After years of struggles at the catching position, the Rays have finally found some answers. Before he got hurt, Ryan Hanigan looked as good as we have ever seen from a Rays catcher, and more catching prospects are coming. Curt Casali has been incredible since coming over in a trade from the Detroit Tigers, and Luke Maile has also impressed since the Rays drafted him in the 8th round in 2012. Then in the lower minors, Nick Ciuffo and Oscar Hernandez have emerged as high-upside prospects, and the Rays still have hope that Justin O’Conner will come together. And now, the Rays have one more option after selecting Mac James out of Oklahoma in the 6th round of this year’s draft.
James, 6’1″ and 195 pounds, is the rare catcher to lead his team in hitting and still have a chance to remain as a backstop. This season, James hit to a .330/.398/.477 line with 15 doubles, 5 homers, and 41 RBI. He showed excellent plate discipline, drawing 21 walks against just 13 strikeouts. Meanwhile behind the dish, he threw out 35.5% of attempted basestealers while allowing just 4 passed balls. James stands out for his abilities on both sides of the ball. At the plate, he shows solid bat speed, good plate discipline, and flashes of power. Then behind the dish, he shows solid arm strength and decent receiving ability, although he still could use work on the intricacies of the position. James does not have one standout tool, but when you have a catcher who can throw runners out and do something at the plate, that is something worth following. James also comes with good versatility, playing third base and first base as well for the Sooners. James is not fast by any stretch, but he moves well enough that playing those two positions and maybe even left field could be options on a part-time basis. Former Ray Chris Gimenez is 6’2″, 220, and James could end up with a similar frame when it is all said and done. The Rays hope that James will hit more than Gimenez, but a future in a backup catcher/super-utility role could be a realistic scenario for James in the future.
In Mac James, the Rays have complemented their promising young catchers with a college player who also does a lot of things well. If the Rays can develop him successfully, their organizational logjam at catcher could get even crazier.