The catching crop is deep at the prep ranks and light among the collegians this spring. Below is a look at some of the top names to know for the June draft, beginning with the cream of the catching crop.
Cream of the Crop
Jon Denney | C | Yukon HS (Yukon, OK)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/200 pounds
Draft Day Age: 18y 8m
In a deep draft for high-school catchers, Denney boasts the highest offensive ceiling of the bunch. A strong and solid 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame and compact, powerful swing help Denney to produce legit plus power to all fields, which he taps into both during batting practice and in games. He shows solid balance throughout his swing and is generally quiet in his head and hands. A well below-average runner, Denney’s offensive game relies primarily on brute force, but the swing is controlled enough, and the feel genuine enough, for the hit tool to project to average or better, as well.
Defensively, Denney is solid but inconsistent. The summer saw peaks and valleys in his catch-and-throw game, as he vacillated between a clean transfer and efficient arm action and a hitchy back swing complete with wrist flick and clumsy release. At his best, Denney will pop in the 1.95 to 2.05 range, with his utility playing up due to above-average accuracy. In order for that to become a part of his pro profile, however, he will need to get more consistent—something the Sooner-Stater has failed to due thus far this spring. An able receiver, Denney has strong wrists and soft hands, which will aid him as he moves on to work with more advanced arms at the pro ranks. Should an organization wish to move him out from behind the dish, he is athletic enough to get a shot at a corner-outfield spot, in spite of his foot speed, and the bat could play at first base, as well. He projects as a Day One talent, and could be picked in either the first round or the supplemental-first round.
The University of San Diego commit possesses an above-average defensive profile, providing comfort that the Washington backstop will stick behind the dish long term. McGuire shows good lateral movement and excels at blocking and deadening balls in the dirt, allowing for quick recovery, which aids in preventing runners from claiming an extra base. He is a capable receiver with soft hands and, more importantly, flexibility paired with dexterity. As he gains reps and is exposed to pro pitching and instruction, he should quickly grow this part of his game with a shot at making pitch framing a future strength. The catch-and-throw is above average, as well, regularly popping 1.90 to 1.98 in-game for me.
At the plate, McGuire shows core strength and good hips, helping to produce pull-side power and potentially average or better over-the-fence pop as he matures. Over the summer, his 5 o’clock power outdistanced his in-game thump, in part due to a conscious effort to trade leverage for bat control. This spring, he has pared back his stride and shown a more compact delivery of the barrel, producing regular loud contact and impressive gap-to-gap power. The right organization could view McGuire as a true top-10 talent, and it seems highly unlikely he’ll drop out of the first round come June.
Ciuffo lands almost directly between Denney and McGuire on both sides of the plate (lacking Denney’s offensive upside and coming in a step behind McGuire defensively), but his strong defensive profile and intriguing, if unrefined, offensive potential stand a good chance of landing him somewhere in the first 30 picks. Ciuffo’s catch-and-throw game and receiving skills are both well above average, with a chance to ultimately play as plus. His pop times have ranged 1.85 to 2.02 for me, with the majority of in-game throws clocking in around 1.95. At his cleanest, he shows a quick release and above-average to plus raw arm strength with solid accuracy.
Offensively, Ciuffo has a simple swing with strong hands that work well for him. He shows little issue handling balls in all four quadrants, and this spring has begun to manifest in-game power with more regularity. Proponents of the University of South Carolina commit see a sturdy backstop that should have no trouble reaching the majors as a catcher, with the chance to provide above-average value for the position. Ciuffo’s commitment to South Carolina, his dad’s alma mater, is a bit of a wild card, but provided he is signable for first-round money, he should see time in a minor-league system this summer, whether he’s drafted on Day One or early on Day Two.
