Career Profile: Frank Catalanotto
Frank Catalanotto announced his retirement a few days ago. He is an interesting subject for a Career Profile, since he wasn't a hot prospect by any means but ended up having a long career.
Frank Catalanotto was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in the 10th round in 1992, out of high school in St. James, New York. He wasn't a high-profile draftee by any means. He hit just .200/.310/.240 in 21 games for Bristol in the Appalachian League in 1992, but was more impressive in a return engagement in '93, hitting .307/.364/.447 in 199 at-bats. He wasn't rated as a top prospect and he struggled on defense at second base, but he hit well. I'd probably give a similar player a Grade C or borderline C+ nowadays, maybe with a "sleeper" label.
Promoted to Fayetteville in the South Atlantic League for 1994, Catalanotto showed that his '93 numbers weren't just a small-sample fluke, hitting .325/.379/.432 and showing improved defense at second base. He wasn't a walk machine, with just 37 BBs in 504 plate appearance, but he didn't strike out very much either (54 Ks). He led the Sally League in hitting and won All-Star honors, but scouts remained skeptical and he didn't rank among the circuit's top prospects in the Baseball America poll. His defense was still criticized, although he had the best range factor among all regular minor league second basemen. Eddie Epstein gave him a Grade B- in the 1995 Minor League Scouting Notebook, and I would have agreed with such a rating.
The Tigers were impressed enough to jump Catalanotto to Double-A in 1995, skipping High-A. Not surprisingly, he had problems with the transition, hitting .226/.306/.334 in 491 at-bats. His BB/K ratios remained steady, and nowadays we would look at this and say he was having some bad BABIP luck. At the time, the feeling was that his weaknesses and lack of good tools had been exposed, although he was young enough to improve. I didn't put him in the 1996 book (my first book) but would have rated him as a Grade C most probably.
Returning to Jacksonville for '96, Catalanotto exploded, hitting .298/.398/.493 with 34 doubles, 17 homers, 74 walks, and just 69 strikeouts in 497 at-bats. He also posted a terrific range factor of 5.05, although scouts continued to knock his glove and he did make 22 errors. "Lack of tools" was still the criticism, he didn't rank on the Baseball America prospect list for the Southern League, and he was even left unprotected from the Rule 5 draft. Oakland picked him up in the draft, and although he didn't make the roster and went back to Detroit in the spring of '97, it was hard for me to fathom that no one seemed to like him. I gave him a Grade B in my '97 book, noting that reports about his makeup were terrific, the numbers were excellent, and he was still just 22.
Catalanotto continued mashing the ball in 1997, hitting .300/.368/.472 in 500 at-bats for Triple-A Toledo. The Tigers gave him a cup-of-coffee and he did very well, hitting .308/.379/.385 in 13 games. Once again, "lack of tools" kept him off the league prospect list and scouts seemed skeptical.
Here is what I wrote about him in the 1998 book:
"Frank Catalanotto is a favorite of prospect analysts everywhere, and was recently named Centerfold of the Year in Sabermetric Monthly. . .he hits for power, hits for average, gets on base, runs well, fields well, and hustles. . .he led the International League in fielding. He hit at home and on the road. He wasn't too old for the league. What's the problem? Why doesn't he get respect from the professional baseball community?. . .there is absolutely no reason why Catalanotto needs to spend another year in Triple-A. . .he's one fine player, certainly better than any of the players likely to start at second for the expansion teams. Grade B."
He got to play 89 games for the Tigers in 1998, hitting .282/.325/.446, earning and keeping a spot on major league rosters for the next 12 years. He finished with a career line of .291/.357/.445, OPS+ 107. I felt his defense at second base was underrated early in his career, but he eventually became a sort of super-utility player, splitting time between outfield (540 games started), second base (95) and first base (98). His best season was 2001, when he hit .330/.391/.490 with the Rangers, for an OPS+ of 128, WAR 3.7. He finished with a career WAR of 12.5.
Catalanotto wasn't an All-Star, but he was a solid player with versatility and a good bat. He certainly became a better player than most traditionalists expected. Chalk up one for the statheads.