PART ONE: Top Catching Prospects, 1995-2004.
Here is a look at the Top Catching Prospects in baseball over a fourteen year period, as identified in the STATS Minor League Scouting Notebook (1995-2002) and the Baseball Prospect Book (2003-2008). My friend Eddie Epstein wrote the ’95 edition of the old STATS book, and I wrote the subsequent editions until STATS dropped the book. I began to self-publish in 2003.. Here are the catchers who appeared on the Top 50 prospects lists.
1995 (Eddie Epstein list)
Charles Johnson, Grade A: Career .245/.330/.433 in 3836 at-bats.
Raul Casanova, Grade A-: Career .236/.304/.379 in 1081 at-bats.
Todd Greene, Grade B+: Career .252/.286/.444 in 1573 at-bats.
COMMENT: Johnson of course had a long and productive career with a decent bat and strong defense. Casanova never lived up to his early potential, partly due to injuries, but is still hanging around as a backup catcher. Greene was a converted outfielder with a power bat and bad plate discipline. He had a decent run as a bench player in the mid-2000s.
Jose (Javier) Valentin, Grade A: Career .251/.310/.402 in 1507 at-bats.
Mike Sweeney, Grade A-: Career .299/.368/.489 in 4795 at-bats.
Jason Kendall: Grade A-: Career .293/.371/.388 in 6741 at-bats.
Todd Greene, Grade B+: see above.
COMMENT: Valentin’s bat stagnated when he reached Double-A, and he struggled offensively upon reaching the majors in 1998 at age 22. He’s carved out a career as a backup. Sweeney converted to first base and was one of the best hitters in baseball for awhile.
Mike Sweeney, Grade A-: See above.
Javier Valentin, Grade B+: See above.
Pat Cline, Grade B+: Never reached the majors.
COMMENT: Cline was a very solid prospect 1995-1996, but started to have strike zone judgment and injury problems in 1997. He rebounded with a good year in Triple-A in 1998, but after that he fell apart completely and was out of baseball by 2001.
A.J. Hinch, Grade B+: Career .219/.280/.356 hitter in 953 at-bats.
Ramon Hernandez, Grade B+: .Career .263/.326/.421 in 3975 at-bats.
Ben Petrick, Grade B+: Career .257/.336/.448 in 669 at-bats.
Cesar King, Grade B+: Never reached the majors.
COMMENT: Hinch had an outstanding year in A-ball and Triple-A in ’97 and had a good glove rep to boot. Handed
Michael Barrett (3B-C), Grade A-: Career .264/.320/.422 in 3494 at-bats.
Angel Pena, Grade B+: Career .209/.256/.326 hitter in 187 at-bats.
Ramon Hernandez, Grade B+: See above.
Mitch Meluskey, Grade B+: Career .283/.386/.449 in 414 at-bats.
COMMENT: Barrett was a good player for awhile but faded very quickly once he hit age 30. Pena showed he could mash the ball in the minors, but never did the same in the majors and got too fat. Meluskey had a great year for the Astros in 2000 (.300/.401/.487) but vanished after that, ruined by back and shoulder injuries.
Ben Petrick, Grade A-: See above.
Ramon Hernandez, Grade B+: See above.
Matt LeCroy, Grade B+: Career .260/.326/.440 hitter in 1388 at-bats.
COMMENT: LeCroy had success as a platoon player, catcher/1b/DH type for the Twins.
J.R. House, Grade B+: Career .167/.206/.367 hitter in 60 at-bats.
COMMENT: House had injury problems and gave up baseball for football for awhile, but he still has an outside chance to do something. He is a career .310/.372/.496 hitter at the minor league level and under the right circumstances he could be a LeCroy type.
Jayson Werth, Grade B+: Career .263/.355/.451 hitter in 1394 at-bats.
Joe Mauer, Grade B+: Career .317/.399/.457 hitter in 2059 at-bats.
John Buck, Grade B+; Career .234/.298/.398 hitter in 1727 at-bats.
COMMENT: Werth converted to the outfield before reaching the majors. Mauer is terrific of course. Buck has stagnated offensively and doesn’t look like he will improve at this point.
2003 (first year with Top 50 hitters)
Joe Mauer, Grade A: See above.
Victor Martinez, Grade A: Career .298/.370/.462 hitter in 2658 at-bats.
Jeff Mathis, Grade B+: Career .195/.272/.326 in 512 at-bats.
John Buck, Grade B+: See above.
Justin Huber, Grade B+: Career .220/.273/.302 in 159 at-bats.
Jeremy Brown, Grade B+: Career .300/.364/.500 in 10 at-bats.
Joe Mauer, Grade A: See above.
Jeff Mathis, Grade A-: See above.