Chris Okey | C | Eustis HS (Eustis, FL)
Height/Weight: 6-foot/180 pounds
Draft Day Age: 18y 5m
Okey slides into the “cream of the crop” designation for his overall baseball profile, which includes impressive athleticism, arm strength, agility, and feel for the hit tool. Lacking the traditional build and frame of a pro catche—something each of the three previously discussed prospects has on his résumé—Okey relies on his athleticism, flexibility, and quickness to make his case as a future catcher at the pro ranks. Okey has perhaps the quickest feet in the catching class, aiding his well above-average pop times (which routinely come in from 1.85 to 1.95 in-game). His arm strength is above-average to plus and his clean transfer and compact arm action help him to deliver quick and accurate strikes across the diamond. He moves well as a receiver and blocker, though his less-than-stocky build will lead some teams to question whether he can hold up behind the plate physically over the course of a long pro season.
Offensively, Okey has below-average power that could produce low double-digit home-run totals off the strength of his compact swing and solid barrel-to-ball ability. More than anything, Okey needs reps to continue to grow his situational approach, the only counter to the typical prep-bat issues. Rather than needing to learn when to rein in his swing, Okey needs to improve his selective aggression so as to maximize his in-game “big swing” implementation. He isn’t likely to hit you a bunch of home runs, but Okey could develop into a true gap-to-gap threat, with average speed to help with the extra-base totals. If the rigors of the pro catcher’s life prove to much for Okey’s frame, there is plenty of athleticism for him to attempt to stay up the middle, most likely with a shift to second base. He could fall anywhere from late-Day One to early-Day Two.
Promising Prep Talent
A well-known commodity in Southern California, Martinez “broke out” on the 2011 summer circuit as an underclassman, showing as one of the more impressive backstops at the Tournament of Stars and the Area Code Games. Since then, Martinez has remained one of the more well-rounded and refined catchers in the class. Sporting a sturdy catcher’s build, starting with a strong lower half, Martinez moves well behind the plate and showcases soft hands and adequate arm strength that plays to above-average due to a quick release, good footwork and impressive accuracy. Offensively, the USC commit has a simple swing that helps him to get barrel to ball with regularity and produces enough leverage to project to average power down the line. He may not have the highest upside of this stacked catching crop, but the collection of tools and refinement should land him somewhere in the early rounds.
Brian Navarreto | C | Arlington Country Day (Jacksonville, FL)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4/220 pounds
Draft Day Age: 18y 5m
Navarreto has the body to hang innings on behind the plate, with a chance to fill out along the lines of a Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He moves well in the dirt and comes with above-average arm strength and an accurate delivery when his upper and lower half are working in concert. The Perfect Game All American projects to a potential first-division defensive profile if everything clicks, but he’ll need some work at the professional level to make uniform his actions behind the plate—something that may not be possible if the Jacksonville commit simply lacks the body control to get his long limbs under control. He plays the game with high intensity and energy, and should tackle the challenge with aplomb. In the box, Navarreto’s game lags behind his glove. Though he has shown slow and steady improvement in his approach, his in-game execution is spotty, with a long swing lending itself to holes. His defense will get him early-round attention, but the improving bat and on-field intangibles are what could get him off the board early on in Day Two.
Tyler Alamo | C | Cypress HS (Cypress, CA)
Height/Weight: 6-foot-4/205 pounds
Draft Day Age: 18y 1m
The Cal State Fullerton commit has a large, broad frame that could eventually force him out from behind the dish as he matures. Helping his cause is solid athleticism and flexibility, as well as a solid defensive baseline that includes catch-and-throw skills clocking in the 2.00 pop range, in-game. Alamo can square velocity in spite of some length and his hit and power tools both show promise, giving him early-round upside entering the spring. Fast-forward three months and an inconsistent spring at the plate may have dimmed his early-round potential, with Alamo now figuring to fit more in the fourth to sixth round.
