May 28, 2014
Scouting the Draft
2014 Draft: Catchers to Know
The prep ranks in general have a nice blend of quality defenders and “bat first” types who offer enough offensive projection to serve as a safety net if they are ultimately shifted elsewhere on the diamond. There’s less depth among the college backstops, particularly in the second and third rounds, but guys like Aramis Garcia (Florida International), Grayson Greiner (South Carolina), and Taylor Gushue (Florida) should make for interesting options early on day two.
Top Players to Know
Alex Jackson | C/OF | Rancho Bernardo (San Diego, CA) | Commit: Oregon
Draft Day Age: 18y 5m
Jackson is the total package, with a chance to hit for average and power at the highest level, as well as athletic actions behind the plate and a solid catch-and-throw game. The pull-side power is a 65 on the 20/80 scouting scale, and there is enough strength in his leveraged swing that he can let the ball travel and drive it the other way. The swing comes with a little bit of length thanks to an at-times deep load, but the hope is that Jackson’s feel for the barrel and bat speed will provide a strong enough foundation for him to figure things out as he progresses up the minor-league ladder.
There is a fair amount of refinement still to come behind the plate, but Jackson’s athleticism makes him a strong candidate to develop into an average or better defensive catcher. His plus arm strength and good release should help him control the running game, and will serve as yet another avenue for the San Diego prepster to provide value to his future org. If he is shifted out from behind home to help expedite his offensive development, he would fit well in right field.
Max Pentecost | C | Kennesaw State
Draft Day Age: 21y 3m
Projected Round: Round 1, as high as top five overall
Pentecost raked his way through the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer, collecting MVP honors and standing out with one of the best overall hit tools in the league. He has kept that momentum this spring, slashing .423/.477/.634 over 58 games while showing a good approach and the ability to use the whole field. The power likely tops out at low double-digit homers at the highest level, but he runs well enough to rack up doubles along the way.
Behind the plate Pentecost is average across the board. A solid blocker and receiver, he shows good side-to-side actions and soft hands. The arm is average and there is some cleanup to be done in his arm action, but the footwork is solid and he generally delivers the ball with solid accuracy. It’s a bat-first profile at this point in time, but he gets the job done defensively and is athletic enough to project continued growth on the defensive side. He fits well in the mid-first round and could go in the top 10 on a pre-draft deal.
Kyle Schwarber | C/1B | Indiana
Draft Day Age: 21y 3m
Schwarber has a case for the title of best overall bat in the class at the collegiate ranks, showing plus to plus-plus raw power from the left side and the potential to hit for average at the next level. His strength and bat speed allow him to cover the quadrants and drive the ball to all fields, and he utilizes an advanced understanding of the strike zone to help find his pitches.
Schwarber’s impressive offensive upside is key, as he’s at best a coin flip to stick behind the plate. He is a below-average receiver with below-average arm strength, though he does move well for a player his size. If he were to move out from behind the plate, first base is likely the best fit, though a team could give him some time in left field to see if he can handle the position. The bat should play across the diamond. Schwarber is a clear first rounder that could fit anywhere from the back of the top 10 to the back of the round.
Chase Vallot | C/1B | St. Thomas More (Lafayette, LA) | Commit: Mississippi State
Draft Day Age: 17y 9m
One of the younger prep talents in the class, Vallot boasts plus raw power and a knack for barreling baseballs that helps his power manifest in game without issue. The power is generated through a strong core and good bat speed, creating big leverage that comes with natural loft. Vallot impressed throughout the showcase circuit last summer and has taken his game forward this spring, showing the same impact bat but with a tighter physique.
A solid athlete for his size, Vallot could potentially fit at an outfield corner if he has to move off his primary position. He has additionally shown well at first base, though it would be a waste of his plus arm. As is the case with Schwarber, the bat should play anywhere, and his ultimate defensive home may be determined by how much effort his drafting organization wants to put into developing him as a catcher. At present, he is a below-average receiver with at-times stiff actions and can struggle side to side. Vallot could fit anywhere from the back of the first to the second round.
