In their entire history, the Tampa Bay Rays have never had a catcher hit as many as 15 home runs in a season. Their current leader is, believe it or not, John Flaherty with 14 back in 1999, and that isn’t exactly a source of pride for the Rays organization. And with that in mind, every time the Rays draft a catcher, they dream that he could be that guy who can provides some power from behind the plate. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that this year’s 11th round pick, Hunter Lockwood, will be the Rays’ first catcher to hit 15 or more home runs. But it’s not the power part of that equation that anybody questions. While Lockwood may not stay at catcher, his power will stand out no matter where he plays.
At 5’11″ and 185 pounds, Lockwood does not have your typical power hitter’s frame, but that’s exactly what he is. Lockwood may not be tall, but he has great strength complemented by excellent bat speed, giving him big-time power that he does a great job bringing out in games. And when we’re talking about power, we don’t mean 15 home runs a season but more like 25 or 30. The downside to Lockwood on offense, though, is his overaggressiveness, both in terms of when he swings and his swings themselves. Lockwood needs major improvement to his plate discipline and pitch recognition as he gets caught popping up well-located fastballs and flailing at breaking pitches far too often. In addition, Lockwood gets in trouble when he sells out for power, losing his bat speed and making the strikeouts pour in even more. But at his best, Lockwood has power to all fields and is a threat to hit a pitch out at any time, and the Rays have to hope that with more refinement he can get to that point consistently.
The Rays drafted Lockwood out of Weatherford Junior College in Texas. The crazy thing, though, was how he got to Weatherford. Lockwood was a freshman at Oklahoma and showed quite a bit of promise, tying for second in the Big 12 with 11 home runs. But after the season, Lockwood ended up at Weatherford, not because of any disciplinary issue, not because the Sooners were taking away his playing time, but simply because he had his heart set on being a full-time catcher. The notion isn’t completely nonsensical because Lockwood does have tools behind the plate, moving well and possessing good arm strength. The issue, though, is that he doesn’t have great hands, giving him issues receiving and making transfers on stolen base attempts. Maybe that’s something that can be smoothed out, but given how much work he will need on offense, fighting a battle on both sides of the ball may just be too much. The Rays indicated as much when they selected Lockwood as a left fielder.
Even if he’s not a catcher, though, Lockwood has the ability to profile in a corner position with his bat and could even be a solid defensive player. His experience as a catcher belies the fact that he’s a barely below-average overall runner, and combining that with his arm could make him a fine defender in left field and a serviceable one in right. Catching is obviously higher up the defensive spectrum than left field but it doesn’t matter as much because Lockwood has the power to profile anywhere. Everything is going to depend on how well Lockwood can develop at the plate once he signs. Even if he won’t be the first Rays catcher to hit 15 home runs, he still has a chance to be an impressive player someday if everything comes together.