice raw power from both sides as well, maybe a little better from the left side. Houser is a very good offensive prospect. He looks like a player who could hit .300 while limiting the strikeouts from both sides of the plate, and he could chip in 20 homers as well.
And Houser is graceful defensively. He is very comfortable at the catcher position and moves extremely well. He has a nice arm, able to hit 90 MPH off the mound, and his transfer from glove to hand has been lightning-fast at times (an off-the-charts 1.75 pop time), and never less than slightly above-average. Houser has nearly as much talent defensively than he does at the plate.
Evaluation: Houser is a very good catching prospect. He can do everything (other than run) on both sides of the ball, and his switch-hitting ability makes him special. Major league teams, of course the Rays included, have taken notice. If he can show more of the same as a senior, he looks like a 2nd to 4th round pick.
Stephen Sauter (Troy High School, California)
Info: 6-2, 195, 18 in February, committed to Boston College
Sauter is, like Houser, a switch-hitter, although he seems to be more comfortable from his natural right side. From both sides, Hauser has a nice smooth swing that produces line drives, and he has good raw power as well. As a right-handed batter, he has pull-power but can go the other way on balls as well, while as a lefty he mostly pulls balls although he does show a little bit more pop. From both sides, he has good ability and there’s no doubt he’ll be a switch-hitter long-term.
On the defensive side, Sauter is a solid prospect. He is smooth behind the plate and blocks balls pretty well, and he has been successful at throwing runners out thanks to a quick release and a good arm. He’s a good defensive catcher at this point, and he has a chance to be even better going forward.
Evaluation: Sauter is a nice offensive prospect, and his defense isn’t too shabby either. Switch-hitting catchers are always a luxury, and Sauter is like a Jorge Posada or Jason Varitek without some of the power. He’s a 5th to 7th round prospect, and with improved defense in 2012, Sauter could jump to just behind where David Houser is and be a potential 3rd to 5th round pick in the draft.
Chad Morgan (Virginia Tech)
Info: 5-11, 190, 21 in February, redshirt sophomore at Virginia Tech
Scouting Report: Morgan is a catching prospect with a whole bunch of tools who has been hindered by an arm injury that required Tommy John Surgery and caused him to redshirt his 2010 season. Morgan has shown some really good bat speed and some nice raw power in the past, but the TJS messed him up in 2011, turning his power into simply gap power. Morgan doesn’t seem like the kind of player who will ever hit for a high average as his swing has holes that leaves him vulnerable to strikeouts, but if he can regain his power, he’ll be fine. He also has a solid eye at the plate.
Defensively, Morgan was clearly bothered by his arm after surgery, but he still showed some nice arm strength while moving well behind the plate and blocking balls effectively. His accuracy was out of whack in 2011, but you have to hope that two years after surgery he’ll be fine.
Evaluation: If it weren’t for the Tommy John Surgery, Morgan is probably a high-rated prospect because of his tools both at and behind the plate. The Tommy John Surgery befuddles everyone. Morgan will probably by drafted from the 8th to 10th round as a high-upside pick even if he can show some flashes of his tools in 2012. If he really shows he’s healthy and plays well, he’s probably a top 5 rounds prospect. I think the Rays won’t have any part of an injury risk type of upside guy, but another team will certainly take a chance on Morgan. We’ll have to see what becomes of him as a redshirt sophomore at VT in 2012.
Darrell Miller Jr. (Servite High School, California)
Info: 6-1, 200, 17 years old, committed to UCLA
Miller has bloodlines. His father with the same name was a catcher in the major leagues, but his more notable relative is his uncle: NBA great Reggie Miller. Miller is a good athlete, but he’s much more like his father. Miller has a short stroke that helps him make a lot of contact and hit quite a few line drives. He has gap power.
Behind the plate, Miller’s athleticism is apparent as he moves very efficiently. He receives and blocks balls well, and he has a good, precise arm that his quick release makes even better. He projects as an above-average defense catcher.
Evaluation: Miller doesn’t have the flashiness of other prospects (other than his relation to Reggie Miller), but he’s a decent offensive prospect and he plays good defense. Miller looks like an 8th to 10th prospect to be at this point. He doesn’t have huge upside (probably eliminating him from consideration from the Rays), but his floor is probably his father, who was a major league backup catcher for the California Angels.
