High school catchers are becoming a tradition for the Tampa Bay Rays, and none of them have made the major leagues. Justin O’Conner is the best of the bunch so far, with has also included Nick Ciuffo, Lucas Bailey, Taylor Hawkins, and Jake DePew, and they have also selected college guys like Mac James and Luke Maile. Even so, when the Rays saw Chris Betts on the board in Round 2 of the MLB Draft, he was worth adding to the group. His asking price is incredibly high–$2.5 million per Kiley McDaniel–but clearly the Rays are planning to sign guys to under-slot deals to make this work.
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Betts, a 6’2″, 215 catcher out of Woodrow Wilson High School in California, stands out on both sides of the ball. At the plate, he shows outstanding raw power as a lefty hitter to go along with good bat speed and a solid approach. He has more raw power than any of the catchers we mentioned above, enough that he doesn’t necessarily have to remain a backstop. That might become important because he has dealt with some issues staying in shape and has never been particularly agile behind the plate. He also dealt with an elbow injury this year, although he should be fine moving forward. That being said, he has good arm strength and has worked hard to improve his receiving.
The comp to put on Chris Betts is ex-Rays catcher Stephen Vogt. He took a long time to become serviceable as a catcher–although now he is actually pretty good defensively–but he always stood out for his power and plate discipline at the plate. This season has been a best-case scenario for Vogt (although we can’t expect Betts to be this good and Vogt will likely cool off as well), but you love the bat with Betts and you see if the defense can work out in the end.
Given the Tampa Bay Rays’ offensive struggles, they are done drafting guys with specific positions in mind. When you see power like he has, you get it whenever you can. If Betts ends up at first base and creates a logjam with Richie Shaffer, Jake Bauers, and Casey Gillaspie in the system, then that’s a great thing–it would mean that all (or most) of them are hitting. If he can stick behind the plate, meanwhile, then we are talking about a star that fits in with all of those guys.
Garrett Whitley is such an excellent athlete while Betts fits a different profile, but both of them give the Tampa Bay Rays impressive hitting prospects and we can dream of them batting in the middle of their batting order in the future. $2.5 million is a lot of money–it’s around the slot value for 16th overall–but the Rays are effectively going to have two first round picks once they get him signed. It will take some creativity to make that happen, but the Rays wouldn’t have selected select Betts unless they were positive that it would work out well.
Update: Maybe that $2.5 million figure isn’t so solid for Betts. We have to expect that he’ll sign for an above-slot bonus, but maybe more like $2 million will be where he ends up. The Rays would love to use whatever extra money they can get to sign higher-upside player on Day 2 of the draft.
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