Jakson Reetz | C | Norris (Hickman, NE) | Commit: Nebraska
Draft Day Age: 18y 5m
Projected Round: Round 2 to Round 3, as high as late Round 1
One of the most exciting profiles in the class, Reetz can do a little bit of everything, showing an ability to slow the game down on both sides of the ball. Offensively, he comes with an impressive track record from last summer’s showcase circuit and a standout performance with USA Baseball’s gold medal 18U squad. Reetz has an ability to produce consistent loud contact and should grow into at least average power as he continues to mature physically and refine his approach. He also has the bat speed and tracking ability to project to at least an average hit tool with further development.
Defensively Reetz should have no issue sticking behind the plate, as he shows soft hands, smooth actions, and a strong and accurate arm. He is a high-energy player who should take well to professional ball and emerge as a team leader. While Reetz did show well against top talent last summer, he faced highly overmatched competition this spring during his high school season, and there may be an adjustment period as he starts to take on advanced arms, on both sides, on a daily basis. He has the physical tools to come off the board on day one, but could get pushed down into early day two territory due to the depth of the draft class.
KJ Harrison | C | Punahou (Honolulu, HI) | Commit: Oregon State
Draft Day Age: 17y 10m
Over the past 12 months Harrison has grown his offensive profile to the point where he looks like a potential above-average contributor with the stick, including an average or better hit tool and plus pop. In particular, the bat speed has improved, with the Oregon State commit showing better barrel acceleration and an ability to more consistently produce backspin and carry. He’s young for the class, which gives further reason for optimism that further positive development is on the horizon.
Defensively Harrison does not stand out in any one facet, but he has a strong arm and delivers the ball with accuracy. He moves well side to side and comes with a strong and durable build that should benefit him as he tackles the longer seasons awaiting him, be it in Corvallis or professional ball. Harrison is a bit of a wild card in that a bulk of his development has come after he finished up with the lion’s share of the showcase circuit, which means evaluators haven’t been able to see him fully implement his improved skill set against advanced competition. A young player at a premium position trending upward on the developmental arc and showing potential for above-average offensive and defensive production, he could be a steal outside of the first two rounds.
JJ Schwarz | C | Palm Beach Gardens (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) | Commit: Florida
Draft Day Age: 18y 2m
Projected Round: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
Schwarz is a well-rounded catcher who shows the potential to develop above-average power to go with a solid-average defensive profile. At the plate, Schwarz was a solid producer on the summer circuit, and in particular at the East Coast Pro Showcase and with the USA Baseball gold medal 18U team. There’s whip in the barrel and he has no trouble producing hard contact and carry to the gaps, and with further refinement a number of those doubles should start finding the bleachers.
Behind the plate Schwarz is more solid than standout. The arm is a tick above-average, and he shows a solid transfer and clean release in his catch-and-throw game. He is a solid receiver who shows no issue handling advanced stuff, and has little trouble with his blocking game. The biggest hole in the profile is his plodding 20 speed, which might cut into his doubles totals at the next level and could produce negative value on the basepaths. A team sold on the power coming along could pop him as early as the supplemental-first round, and he would fit well somewhere in the top 100 picks or so.
Aramis Garcia | C | Florida International
Draft Day Age: 21y 5m
Projected Round: Round 3 to Round 4, as high as Round 2
A strong spring has boosted Garcia into top three round territory, as the FIU catcher has hit his way into the hearts of Florida area scouts via a .368/.442/.626 slash line, with 25 walks and only 23 strikeouts. Garcia does a good job keeping the barrel in the hit zone for an extended time, which allows him to utilize the whole field in his approach. He has blossomed into a more patient hitter, capable of working the count to find his pitches and possessing enough feel to turn tough pitches into hits.
Defensively, Garcia gets the job done. He is an average receiver with a solid catch-and-throw game and some feel for blocking and deadening the ball. His lower half is a tick slower than you would generally like to see in a pro catching prospect, but he handles the position well and should not have any issues sticking there long term. In a class light on college bats, Garcia offers a solid hit tool at a premium defensive position. Someone should bite in the first three rounds.
