As Spring comes to a close and the 2016 draft looms larger than ever, scouts are finishing up evaluations on players and trying to get one last look. One of the most difficult things for them to do is line up their pref list. The pref list is where they rank each player in order of how they would select them in a vacuum. It mainly follows an OFP (Overall Future Potential) number but sometimes a player will be ranked higher on the list because of intangibles or an area scout’s feel on a player. Most clubs take it a step further at the cross-checker level and have them rank their players by position as well. When all's said and done, there will be a master pref list, or big board, and several smaller lists by position. The team will use this list as the draft unfolds and it allows them to keep track of priority guys and trends that are happening within the draft.
The debates between scouts on particular player positioning can be intense, especially when two area scouts or cross-checkers are pit against each other, but eventually the scouting director will make a decision based on his evaluations of the particular players. This time, we take a look at the best collegiate catchers in the class: Miami’s Zack Collins and Virginia’s Matt Thaiss.
Other entries in the series include:
Riley Pint vs. Forrest Whitley
Drew Mendoza vs. Gavin Lux
Corey Ray vs.Kyle Lewis
Keegan Akin vs. Eric Lauer
Cal Quantrill vs. Dakota Hudson
Cody Sedlock vs. Justin Dunn
Zack Collins, C, Miami
Like Corey Ray, Collins was a top-100 prep coming out of high school, but his signability and commitment to Miami made inking him essentially impossible. And like Ray, it appears Collins made the right decision, as he’s become one of the best offensive players in the 2016 class.
Collins is selective at the plate, as seen in his 69 walks over the 2016 season, and he rarely swings at pitches outside the zone. He has a tick above-average bat speed, and his swing stays in the zone, which gives him the ability to make consistent, hard contact. The calling card here is the power, as Collins has tons of loft—not uppercut, mind you—and generates leverage with his strong lower half, giving him the ability to take the ball out to any part of the ballpark. That loft does create some length to his swing, so you shouldn’t expect much more than an average hit tool, and you should expect plenty of strikeouts.
A team will give Collins a chance to catch, because why wouldn’t you, but the odds of him sticking there are pretty low. He’s a below-average athlete who doesn’t move well, and while his receiving skills aren’t abhorrent, they’re nothing to write home about. The arm is also just average, and his release is on the slow side, so he’s not going to shut down the running game, either. The bat absolutely can play at first—heck, even DH—but if he can stay behind the plate, he’s got a chance to be a perennial All-Star.
Matt Thaiss, C, Virginia
Unlike Collins, Thaiss was not a terribly well-known prospect coming out of high school. He’s certainly known now, as he was one of the best performers on last year’s College World Series champions, and he’s been among the best collegiate performers of 2016.
Like every player to come out of Virginia since the dawn of time (no bias here at all), Thaiss has an outstanding approach at the plate. He’s not passive, but he’s not going to beat himself, and he has shown no allergic reactions to reaching via walk. Even while seeing a ton of pitches there’s very little swing-and-miss here, and much of that has to do with elite hand-eye coordination. He also has a short, line-drive swing, and he does a great job of going with the pitch. He has nowhere near the power Collins has, but he does have some strength in his bat, and if you throw him something middle-in, he’ll capitalize and put it over the right-field bleachers.
If Collins is ahead of Thaiss offensively, Thaiss wins the defensive battle, though he’s not exactly a lock to stick behind the plate, either. He’s slightly more athletic than Collins, and he’s a better receiver as well. His arm strength is only average, but he gets rid of the ball quickly, and he’ll at least make the fleet of foot think about taking that extra base. If he was to move over to first, his value would drop more than Collins but I’d give him better than a 50/50 shot of staying off the not-so-hot corner.
Gosh, this is tough. These two are literally ranked next to each other in my top 125 draft prospects (coming soon), and the teams I’ve spoken with are not only mixed on which one they prefer, but just as undecided as to who the better prospect is. Collins is probably going to go higher because there are a couple of teams picking in the top dozen that are infatuated with the power, but the rest of the industry is torn.
Since I have to make a choice or get eaten by wolves, I’ll go with Collins. If he can’t stay behind the plate, this will look foolish, but I see enough defensive ability to at least be passable there, and I love the on-base skills. Thaiss is a very nice consolation prize for teams looking to draft a catcher—and after Thaiss it’s a long, lonely drop in terms of catching of any sort—but the offensive upside here is just too much to pass on. It’s really, really close, though.
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