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January 27, 2014

Scouting the Draft

Positional Preview: High School Catchers

by Nick J. Faleris


Position at a Glance
Evaluating and projecting out high school catchers is a difficult task, with high developmental attrition rates stemming from the fact that the hit tool and catcher defense are two of the most difficult skills to grow and refine at the professional level. The most sought-after talents within this cross section are those players who have elite present ability with either the hit tool or defense, with the holy grail being that unique player capable of stepping into a minor-league system and thriving defensively while also projecting out with the bat. This year’s crop boasts an elite talent in Alex Jackson, as well as a number of players who could step into that top tier with a little further growth this spring.

Player Spotlight

Alex Jackson | C/OF | Rancho Bernardo (San Diego, CA) | Commit: Oregon
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/210 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 5m

Jackson boasts one of the best blends of offensive and defensive upside in the draft class, with a chance to hit for average and power while providing solid defense behind the dish and a strong catch-and-throw game. The Oregon commit routinely impressed in batting practice throughout the summer showcase circuit, with big pull side power generated through a leveraged swing. In-game the load can get a little deep, with the swing length causing some issues with velocity, but the bat-to-ball ability and bat speed give hope that the Oregon commit will figure things out as he continues to log reps against quality arms.
Behind the plate Jackson moves well side-to-side with and shows an ability to impact the game with his arm, clocking pops as low as 1.77 for me over the summer and routinely sitting in the 1.85 to 1.95 range with low, level lines on his throws. There’s work to be done, no doubt, but the San Diego prepster has the body and athleticism to grow into a solid receiver and defender. Should a team desire to shift him to a corner to expedite offensive development, he is athletic enough to handle right field and possesses more than enough arm. Jackson was a worthy recipient of the first annual Baseball Prospectus Prospect of the Year Award last August as an impressive athlete with a chance to grow into an impact bat at a premium defensive position. He currently profiles as a solid top half of the first round talent.

Riding High

Bryce Carter | C/OF/1B | Cascia Hall Prep (Tulsa, OK) | Commit: Stanford
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1/195 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 9m
Scouting Video

Carter kicked off the summer with an impressive showing for the Vegas Gold squad at PG Nationals, making consistent loud contact including a hard home run over the Metrodome’s right field wall. He continued to show a good feel for the barrel throughout the summer and fall, and in particular at the Area Code Games in August. He brings to the plate a simple load, good leverage, and natural loft, producing easy power both oppo and pull. His well below-average straight-line speed makes first base the likely defensive fallback, but there’s enough to work with for him to get every opportunity to stick as a backstop. He currently profiles as a potential early round target.

Devon Fisher | C/3B/RHP | Western Branch (Chesapeake, VA) | Commit: Virginia
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1/200 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 1m
Scouting Video

Fisher is solidly built, particularly in the trunk, already showing some in-game pop to the gaps and an ability to really put a charge into the ball when he loads up in BP. He put together an impressive series of offensive showings in Cary during the Tournament of Stars last June before fading some in August at East Coast Pro and then coming back strong in October down in Jupiter. The Virginia commit shows quick hands and a fairly compact swing despite a slight wrap. He is a solid athlete, with a projectable build that should be able the weather the strain of the long pro season behind the plate. He can get choppy in his transfer, but there’s enough arm strength for the catch-and-throw game to play at the next level.

KJ Harrison | C/3B | Punahou (Honolulu, HI) | Commit: Oregon State
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 17y 10m
Scouting Video

Harrison first impressed on the national stage in June at the Perfect Game National Showcase, displaying the foundation for an above-average future offensive profile and adequate actions behind the plate. Between June and October Harrison began to unlock his swing, showing better barrel acceleration and an ability to more consistently produce backspin and carry. His Jupiter showings with GBG Marucci were highlighted by several smoked balls, including a loud double and a home run. He doesn’t stand out defensively, but his actions are solid and he easily held his own throughout the summer. One of the youngest tier one prospects in the draft class, the Oregon State commit almost certainly has another big jump in development awaiting him in the near future. You may not have heard the name trumpeted yet, but it could be called loud and early come June.

Slade Heggen | C/OF/3B | Loyola Sacred Heart (Missoula, MT) | Commit: Oregon
Height/Weight: 6-foot/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 6m
Scouting Video

Heggen is an interesting blend of athleticism, raw ability, and now performance. The Treasure State standout utilizes a short swing path with lots of pitch-plane overlap to produce hard contact, and showed the ability to square quality arms at multiple stops along the showcase circuit. He has a tendency to pop the clutch when transitioning from load to swing, but it is not a long-term concern. Heggen moves well behind the plate, but regularly struggles with his catch-and-throw game due to inconsistencies in his transfer and release (leading to lots of bounces into the bag). Further, some question whether his frame and build will prove capable of handling the grind of a long pro season behind the dish. If he does have to shift out from behind the plate he moves well enough to hold down an outfield corner.

Jakson Reetz | C/OF/RHP | Norris (Firth, NE) | Commit: Nebraska
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 5m
Scouting Video

Reetz is one of the better athletes in the draft class at the catcher position, and showed good growth in his game between June and October. The Nebraska commit is an instinctual player who has no trouble slowing the game down on both sides of the ball. Throughout the summer and fall Reetz showed a knack for squaring up pitches and effectively working the whole field. Perhaps most impressive was how strong he finished the long summer, with a monster August/September that included a standout performance for the gold medal USA Baseball 18U National Team, a loud Area Code Games, and MVP honors at the Perfect Game All-American Classic. He’ll enter the spring as the top draft prospect in the Cornhusker State.