AJ Kennedy (Savanna High School, California)
Info: 5-11, 170, 17 years old, committed to Cal State Fullerton
Scouting Report: Kennedy’s defense gets good reviews, but the question is his offense. Kennedy has more gap power than anything else, and although his swing produces line drives, leading scouts to believe that Kennedy could hit a relatively high average as a pro, his swing occasionally gets long, and that’s a serious problem for a player with little power. Kennedy better sure up his swing as a senior in 2012.
Defensively, Kennedy moves extremely well and is adept at blocking balls. His arm is probably his best overall tool, and he has a pretty quick release. Kennedy is a promising defensive catcher moving forward.
Evaluation: Kennedy’s offense is a key limiting factor for him. With even average offensive ability, his defense probably gets him into the first 5 to 7 rounds of the draft. Instead, he’ll settle for the 10th to 12th round range with the ability to go up if he can utilize all his offensive talent by keeping his swing as short as possible. Kennedy isn’t really an upside pick, and that’s what the Rays need right now, but he is a good prospect that some team will draft and attempt to develop offensively.
Ronnie Freeman (Kennesaw State University)
Info: 6-1, 190, turned 20 on November 8th, junior at Kennesaw State University
Freeman has been one of the best hitters in Division 1 the past two seasons, and he looks to take his talent to the pro level. In 2011 as a sophomore at Kennesaw State University, Freeman posted a .392/.487/.622 line with 20 doubles, 10 homers, and 50 RBI. Freeman has a nice line drive swing that he uses to hit extra-base hits into the gaps, and he has shown some nice raw power as well. He’s very good at making contact, although his plate discipline needs a lot of work. He struck out just 31 times in 2011, just 11.6% of his plate appearances, while walking 37 times, a very impressive 13.9% of his PA’s, but there’s a lot of reason to believe that outstanding strikeout to walk ratio has no bearing at all on Freeman’s true plate discipline. He was far and away the best hitters on his team, leading to 7 intentional walks (the team as a whole had 9) and surely a lot of “unintentional intentional walks.” In 2010, before he was an established great player, Freeman walked just 10 times compared to 31 K’s. Freeman’s lack of plate discipline is a little bit troubling. Another thing that scouts have been worrying about with Freeman is his lack of extra-base hits. He did hit 20 doubles and 10 homers in 2011, but for a player who’s supposed to have good power, a 35.3% X/H% (percentage of hits for extra-bases) is not what you want to see. (For some perspective, the MLB average has been around 34% the past few seasons.) Freeman plays in a weak conference (the Big South) to begin with, and he’s numbers are really inflated by high BAbip’s. His BAbip was an insane .414 in 2011, and without outstanding power, that doesn’t make very much sense. Freeman has some offensive tools, but we really can’t be sure how good he really is at this point because of the lack of quality competition in his conference and because he was the most feared hitter on his team. Freeman did have a good summer in 2011, hitting .349 with 6 homers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League, but I’m really not sold on him.
Defensively, Freeman has a good arm and moves pretty well behind the plate, but he’s still pretty raw. Freeman’s defensive stats in 2011 illustrated his problems as they were not really what you want: he posted a .984 Fld% and 7 passed balls in 57 games, throwing out 36% of attempted basestealers. His arm has been inaccurate at times and he needs work blocking balls the dirt. Freeman is a college prospect, not a high schooler, and he really should have gotten this down by now. Just like his offense, Freeman has some tools, but you can’t be sure he’ll ever be able to bring them out effectively.
Evaluation: Freeman is a wild card as a prospect. He has shown some ability but he has not dominated lesser competition as you would expect a player with his tools would. Freeman is probably a 10th to 12th round pick as some team hopes he can maintain at least some of his offensive success the past two seasons as a professional. A big 2012 season could make Freeman a riser, but it would have to be off-the-charts good for it to make a real impact. Freeman has upside, but his floor is too low as a college prospect for a team like the Rays to select him. Somebody will take a chance on him, and he could very well prove me wrong, but there’s no guarantee at all of that happening.