Francis Christy | C | Casa Grande HS (Petaluma, CA)
Height/Weight: 6-foot/200 pounds
Draft Day Age: 17y 9m
Christy is a bat-first backstop whose leveraged swing and potential above-average-to-plus power placed him prominently on NorCal follow lists entering the spring. While there is work to be done behind the plate, where Christy can struggle with blocks and with his throwing accuracy, the Oregon commit has enough athleticism to grow into the position in time, and at just 17 years and nine months of age as of draft day, there is plenty of developmental time ahead for the Golden-Stater. Even if Christy were to shift out from behind the plate, his foot speed and athleticism will play to an outfield corner, or even third base, with his bat fitting nicely in each landing spot. As with Alamo, Christy could represent good value in the fourth to sixth round, with a chance to come off the board earlier due to his offensive upside and age.
Tyler O’Neill | C | Garibaldi SS (Maple Ridge, BC)
Height/Weight: 6-foot/200 pounds
Draft Day Age: 17y 11m
Another comparatively young talent, O’Neill boasts a nice catch-and-throw game with the lower-half quickness to handle the infield, as well. He continues to grow his offensive game off the strength of a short bat-to-ball path and improving power with loft in his plane. There is ironing out to do on both sides of the plate, but O’Neill has multiple tools that should play, making him perhaps the top overall talent north of the border this year. O’Neill has enjoyed a solid spring and could profile behind the plate, at third base, or at the keystone, depending on his drafting organization’s needs. He fits well in the third to fifth round, but could come off the board as early as the second round to a team that values draft age and tools.
Thin Collegiate Crop
Ty Ross | C | Louisiana St. University
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/208 pounds
Draft Day Age: 21y 5m
Entering the spring, Ross was the top catcher in a thin college crop, but a disastrous offensive line thus far this spring has seemingly torpedoed his efforts to come off draft boards in the early rounds. Ross has the ability to do a little bit of everything, with his power standing out as his lone above-average tool. The LSU backstop brings big pull-side pop to the plate, but it comes with some swing and miss and a checkered history with wood. Those issues at the plate have been magnified this spring, with Ross barely hitting over .200 thus far, despite respectable contact and walk rates. Defensively, Ross has handled a slew of talented arms at LSU, and while he isn’t a top-third-in-the-league kind of defender, he should be able to handle the position at the next level without concern. If Ross can turn things around offensively over the last month of the regular season, he could still get attention in the mid-single-digit rounds of the draft.
Andrew Knapp | C | University of California – Berkeley
Height/Weight: 6-foot-1/192 pounds
Draft Day Age: 21y 6m
A switch-hitter with the chance for average playable power from each side of the plate, Knapp profiles as a bat-first catcher athletic enough to grow into an average defender with pro instruction. The catch-and-throw game is playable, with pop times ranging from 1.98 to 2.10, but some cleanup in his transfer and footwork could conceivably drop his average delivery to a consistent sub-2.0. As a receiver, Knapp is unrefined, with a tendency to let pitches carry his glove out of the zone. He has the lower-body quickness to move side-to-side, but his technical blocking and receiving will require reps to get up to pro speed. Overall, Knapp represents a solid second-to-fourth-round investment, depending on how highly you regard his ability to convert athleticism into a playable defensive skill set with time and instruction.
Stuart Turner | C | University of Mississippi
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2/220 pounds
Draft Day Age: 21y 5m
The Ole Miss catcher has raised his stock this spring as much as any backstop, showcasing a solid defensive profile and pairing it with a surprisingly effective display of offensive prowess. Despite loud numbers (a current triple-slash line of .376/.439/.567), Turner’s bat speed is merely average, and there is some question as to how well it will play against advanced pro arms. Defensively, Turner is a solid investment, with clean actions and average or better grades across the board, including arm strength (a solid 6 on the 2-to-8 scouting scale), receiving and blocking. Turner’s profile fits best in the fourth to sixth round, but a draft shy on collegiate talent could see him off the board as early as the second round if a drafting organization believes the bat can play every day at the highest level.
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.