Michael Rivera | C/3B | Venice (Venice, FL) | Commit: Florida
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10/180 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 6m
Scouting Video

Rivera is a well-rounded catcher, showing fluid actions behind the plate, a feel for blocking and deadening the ball, and relatively quiet hands. His arm is adequate, playing up some when the transfer is at its cleanest, and the profile appears to be that of a catcher long term, albeit one with limited impact. Offensively it’s not a sexy package, but the Florida commit shows an ability to find the ball with the barrel despite some hitchiness and a swing that’s often too geared to pull. A good spring could push Rivera up draft boards as someone who grades out solid at a premium position but lacks the ceiling of some of his contemporaries.

JJ Schwarz | C | Palm Beach Gardens (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) | Commit: Florida
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/195 pounds
B/T: R/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 2m
Scouting Video

Schwarz stood out most for me at East Coast Pro, where he showed an ability to impact the game in the box and behind the plate. Offensively he shows some whip in the barrel and has no trouble producing hard contact and carry to the gaps. Defensively his actions are sound and the arm is a tick above average, which he’s not afraid to show-off via backpicks. He was one of the more consistent performers throughout the summer and fall, with particularly impressive showings with Team USA, at East Coast Pro, with FTB Mizuno in Jupiter, and at the Diamond Club Showcase. He profiles as a sound defender with the chance to hit for average power and could garner early-round attention with a solid spring.

Evan Skoug | C/CIF | Libertyville (Libertyville, IL) | Commit: Texas Christian
Height/Weight: 5-foot-10/200 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m
Scouting Video

As was the case with Schwarz, Skoug really stood out in Syracuse at the East Coast Pro showcase, and in particular during his BP sessions where the big left-handed power was on display. The TCU commit took an even bigger step forward up follow lists with a monster performance in Jupiter for the Reds Midwest Scout Team, showing huge pull-side power throughout the tournament and very little difficulty squaring velocity. Skoug boasts a thick build with a monster lower half and has no trouble generating torque in his swing. He’s among the more interesting left-handed power bats at the high school ranks due to his solid approach and recent on-field performances, and should enter the spring high on Midwest follow lists.

Tim Susnara | C/OF/1B | St. Francis (Mountain View, CA) | Commit: Oregon
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1/195 pounds
B/T: L/R
Draft Day Age: 18y 2m
Scouting Video

Susnara shows a good feel for the game and a high level of comfort behind the plate, in the box, and on the basepaths. He is capable of producing some pop, but works best driving the ball up the middle and to the oppo gap. His upper and lower halves can get out of sync, but the fluidity in his swing improved over the course of the scouting season, and the Oregon commit appears to be poised for a breakout spring if he can continue to grow his approach and log reps. Defensively, he has solid actions behind the dish. He’ll routinely pop in the 2.02 to 2.05 range in-game, and I’ve clocked him as low as 1.82 during workouts, with enough arm strength and accuracy to overcome some length in his arm swing and transfer. There’s a lot to like here, and we could just be scratching the surface at this point.

Others to Watch
North Carolina commit Ryder Ryan (North Mecklenburg (Huntersville, NC)) (scouting video) could easily have been included with the previously discussed group. He’s a good athlete with the bat and glove to project at multiple positions across the diamond, though his value is highest at catcher. Matt Morgan (Thorsby (Thorsby, AL)) (scouting video), Justin Morris (Dematha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD)) (scouting video), Hunter Taylor (Nandua (Onley, VA)) (scouting video), and Cole Bedford (Deer Park (Deer Park, TX)) (scouting video) all possess well-rounded skill sets with solid chances to raise their draft stocks with further development this spring.

Drew Lugbauer (Arlington (Pleasant Valley, NY)) (scouting video) and Handsome Monica (St. Pauls (Covington, LA)) (scouting video) have both displayed impressive in-game power while showing enough behind the dish to stick there for the time being. Simeon Lucas (Grant Community (Fox Lake, IL)) (scouting video) and Colton Shaver (Jordan (Sandy, UT)) (scouting video) have struggled to win over evaluators on the defensive side, though they routinely receive votes for some of the top hit and power tools at the position, respectively.

Benito Santiago (Coral Springs Christian (Coral Springs, FL)) (scouting video) was underwhelming throughout most of the summer and fall, though he flashed some offensive potential and a solid catch-and-throw game. His receiving and blocking left much to be desired, as Santiago too often appeared loose and imprecise with his actions. With one of the top high school arms in the county (Touki Toussaint) as a high school batterymate, evaluators with have plenty of opportunities to assess the development of those skills throughout the spring.

Final Thoughts
There is a little something for everyone in this year’s collection of prep backstops, ranging from big power to advanced defense and everything in between. With five months of development still ahead for a volatile subgroup of draft talent, by the time the draft rolls around the group could look thin up top or impressively deep. Either way, the names above should be some of the most interesting to follow throughout the spring.

Nick J. Faleris is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Nick's other articles. You can contact Nick by clicking here

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