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The Recent History of Catching Prospects, Part TWO

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A Hot Catching Prospect from 1976


The Recent History of Catching Prospects, Part TWO

Here is a look at the origins of all major league catchers with 300 or more at-bats, or 10 or more Win Shares, in 2008. The list is organized by Win Shares.

Joe Mauer, 31 win shares
    First round pick out of high school in Minnesota, 2001. Prospect Grades: 2002: Grade B+; 2003: Grade A; 2004: Grade A.  Not much to say here; he has lived up to the lofty expectations.

Geovany Soto, 24 win shares
   11th round pick out of high school in Puerto Rico, 2001. Prospect Grades 2005: Grade C; 2006: Grade C; 2007: Grade C; 2008: Grade B+. Looked like a useful backup catcher until his 2007 offensive explosion. Better conditioning and adjustments to his swing unleashed his strength.

Ryan Doumit, 22 win shares
    Second round pick out of high school in Washington state, 1999. Prospect Grades 2000: Grade C; 2001 Grade B-; 2002 Grade C+; 2003 Grade C but with sleeper notation; 2004; Grade C+; 2005 Grade C. Doumit’s minor league career was hampered by frequent injuries that hurt his grade, his only healthy season was 2003. I’m still concerned about his durability but he’s obviously a very good player.

Russ Martin, 22 win shares
    17th round pick in 2002 from Chipola JC, drafted as an infielder. Prospect Grades: 2003: not rated; 2004: Grade C not in book for space reasons; 2005: Grade B, rated as a breakthrough candidate; 2006: Grade B+, projected as a major league .265-.275 hitter with a high on-base percentage and moderate power. Martin wasn’t much of a prospect until he converted to catching, and he took to it amazingly well. I liked him a lot in ’05 and ’06 and he’s exceeded expectations.

Brian McCann, 21 win shares
    Second round pick in 2002 out of high school in Georgia. Prospect Grades: 2003: Grade C following poor rookie ball performance; 2004: Grade C+ but with “watch closely” notation; 2005: Grade B+. McCann is another example of how rookie ball statistics are often not predictive. I should have gone with a higher grade in 2004; he performed quite well in the Sally League.

Bengie Molina, 21 win shares
    Molina was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Angels in 1993 out of Puerto Rico. He didn’t receive regular playing time until 1996, was held back by injuries, and generally under the radar as a prospect. He made the 1999 and 2000 books as Grade C, a possible reserve catcher due to defensive skills and with a “not bad” bat.

Kurt Suzuki, 20 win shares
   Second round pick in 2004 out of Cal State Fullerton. Prospect Grades: 2005: Grade B; 2006: Grade C+ after a disappointing season; 2007: Grade B-. Suzuki was consistently rated as a solid prospect who wouldn’t be a star, but would be productive and useful.

Jason Kendall, 19 win shares
    First round pick in 1992 out of high school in California. Prospect Grades: 1995: Grade B- (Epstein); 1996: Grade A-. Kendall was well-regarded as an amateur and has had a long and successful career.

Chris Iannetta, 18 win shares
    Fourth round pick in 2004 from the University of North Carolina. Prospect Grades: 2005: Grade B-; 2006: Grade B-; 2007: Grade B+. Iannetta’s ’07 season was rough, but he rebounded last year and looks like he will live up to the potential he demonstrated in college and in the minors.

Dioner Navarro, 17 win shares
    Signed out of Venezuela in 2000. Prospect Grades: 2004: Grade B+ after breakout season;  2005: Grade B. Bounced around a bit but has settled into a job with Tampa and looks to have a solid career.

Chris Snyder, 16 win shares
    Second round pick in 2002 from the University of Houston. Prospect Grades: 2003: Not rated, I don’t remember why I left him out, may have just been an oversight; 2004: Grade C, cut from book for space reasons after he was awful in Double-A; 2005: Grade B-. In the 2005 book I wrote that Snyder was a .240-.250 hitter with moderate power and enough walks and defense to be useful, which is pretty much how things have turned out.

