Amid all this talk of the Rays looking for a catcher of the future, you have to think that the Rays will look to draft a high-level catcher in the early rounds in the 2012 Draft. Let’s see who that player might be. It’s still over 6 months until the draft, but let’s look at some of the top catching prospects available and see the quality of this year’s catching draft class are and who the Rays might draft.
These players are in the order of where I project them to be drafted.
Mike Zunino (University of Florida)
Info: 6-2, 220, 21 years old in March, junior catcher at University of Florida, previously drafted by Oakland A’s (Round 29, 2009)
Zunino is the complete package as a catching prospect. He possesses a nice line drive swing with power, and he has very good plate discipline as well. He had a great season as a sophomore for the Gators in 2011, posting a .371/.442/.674 line with 23 doubles, 19 homers, and 74 RBI while also swiping 7 bases in 9 tries. His speed is above-average for a catcher. Zunino does have some holes in his swings, which could lead to a considerable amount of strikeouts as a pro, but his other tools mostly offset that. He projects as around a .280/.375/.450 hitter with 30 doubles and 20 homers in in the big leagues, which would be excellent for a catcher.
Defensively, Zunino is a natural, having played the catcher position since he was six years old. He is extremely smooth behind the plate and is adept at blocking balls. He also possesses a very good arm for a catcher, able to hit the mid to high-80’s off the mound, and his arm strength along with his accuracy allows him to throw out a very good percentage of attempted basestealers. He is also known for calling a good game.
Evaluation: Zunino is the best catching prospect you’ll see this side of Joe Mauer. He does everything and everything well, and he could be starting in the big leagues by 2014. Unfortunately for the Rays, he’ll be long-gone by the time they pick at number 25 overall in the first round of the draft.
Stryker Trahan (Acadiana High School, Louisiana)
Info: 6-1, 215, 18 years old in April, committed to the University of Mississippi
Trahan’s athleticism at the catcher position is unparalleled now that Bryce Harper has moved to the outfield. He’s one of the few and far between five-tool catching prospects. At the plate, Trahan has some moving parts in his swing, but he has a quick bat that leads to a multitude of line drives. He possesses nice raw power from the left side of the plate. He also adds the speed dimension that you never see from a catcher. The best 60 yard dash that Perfect Game has seen from Trahan was 6.54, and that comes out to a 4.3 in the 40. He could be a legitimate 30 stolen base threat if he’s moved off catcher, but even if he stays at the position, his speed will certainly be an asset as it will allow him to not only swipe the occasional base, but also beat out infield hits and double plays balls because no one would expect a catcher to run as fast as he does. Trahan is still somewhat raw, especially in terms of his power, but he has superstar if not Harper-esque ability.
Defensively, Trahan, like most prep catchers, is a work in progress, he has a very good arm and a very quick release. He seems to have the skills to be a catcher long-term, but it would be unsurprising if the team that drafts him moves him to right field a la Harper in order to allow him to focus on his offense and take advantage of his speed.
Evaluation: Trahan is another outstanding catching prospect (or overall prospect because he’d still be a great prospect in right field) that the Rays would dream to have, but he’ll almost definitely be off the board by pick 25.
C.J. Saylor (West Covina High School, California)
Info: 5-10, 180, 19 years old in October, committed to San Diego State University
C.J. Saylor is easily the best defensive catching prospect in this high school class. At the plate, Saylor is pretty good. He has a short line drive swing with some gap power, and he is adept at making contact, although that comes at the cost of some plate discipline. He doesn’t project as more than a 10 home run hitter going forward, but he hits enough line drives to be a .300 hitter in the big leagues.
Defensively, Saylor is as good defensively as any high school catcher I’ve seen. Saylor is so smooth behind the plate that he glides effortlessly through the motions, whether to block balls in the dirt or get the ball out of his hands to throw out an attempted basestealer. He also has an incredible arm for a catcher as he was able to hit 90 MPH off the mound. Saylor is in another class defensively compared to these other high school catching prospects.
Evaluation: Saylor is probably a supplemental first round to second round pick because of his lack of power and plate discipline, but he’s a given to stay at catcher, and there’s an extremely high probability that he’ll be a starting catcher in the big leagues, and probably a Gold Glover as well. His bat is no sure thing, but you just don’t see players with Saylor defensive skills come along so often. If he’s available at 88th overall, the Rays would have an awfully hard time passing up on him.
Alex Bregman (Albuquerque Academy, New Mexico)
Info: 5-11, 185, 18 years old in March, committed to LSU
Bregman is a player who Baseball America called “scrappy” and who has been praised for his leadership and intangibles. Sounds like a Rays player already! Bregman also happens to be a very good prospect. Bregman has a swift, fluid swing that he uses to spray line drives all over the field. But when he’s ahead in the count or in situations when his team needs a home run, Bregman often uses a longer stroke that he uses to hit for good power, especially for a player his size. That stroke especially comes into play because Bregman has a good eye and is very good at working the count. With his beautiful swing and great plate discipline, it’s hard to imagine him not being a .300 hitter with a .370 OBP in the big leagues, and he seems like a 15-20 homer threat as well.