Dioner Navarro, Grade B+: Career .263/.327/.376 in 1266 at-bats.
Guillermo Quiroz, Grade B+: Career .201/.266/.269 in 234 at-bats.
Justin Huber, Grade B+: see above.
COMMENT: Navarro looks like he will have a long career though the exact shape is still uncertain. Quiroz’s bat stagnated and he looks like a guy who will bounce around Triple-A and the majors for a long time.
Daric Barton, Grade A-: Career .243/.341/.388 in 518 at-bats.
Brian McCann, Grade B+: Career .297/.358/.501 in 1635 at-bats.
COMMENT: Barton converted to first base. He struggled in 2008 and while still young, it remains to be seen if he will live up to his early potential. McCann is terrific and just getting better. Love the power/low strikeout combination.
Jeff Clement, Grade A-: Career .237/.309/.393 in 219 at-bats.
Russ Martin, Grade B+: Career .285/.373/.433 in 1508 at-bats.
George Kottaras, Grade B+: Career .200/.200/.400 in five at-bats.
Neil Walker, Grade B+: Not in majors yet.
Brandon Snyder, Grade B+: Not in majors yet.
COMMENT: I think Clement just needs more time, but a change of scenery might be helpful. Martin is excellent and his superb plate discipline really helps him. His heavy workload may wear down his bat however. Kottaras has been unable to duplicate his 2005 breakout but could still have a career as a reserve. Walker and Snyder are no longer catchers.
Chris Iannetta, C, Grade B+: Career .249/.368/.440 in 607 at-bats.
Miguel Montero, C, Grade B+: Career .239/.309/.411 in 414 at-bats.
Jeff Clement, Grade B: See above.
COMMENT: Iannetta had a rough debut in 2007 but was more effective in 2008, obviously it is too early to know exactly what will happen with guys at this stage. Montero is still trying to get established as well.
Matt Wieters, Grade A-: Not in majors yet.
Jeff Clement, Grade B+ See above.
Taylor Teagarden, Grade B+: .319/.396/.809 in 47 at-bats.
Geovany Soto, Grade B+: .291/.365/.507 in 574 at-bats.
J.R. Towles, Grade B+: .188/.288/.323 in 186 at-bats.
Hang Conger, Grade B+: Not in majors yet.
COMMENT: Wieters looks outstanding in the minors and I have full confidence in him. Teagarden should be a solid player if injuries don’t hold him back. Soto is really good; the only question now is how much durability he will show. Towles was a big disappointment but deserves another shot. Too early to tell about Conger of course.
Let’s organize this a different way. My grading has changed over time and I’m a much tougher grader now than I used to be. But breaking this down a bit, and eliminating anyone who hasn’t played in the majors yet,
Players who were Grade As at one point:
Charles Johnson (Epstein): Successful outcome.
Javier Valentin: Bust compared to expectation. I was an easier grader then.
Joe Mauer: Excellent outcome.
Victor Martinez: Excellent outcome.
Players who were Grade A-
Raul Casanova (Epstein): Bust.
Mike Sweeney: Excellent at another position.
Jason Kendall: Excellent for awhile, successful outcome.
Michael Barrett: Solid regular.
Ben Petrick: Some success before injury bust.
Daric Barton: Too early to tell, now at another position.
Jeff Mathis: Too early to tell, don’t like current trends.
Players who were Grade B+
Todd Greene: Some success, held back by injuries, plate discipline.
Pat Cline: Injuries, stopped hitting.
A.J. Hinch: Bust due to injuries, stopped hitting.
Ramon Hernandez: Solid regular player.
Cesar King: Bust. Injuries, got fat.
Angel Pena: Bust. Got fat.
Mitch Meluskey: Good success before injury bust.
Matt Lecroy: Good platoon player.
J.R. House: Looked like an injury bust, could still contribute.
Jayson Werth: Good hitter at another position.
John Buck: Stagnated with bat but has held job.
Justin Huber: Looks like bust, injuries, position switch.
Jeremy Brown: Bust.
Dioner Navarro: Still carving out career.
Guilermo Quiroz: Looks like a backup.
Brian McCann: Excellent player.
Russ Martin: Excellent player.
George Kattaras: Could bust, still has outside chance to contribute.
Chris Iannetta: Looks good right now.
Miguel Montero: Too soon to give up on.
Geovany Soto: Looks really good right now.
Taylor Teagarden: Too early to tell, but should be good if healthy.
J.R. Towles: Blew first chance, will get more.
In Part Two, we will look at all current major league regular catchers (300 at-bats or more in 2008) and see where they came from, and how they rated as prospects. Then in Part Three we will see if we can draw some conclusions from all this data.