Grayson Greiner | C | South Carolina
Draft Day Age: 21y 8m
Greiner worked as the primary catcher for the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team last summer, showing little trouble handling the likes of Carlos Rodon, Brandon Finnegan, Erick Fedde, Tyler Beede, and Luke Weaver. His defensive profile makes him a fairly safe bet to reach at least backup catcher status at the MLB level, as he displays good receiving skills, a clean transfer, and strong accurate throws to second with routine sub-2.0 pop times.
Despite a strong offensive spring that had Greiner sitting at an impressive .328/.403/.515 at the conclusion of the regular season, the offensive profile is limited due to average bat speed and preference for contact out front. There is above-average raw pop in the barrel, and Greiner launched 13 bombs this spring to lead his South Carolina club. But there are questions as to whether he will be able to as easily reach his power once facing more advanced arms whilst wielding wood. Greiner fits well in the second or third round and could develop into a solid everyday regular if his solid approach and understanding of the strike zone can help him to overcome the mechanical shortcomings in his swing.
Evan Skoug | C/1B | Libertyville (Libertyville, IL) | Commit: Texas Christian
Draft Day Age: 18y 7m
Like Kyle Schwarber, Skoug boasts a stout and strong build, a potentially impactful offensive profile highlighted by big left-handed power, and serious questions as to whether he can stick as a catcher, long term. Offensively, Skoug makes consistent hard contact, and he shows light-tower pull-side power thanks to a naturally lofted swing and solid bat speed. His body went backward a bit between October and February, and will likely be an area of needed focus for him as he continues to progress.
The arm strength is fringy and he can rush his footwork and transfer, the result being a loss of force and accuracy on his throws. His hands are adequate, but his lower half can lag side to side, and there are still questions as to how he will hold up as a receiver working with advanced arms. Teams buying into Skoug, however, are buying the bat first, and it has the potential to carry the profile even if the TCU commit were to shift to first base. The questionable defensive profile will likely push Skoug out of the top 50 picks, but he could find a home anywhere from the back half of the second round to the fourth round.
Taylor Gushue | C | Florida
Draft Day Age: 20y 5m
Gushue isn’t a finished product, but as 20-year old junior (he graduated high school a semester early in order to join the Florida Gators in the spring of 2012) he doesn’t need to be. Gushue finished up the regular season with a .323/.385/.477 line, with just under a third of his hits going for extra bases. There’s some swing-and-miss in his game, but it’s an acceptable tradeoff for above-average raw pop out of a switch-hitting profile.
A below-average defender exiting high school, Gushue missed out on a year of development behind the plate as he shifted to first base/designated hitter in the spring of 2012 in deference to future first rounder Mike Zunino. He has since taken steps forward to the point that most believe he can stick as a catcher, long term. He has handled a talented Florida staff well, and should continue to progress as he logs time through the minors. He would seem to fit as a third or fourth round option and could provide very good value there if his game continues to progress.
Brett Austin (C, North Carolina State)
Michael Cantu (C/1B, Moody (Corpus Christi, TX)) | Commit: Texas
Bryce Carter (C/1B, Cascia Hall Prep (Tulsa, OK)) | Commit: Stanford
Devon Fisher (C/3B/RHP, Western Branch (Chesapeake, VA)) | Commit: Virginia
Slade Heggen (C/OF/3B, Loyola Sacred Heart (Missoula, MT)) | Commit: Oregon
Connor Joe (C, San Diego)
Simeon Lucas (C, Grant Community (Fox Lake, IL)) | Commit: Illinois State
Drew Lugbauer (C/3B, Arlington (Pleasant Valley, NY)) | Commit: Michigan
Matt Morgan (C, Thorsby (Thorsby, AL)) | Commit: Alabama
Michael Rivera (C/1B, Venice (Venice, FL)) | Commit: Florida
Benito Santiago (C, Coral Springs Christian (Coral Springs, FL)) | Commit: Tennessee
Tim Susnara (C/OF/1B, St. Francis (Mountain View, CA)) | Commit: Oregon
Mitch Trees (C, Sacred Heart-Griffin (Springfield, IL)) | Commit: Louisville
Mark Zagunis (C, Virginia Tech)
Nick J. Faleris is a practicing structured finance attorney and Sports Industry team member in the Milwaukee office of Foley & Lardner LLP. The views he expresses in Baseball Prospectus are his own, and not necessarily those of the law firm.