Kelly Shoppach, 15 win shares
    Second round pick in 2001 out of Baylor. Prospect Grades: 2003: Grade C+; 2004: Grade B; 2005: Grade B-; 2006: Grade C+. Shoppach’s minor league career was a bit erratic but overall his performance is about what should have been expected: considerable power, with a high strikeout rate and good defense.

Yadier Molina, 15 win shares
    Fourth round pick in 2000 out of high school in Puerto Rico. Prospect Grades: 2002, Grade C; 2003: Grade C+; 2004: Grade C. In ’04 I wrote that Molina had a terrific glove, but that his lack of power and mediocre plate discipline would make him a “very empty” .260 hitter. That’s exactly what he was until he hit .304 in 2008, but it was still an empty average and looks flukey to me. His defense will keep him employed for a long time but he is not an impressive offensive asset.

Ivan Rodriguez, 13 win shares
     Signed as a free agent out of Puerto Rico in 1988. Rodriguez was rated as a top catching prospect back then due to his youth and defensive skills, but he ended up being a much better hitter than anyone expected from his early minor league performance.

Mike Napoli, 13 win shares
     Napoli was drafted in the 17th round in 2000 out of high school in Florida. Prospect Grades: 2005: Grade C+; 2006: Grade C+. In my books, I analyzed Napoli as capable of putting up Mickey Tettleton-type numbers. Napoli is a career .248/.362/.493 hitter, +121 OPS. Tettleton hit .241/.369/.449, +121 OPS.

Ramon Hernandez, 12 win shares
    Signed as a free agent out of Venezuela in 1994. Prospect Grades: 1997 Grade B; 1998 Grade B+; 1999 Grade B+; 2000 Grade B+. He turned out to be a very solid player, though not really a star.

A.J. Pierzynski, 11 win shares
    Third round pick from high school in Florida in 1994. 1996: Cut from the STATS book for space reasons, would have been a Grade C+; 1997: Grade B-; 1998 Grade C+; 1999 Grade C+; 2000; Grade C; 2001 Grade C+. Pierzynski has had a long career and has been better than I thought he’d be. I was turned off by the poor strike zone judgment he’d shown in the minor leagues, and I was a lot more fundamentalist about that back then than I am now.

Rod Barajas, 11 win shares
   Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Cerritos Junior College in 1996. Prospect Grades: 1999 Grade C; 2000 Grade C+, projected as a good backup catcher; 2001 Grade C. Barajas projected as a reserve for me in the minors with useful power and a decent arm, but lacking good plate discipline and other skills.

Brian Schneider, 10 win shares
    Drafted in the fifth round in 1995 out of high school in Pennsylvania. Prospect Grades: 2000, Grade C+. 2001: Grade C. I compared him to Darrin Fletcher in the books. Schneider is a career .253/.325/.376 hitter, +83 OPS. Fletcher hit .269/.318/.423, +92 OPS.

Chris Coste, 10 win shares
    Signed by the Indians out of the independent Northern League in 2000. Never mentioned as a prospect due to age, but performed well at Double-A and Triple-A level. Many similar players have been trapped in the minors.

John Baker, 10 win shares
    Fourth round pick from the University of California in 2002. Prospect Grades: 2004: Grade C; 2005 Grade C. Not in ’06-08 books. The earlier comments rated him as a bench player who “would push his way onto a roster eventually”  What he did in Florida last year looks like his career season to me and is better than what you’d expect when looking at his minor league record.

John Buck, 10 win shares
    Seventh round pick in 1998 out of high school in Utah. Prospect Grades: 2001: Grade B-; 2002 Grade B+; 2003 Grade B+; 2004 Grade C+. Buck had a good run in 2001-2002 that boosted his stock, but injuries lowered his outlook in ’03. He rebounded in ’04 and was traded to the Royals, but he hasn’t turned into the centerpiece they expected, holding a job and knocking some homers, but not dominating by any means.

