I mentioned recently how I enjoy this time of year. There’s no doubt that I miss watching baseball regularly, but the inactivity of the winter season lends itself to loads of deep draft thoughts, if such thoughts are actually possible. My deep thoughts of this particular day revolve around the 2011 college catching class, a position group that lacks top level talent but impresses with depth.
Before we get to the rankings, allow me to share another reason why I enjoy this time of year. It’s not just the ability to spend the cold, long winter nights thinking about the draft that has me excited about the winter. It’s the way I look forward to the uncertainty, fluidity, and variety of early season draft rankings. By May, every list you see is more or less the same, with maybe a few random names moved up or down a spot or two to spice things up. In November/December/January, there aren’t enough rankings publicly available to steal ideas even if you wanted to. Originality, for better or worse, rules the day.
This should all make sense after a look at the 2011 college catching prospect rankings. The list is extremely preliminary and subject to change on a whim. The first iteration, with a few notes here and there, are finally ready to see the light of day…
1. Zach Komentani (San Diego)
2. Andrew Susac (Oregon State)
3. Pratt Maynard (North Carolina State)
4. Jeremy Schaffer (Tulane)
5. Jett Bandy (Arizona)
6. CJ Cron (Utah)
Love Komentani’s upside both at the plate and behind it. Plus raw power, super quick wrists, plus throwing arm, raw defender at present but above-average tools should turn into playable skills in time, good athleticism, and overwhelmingly positive results when called upon for both San Diego last spring and this summer’s Prospect League. Maynard’s plate discipline and overall approach to hitting gets me all hot and bothered, but I wonder if his defensive versatility will blind some teams to the fact he is a more than capable defensive catcher. Schaffer, Bandy, and Cron have similar scouting profiles (above-average to plus arm strength, raw defensively but tools to work with, potential above-average bats at position), but Schaffer’s raw power upside gives him the edge for me, despite Cron’s crazy 2010 power display.
Susac not in the top spot is different, but I’m breaking one of my own rules here and opting for the wait and see approach with his 2011 season development. One of my biggest prospecting pet peeves is when someone says “Player X is due for a breakout, look for him to shoot up the rankings next year!” because, really, what does that even tell us? If he plays well this season, then he’s a good prospect? Well, to steal a phrase from fourth grade me, no duh! Susac has the two things teams look for in catching prospects — raw power and raw arm strength — but, based on what I’ve seen and heard dating back to his high school days, Susac strikes me as a five o’clock hitter at this point in his development. Then again, those batting practice displays are pretty darn special, special enough to get him the second overall spot despite his so-so freshman campaign. I think the report on Susac from May 2009 holds up, especially if you ignore the fact I didn’t realize he’d be draft-eligible in 2011:
Andrew Susac (California) – maybe the best arm in class, very quick pop times (1.8 – 1.9 seconds), and an impressive overall all-around defender; very strong, but questionable (at best) swing mechanics; raw power is there, but he is a definite project; would love to see him follow through on his commitment to Oregon State, where he could develop into a potential first rounder in 2012
7. Pete O’Brien (Bethune Cookman)
8. Beau Taylor (Central Florida)
9. Michael Williams (Kentucky)
O’Brien’s all-or-nothing approach and questionable defensive future gives me pause. Mike Williams offers a similar approach at the plate — hacktastic, but plus power upside — and much, much better defensive skills, but loses out in a comparison to O’Brien based largely on the 2010 performance gap between the two.
10. Hommy Rosado (LSU-Eunice)
11. Kevan Smith (Pittsburgh)
12. Christian Glisson (Georgia)
13. Steve Rodriguez (UCLA)
14. John Hicks (Virginia)
I honestly have no idea what to expect out of Rosado going forward, but his awesome power upside has me forgiving reports of his less than thrilling defensive chops. Smith’s upside is unusually high for a college senior because he’s spent so much time away from the diamond while concentrating on something called “football” instead. Glisson and Rodriguez both are line drive hitters with strong catch and throw reputations.
15. Nate Johnson (Pepperdine)
16. Nick Rickles (Stetson)
17. Austin Barnes (Arizona State)
18. Kenny Swab (Virginia)
19. Geno Escalante (Chipola JC)
Johnson this high is purely speculative on my end; love the swing so much that I think he’s due for a big 2011. As a player who profiles as a potential plus-plus defender, Barnes is the opposite end of the spectrum. Escalante, like Susac, was part of the loaded 2009 prep catching class. His report, also from May 2009:
Geno Escalante (California) – defense-first catcher, with a bat that needs plenty of polish to even be considered average; name makes it sound like he should be an East Coast prospect, but he’s a California kid who is committed to attend Cal State Fullerton if he doesn’t get paid; lesser version of Steve Baron in my mind
Lesser version of Steve Baron was perhaps a tad harsh, but I stand by it.
20. Parker Brunelle (Florida State)
21. Chris Schaeffer (North Carolina State)
Brunelle and Schaeffer are both personal favorites, Brunelle especially. As I’ve written before, Brunelle, a top high school prospect way back when, has disappointed since enrolling at Florida State. He’s still an outstanding athlete with a line drive swing, so there may still be some hope he’s another late blooming catching prospect. Unfortunately, the lack of power and an average at best throwing arm represent two major strikes against him. Since publishing that last June, I’ve received multiple positive reports out of Tallahassee, leading me to believe that I had originally undersold his throwing arm and mobility behind the plate. I’d love to get another close look at the high upside senior sign this spring.
22. Taylor Hightower (Mississippi)
23. Ben McMahan (Florida)
24. Adam Davis (Illinois)
Hightower, McMahan, and Davis are all jockeying for position to become 2012′s high character, plus defender senior sign backup catcher type who makes good, a la TCU’s Bryan Holaday.
25. Tyler Ogle (Oklahoma)
26. James McCann (Arkansas)
Way low on both Ogle and McCann relative to what else I’ve read, but both looked like mistake hitters with limited upside to me.
27. Ronnie Shaeffer (UC Irvine)
28. Rafael Lopez (Florida State)
29. Phil Pohl (Clemson)