Bryan De La Rosa (Bucky Dent Baseball School, Puerto Rico)
Info: 5-9, 180, turns 19 in April, committed to Florida State
Puerto Rican catching prospect Bryan De La Rosa is an undersized catching prospect who has some key things going for him, but some obstacles in his way as well. De La Rosa is very strong and he has shown the ability to hit the ball with authority and spray line drives around the field, but he swings for the fences at times, which doesn’t go well because he has more gap power than anything. He has to keep his swing more level and just do what he can, which is to hit line drives.
Defensively, De La Rosa has excellent reflexes and is an excellent receiver. He does need a little work blocking balls in the dirt, but that should be no problem for him going forward. His arm is both strong and accurate, and he’s able to transfer from glove to hand on stolen base attempts very rapidly without even rushing himself. De La Rosa is very talented defensively.
Evaluation: De La Rosa is a bit old for a prospect and his offense is pretty bad, not being anything special to begin with and then compounded by his desire to swing for the fences when that really is not his game. But defensively, he’s excellent and that’s what will make him a 13th to 15th round pick. Teams want offensive upside as well, and De La Rosa really doesn’t give you that. But if he can at least maximize the offensive talent he does have, his defense makes him an interesting prospect.
Mike Fultz (Lee’s Summit West High School, Missouri)
Info: 6-2, 215, 19 in July, committed to Kansas State University
Fultz is a bat-first catching prospect who needs some work but could be a nice prospect going forward. Fultz has good bat speed and he has shown good gap power both pulling the ball as a left-handed batter and also to left-center. He has also shown flashes of some nice raw power. He has occasionally had problems when he has rolled over balls, especially down in the zone, but when he’s right he hits the ball hard all over the field. He looks comfortable in the batter’s box and he could be a good offensive prospect going forward.
Defensively, Fultz is a good receiver who moves and blocks balls well. He does a lot of the little things that you never see high school catchers do, such as framing pitches on the corners But he’ll never be very good at throwing at baserunners. He has a below-average arm for a catcher, and he isn’t particularly quick at releasing the ball, although he is pretty accurate. Maybe he can quicken his release, but his arm holds him back. But his non-arm defensive tools are so good that he’ll be a solid defensive catcher long-term.
Evaluation: Putz has some nice tools and he has the ability to be a pretty good catcher someday. He needs some work offensively, but he has some nice ability, and he is already pretty polished defensively, although his arm will hold him back. He looks to be a 12th to 15th round pick at this point, although if he can maximize his offensive ability, he could move into the top 10 rounds. I don’t think his upside is really that high and the Rays won’t be drafting him, but Putz has some talent and he could end up as a solid big league catcher.
Scott Williams (Conestoga High School, Pennsylvania)
Info: 6-2, 195, 17 years old, committed to University of Virginia
Williams is a high-upside player, but a player with significant risk. Williams has some nice tools. He has an uppercut swing that he uses to drive balls to the gaps and he has shown some nice raw power. However, his swing is pretty long, yielding strikeouts and pop-ups when he gets under the ball. Between the strikeouts, pop-ups and a lack of line drives, Williams won’t hit for a high average. He’s going to hit for a lot of power to be considered a good hitter. Thus far as a high school player, the power has come on and off. He better glue that switch to the on slot if he wants to be a high draft pick.
Defensively, Williams is very easy in his movements behind the plate, and he has an outstanding arm, able to hit 90 MPH of the mound. His throws are also very accurate. If that was the end of the scouting report, you could book Williams for a top 5 rounds pick. But unfortunately for him, it’s not. Williams needs a lot of work in his transfer from glove to hand on stolen base attempts. His great arm masks his problems in that area. Also, Williams needs to wok on blocking balls in the dirt. As a bigger catcher, you have to worry a little bit about his trouble getting down. Williams has some defensive ability, but there are some real reasons for concern.
Evaluation: Williams has talent, but there are some significant questions with him. I think he’s looking like a 10th to 12th round pick, although his senior season in high school could radically change that. A more consistent season could jump Williams into the 5th to 7th round range; more instability could drop him as low as the 20th to 25th round range.
Thanks for reading Part 3, the final portion of this post. There wasn’t enough information available on a couple of prospects I wanted to talk about, but at least we got in 31 of the top catching prospects for the 2012 MLB Draft.