Bregman was a shortstop most of his high school career before recently being converted to catcher. One of the reasons he was converted was that he’s pretty slow, averaging a 6.9 in the 60 (think a tick under 4.6 in the 40). He does have good reflexes, leading scouts to believe that he could survive defensively at second base as a pro, but there’s no chance he’ll be a shortstop. As a catcher, Bregman has good motions, but his arm is average at best. Bregman seems like he has the tools to be a solid defensive catcher, but he’ll never throw out too many attempted basestealers.
Evalutation: Bregman seems like a supplemental first round to second round pick at this point. Everyone loves his elegant swing and his good power, but his lack of speed and arm drops him a bit down the draft boards. It’s uncertain whether Bregman will be able to stay at catcher long-term, but he’s still the type of prospect the Rays should consider if he’s around for their second selection, the 88th overall pick in the draft. He’s a nice prospect, but he as a catching prospect he’s somewhat questionable.
Tom Murphy (SUNY-Buffalo)
Info: 6-0, 180, 21 in April, junior at the State University of New York at Buffalo
The 2011 Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and a member of the USA Collegiate Baseball Team as a sophomore at SUNY-Buffalo, Murphy has shot up the draft boards. He was extremely impressive in 2011, posting a .384/.446/.626 line with 16 doubles, 10 homers, and 42 RBI in 52 games. His batting averaging, slugging percentage, and OPS all led the MAC. Murphy possesses excellent raw power and he utilizes his power with a relatively short swing. Murphy could be a 30-homer threat going forward, although he does have some holes in his swing that will lead to quite a few strikeouts. He does have a solid eye at the plate.
Murphy has nice speed for a catcher, running a 6.75 in the 60 (like a 4.47 in the 40), and he is quick behind the plate as well, but his arm is just solid-average and it has been inaccurate at times. He blocks balls well behind the plate, but he still needs a lot of work.
Evaluation: Murphy’s power potential makes him an intriguing prospect, but his just solid plate discipline and tendency for strikeouts limit him a bit and so does his inconsistency behind the plate. Murphy is a second to third round prospect, and if he fails to stay behind the plate, the Rays will have to consider him with their second or third pick in the draft because of his power.
Wyatt Mathisen (Callalen High School, Texas)
Info: 6-2, 215, turns 18 on December 30th, committed to the University of Texas
Mathison has good potential both offensively and defensively at the catcher position. He has a quick swing that produces line drives, and he has very good raw power that he has shown at times in games. Mathison is also good at making contact, although that contact isn’t always as solid as he would like, leading to a few too many popups. Mathison does have an excellent eye at the plate, and even though high school stats mean next to nothing, it’s impressive that he struck out just 7 times compared to 35 walks in 2011. Mathison is far from a finished product at the plate, but the tools are there.
Defensively, Mathison hasn’t been playing catcher very often because of team need, but when he has played, he has shown good actions behind the plate, although rust is evident from his lack of playing time at the position. Mathison has done a lot of starting for his high school time, and while he’s not going to be a starter long-term, his arm that can hit the high-80’s is an asset for him at catcher, and he also has shown great accuracy on his throws.
Evaluation: Mathison is a nice upside guy with good raw power and raw skills behind the plate that he looks to continue to develop. Mathison has nice tools and he’ll look to polish them a little bit more as a senior in 2012. Right now, he seems like a 2nd or 3rd round pick, but he could be a riser in the months leading up to the draft. The Rays, who we all know love upside, will certainly take a hard look at Mathison.
RJ Ybarra (Riverside Poly High School, California)
Info: 5-11, 200, 18 years old, committed to Arizona State University
Ybarra is a polished catching prospect with nice ability on both sides of the ball. Ybarra has a big, relatively long power swing that leads to impressive power and an ability to hit a good amount of line drives. His swing does lead to some strikeouts, but that’s to be expected from a hitter with Ybarra’s power. His plate discipline is solid at this point, and that’s an area where Ybarra will look to improve this season.
Defensively, Ybarra has been a catcher since he was 10 years old, but played other postions until he was a junior at Riverside Poly because of team need (thanks to Baseball America– link is subscribers only). Last season, in his first full year at catcher, Ybarra showed a great arm and nice agility behind the plate, but he needs work on the smoothness of his motions along with blocking balls down in the zone. He has the ability to be a very good defensive catcher with more experience, and we’ll see if he improves defensively in 2012.
Evaluation: Ybarra is a good hitting prospect and he has very good potential defensively. He seems unlikely to last beyond the first two or three rounds of the draft. I don’t think he’s the guy the Rays would draft at one of those spots unless he improves his plate discipline, but he’s still a nice prospect.
Josh Elander (TCU)
Info: 6-0, 200, 21 in March, junior at Texas Christian University, previously drafted by Washington Nationals (39th round, 2009)
Elander is a good catching prospect, but he the potential to be a high-riser in the months before the 2012 MLB Draft if he can show more flashes of the ability scouts have seen in him. Elander has shown good bat speed with an ability to spray line drives all over the field, but he has been primarily a singles hitter thus far in his career. Scouts have seen the power potential in Elander, but maybe his swing is too short for him to display it in games. He does have pretty good plate discipline, but he strikes out too much, especially for a player who’s a singles hitter at this point. He is fast for a catcher, able to run a 6.78 in the 60 (4.5 in the 40), and he was a perfect 9 for 9 in stolen bases in 2011. If Elander can ever bring his power out, he’ll be a good offensive prospect. Right now, he’s a decent hitting prospect at best.