Jesus Flores, 10 win shares
   Signed as a free agent out of Venezuela in 2002. Prospect Grades: 2005 Grade C; 2006 not in book due to poor performance; 2007 Grade C. Flores showed power in the minors but his plate discipline was quite dismal. It remains to be seen what his career is going to look like as that remains a major weakness.

Jason Varitek, 9 win shares
   First round pick out of Georgia Tech in 1994. 1996: Grade C-, after he hit just .224/.340/.361 in Double-A and was generally disappointing in most respects. It was my first book and a straight C would have been more appropriate now. 1997: Grade C. Repeat engagement in Double-A resulted in league-average production. 1998: Grade C. Triple-A numbers were mediocre, too. I wrote that his combination of defense and power would have some value but that he would not be a dominant player. He ended up having a better career than you would expect from his minor league performance: he hit just .247/.339/.400 in the minors, compared to .263/.346/.439 in the majors.

Gerald Laird, 9 win shares
   Second round pick in 1998 from high school in California, signed as draft-and-follow after going to junior college in 1999. Prospect Grades: 2000: Grade C+;  2001: Grade C after injury season; 2002 Grade C; 2003 Grade C. Laird had injury problems and didn’t hit particularly well in the minors, and looked to me like a defense-only guy who would fit best as a backup.

Kenji Johjima, 9 win shares
    Signed out of Japan in 2005. Johjima hit .298/.352/.513 in 1001 Japanese games. The MLE on that is about .265/.310/.427, and he’s ended up hitting .272/.313/.412 in North America, very close to expectation.

Miguel Olivo, 8 win shares
    Signed out of the Dominican in 1996. Prospect Grades: 2000: Grade C+; 2001: Grade C+; 2002: Grade C+; 2003: Grade B-. Olivo’s defense kept him on the lists but injuries and erratic offense kept him from a premium grade.

Brandon Inge, 8 win shares
    Second round pick in 1998 out of Virginia Commonwealth. Prospect Grades: 1999: no grade since I didn’t do short-season guys then; 2000: Grade C; 2001: Grade C, comment compares him to Brad Ausmus. Ausmus is a career .251/.325/.349 hitter, +75 OPS. Inge is a .237/.304/.392 hitter, +84 OPS. . .more power than Ausmus but a weaker OBP. Inge has had a long career but did not rate highly as a prospect due to a weak bat. Scouts gave him higher grades due to his athleticism and defense, but the poor hitting made me skeptical.

Carlos Ruiz, 6 win shares
    Signed as a free agent out of Panama in 1998. Didn’t make the book until 2005 and 2006 as a Grade C backup catcher option, which is pretty much what he is.

Some Breakdowns
First Round: Mauer, Kendall, Varitek
Second Round: Doumit, McCann, Suzuki, Snyder, Shoppach, Inge, Laird
Third Round: Pierzynski
Fourth Round: Iannetta, Y. Molina, Baker
Fifth Round: Schneider
Seventh Round: Buck
10th or Later: Soto, Martin, Napoli
Free Agent: B. Molina, Navarro, Rodriguez, Hernandez, Barajas, Flores, Johjima, Olivo, Ruiz

High School: Mauer, Soto, Doumit, McCann, B. Molina, Kendall, Y. Molina, Rodriguez, Napoli, Pierzynski, Schneider, Buck;  
Junior College: Martin, Barajas, Laird
College: Suzuki, Iannetta, Snyder, Shoppach, Baker, Varitek, Inge
Latin America or Japan: Navarro, Hernandez, Flores, Johjima, Olivo, Ruiz

So there is another batch of data for you. In Part Three we will look at catching prospects drafted in the top rounds over the last decade who have not made these lists, then in part four we will see if we can draw some conclusions from all this.