Defensively, Elander has a very strong arm and he is smooth behind the plate. He has the makings of a good defensive catcher.
Evaluation: Elander is a good defensive prospect, but the question with Elander is his offense. Right now, he’s probably a 3rd to 5th round pick, but he has the ability to creep up as high the late first round if his power shows up. I don’t think Elander is the kind of player you would want to draft with your first or second round pick, because there’s some chance he’ll be a singles-hitting backup catcher long-term. But if he stays in that 3rd to 5th round range, I think he’s the kind of upside pick that the Rays like to draft, especially considering his floor is probably a major league backup catcher.
Clint Coulter (Union High School, Washington State)
Info: 6-3, 200, 18 years old, committed to Arizona State University
Coulter is a big, physical catcher and uses that to his advantage on both sides of the ball. He swings hard with good raw power, and he has shown opposite-field power as well. He has a good swing that makes the ball jump off his bat, and although he does swing and miss pretty often, he should hit for a solid average as a pro. Coulter also has good plate discipline.
Defensively, Coulter still needs a lot of work, but he has a strong arm and he’s agile enough behind the plate to be a good defensive catcher long-term.
Evaluation: Coulter is pretty raw, especially defensively, but he has some nice tools and he’ll be an early-round pick in the 2012 draft, and I would guess somewhere from the 3rd to 5th round at this point with the potential to go up. Coulter is the type of high-upside player that will be in demand on draft day, and the Rays will have to consider him.
Dane Phillips (Oklahoma City University)
Info: 6-1, 195, turned 21 on December 18th, junior at Oklahoma City University (NAIA), transfered from Oklahoma State University to University of Arkansas to Oklahoma City University, previously drafted by Seattle Mariners (Round 49, 2009)
Phillips decided to change majors after his sophomore season at Oklahoma State University and he cited that is the reason for his transfer to the University of Arkansas, but he was denied eligibility and chose to transfer to Oklahoma City University an NAIA school where Phillips will be eligible to play. Phillips is a somewhat promising prospect. He has a quick swing that he uses to hit a good amount of line drives, and he uses the entire field. He has power potential that hasn’t really surfaced as a collegiate athlete as he hit just 7 home runs in two seasons at OSU, although he did show some nice gap power in 2011, hitting 16 doubles and 8 triples in 2011 for the Cowboys. Phillips has a decent eye at the plate, although he does strike out too much. A lot of Phillips’ draft stock has to do with whether his power potential comes into fruition. We’ll have to see if that happens at OKCU in 2012.
Defensively, Phillips played mostly DH in 2011, but he received more time at catcher in the Cape Cod League and the reports are good. He still needs work, but he has a very good arm and he should be able to get by as a catcher as a pro.
Evaluation: Phillips’ power began to show up in 2011, and if he continues to hit for more power, he’ll be a 3rd to 5th round pick in the draft. Phillips is a “tweener” as a prospect, being already 21, but still having quite a bit of upside that may or may not surface. I think the Rays would rather have a high-upside high schooler or a safe bet college catcher, not a “tweener”. But some teams will certainly value Phillips and he’s a pretty good prospect.
Tomas Nido (Orangewood Christian High School, Florida)
Info: 6-0, 195, 18 years old in April, originally from Puerto Rico, committed to Florida State University
Nido is a raw catching prospect, but one with lots of ability. He is aggressive at swinging at strikes in has a big power swing that stays in the zone for a long time, leading to big-time raw power. He set a central Florida record with 17 home runs in 2011. He lacks in plate discipline and swings and misses too often. Nido needs work to clean up his approach at the plate so he can draw more walks, cut down on the strikeouts, and hit for a higher average. If that happens in 2012, he’s an extremely good offensive prospect, but right now, he’s questionable.
Defensively, Nido is still figuring out how to play the catcher position, but he’s athletic with a strong arm. He needs a lot of improvement on his footwork, but he is quick behind the plate and should be at least serviceable defensive catcher going forward.
Evaluation: Nido has nice power and arm tools, but he needs some work with his swing, his approach at the plate and his defensive footwork in order for him to be a legitimate top few rounds prospect. If he shows little improvement this season, he’s probably a 4th to 6th round pick. He’s another upside guy for the Rays to consider, especially since we know that they desperately need power.
Among these 11 prospects, we see a couple that the Rays would love to have but are better than the Rays’ draft slot, but any of the other 9 could be a players the Rays would draft. I could see the Rays taking a player like Saylor with their second pick in the draft and a player such as Elander in round five.
That’s it for Part 1 of this extensive post. I’ll have Parts 2 and 3 up over the next couple of days where I’ll talk about 22 more catching prospects for the 2012 draft.
Here’s the link to Part 2.