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2015 MLB Draft: HS Catchers (May Update)

As a player who has been famous in prospect circles for two plus years now, the draft stock of Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California) is currently suffering from a clear case of prospect fatigue (also known as Daz Cameron Syndrome). Teams have seen him so often that they are now firmly in the nit-pick stage of evaluation. Internet folk (like me!) have known about him for so long that they (we!) now worry if placing him at the top of the pile will be considered too boring, too safe, and too predictable a projection. Further complicating things is the “sudden” presence of Tyler Stephenson (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia), a pop-up guy who isn’t really a pop-up guy — Perfect Game has been on him for months, though recent reports from Kiley McDaniel and Jim Callis are what have put him on the main stage for internet folk (like me!) trying to catch up with the spring high school season — but still has the right combination of limited information and clear physical gifts to potentially overtake Betts as the first prep catcher off the board.

When both McDaniel and Callis, two guys who are really good at their jobs, mention Matt Wieters as a comparison, it’s time to take notice. Evoking Wieters name when discussing Stephenson is an point in the favor of the utility of a good comp because it provides a little bit of context and a frame of reference to what kind of player Stephenson is and what kind of player he could eventually be. Stephenson isn’t Wieters, but the two share enough traits that thinking of the latter will help paint a clearer picture of what the former actually looks like. When you think Wieters — the most physically impressive amateur I’ve ever seen in person, for what it’s worth — you think big power, bigger arm, and biggest frame. That’s the overall package the 6’4”, 220 pound Stephenson brings to the field each time out. Compare Stephenson’s plus raw power, plus arm strength, and imposing physicality with what was written about Wieters’s high school days at the time of his selection out of Georgia Tech in 2007…

Wieters’ strong college commitment was the only reason he wasn’t drafted in the first two rounds in 2004. A talented two-way player who flashed 90 mph heat and plus-plus raw power at his suburban Charleston, S.C., high school, Wieters is well on his way to fulfilling the lofty projections on his bat.

There’s obviously enough vagueness in that report that it’s a tad disingenuous to cite it as concrete proof that Stephenson = Wieters (which obviously isn’t the point anyway), but you can see how the two could be compared at least in the abstract. Big power, bigger arm, and biggest frame. Any catcher with Stephenson’s bulk is a question mark to stay behind the plate over the long haul.

I think it’s fair (boring, perhaps) to like Betts more as a prospect because of his overall defensive edge. The belief that their bats will be close enough with Betts being the better bet to remain a catcher through his first contract of club control has merit. Close or not, Stephenson still has more upside as a hitter, but the lingering defensive questions mitigate some of the recent excitement about his offensive game. This is hard. The two are very, very close to me. I understand the desire to chase offensive upside with your first round pick, so Team Stephenson has a strong built-in argument that I wouldn’t debate against. If it all clicks, Stephenson should end up the better player — catcher or not — but the odds of it all clicking are a bit higher for Betts.

At minimum, I think it can be agreed upon that these are the top two high school catching prospects in the country without much current competition threatening to knock them off their perch. Both profile as average or better all-around big league catchers who stack up quite well with with any one-two catching prospect punch of the last few years. Asking around on each player didn’t give me the kind of comps I was hoping to hear — the old adage of “don’t force comps” applies to these two players, apparently — but I manage to get one name for Betts and two for Stephenson. Neither of the prospect to prospect comps that you’ll read were given with much confidence and I hesitate to even share them because they were very much “well, if I HAD to compare him to somebody I’ve seen…” kind of comps, so let’s all agree to view these for the entertainment value that they bring more than anything. The name I heard for Betts was Greg Bird (as a hitter only) and the name I heard for Stephenson was (a bigger) Clint Coulter. I mentioned earlier that I got two comps for Stephenson…yeah, the other was Wieters. I believe he was deemed the “Matt Wieters starter kit.” Don’t know why I expected to hear anything differently, but there you go. For the record, since I’m realizing while doing a quick edit of this that I’ve written mostly about Stephenson, Betts can really, really hit. The Bird comp feels a bit rich based on what we know Bird has done as a pro so far, but I think an average or slightly better hit tool and raw power combination could be the end game for Betts. Those abilities combined with a reasonably disciplined approach and a high probability of playing average or better defense behind the plate for years makes Betts a legitimate first round pick. Again, purely for fun, here are the scouting notes from this site on Coulter and Bird from their HS days…

C Clint Coulter (Union HS, Washington): good defensive tools, but a little stiff behind plate; may or may not stick at catcher long-term, but I’m a believer; little Jeff Bagwell in his crouch and swing setup; good athlete; plus arm, but needs to polish up footwork; pro body; loud contact; strong; big league caliber defensive tools for me, not all agree; above-average arm; really interesting power; fun player to watch who impacts the game in a multitude of ways; 6-3, 220 pounds

Bird came into the year a big prospect, but much of the hype that came with catching Kevin Gausman last year seems to have disappeared after Gausman went off to LSU. The Colorado high school catcher has a little bit of Cameron Gallagher to his game. Both prospects are raw defensively with impressive raw power that has been seen firsthand by area scouts at the high school level. That’s an important thing to note, I think. We hear so much about raw power, so it is worth pointing out when a player has plus raw power and average present power. That’s where I think Bird is currently at. There might not be a ton of projection to him, for better or worse.

To an extent, I can see how those comps came to be — and, if you’re willing to go down that rabbit hole, so can you through the power of Youtube! — but I think it’s notable that I confused the two comparisons in my head before actually going back to check my email. Coulter was an iffy defender for many coming out of high school, but I liked him enough behind the plate to want to see his defensive development through as long as possible. I can’t disagree with the Brewers decision to put him in right field — they have seen him more than anybody, plus getting the most out of his awesome bat should be the real priority at this point — but I’ll always feel like his all-around skill set behind the plate was underrated. Same goes for Betts, though now that his body is in better shape this spring there seem to be less willing to go on record as believing he’s not a catcher long-term. Bird struck me as closer to a Stephenson type since both guys were defensive maybes with advanced bats. The note about Bird’s impressive present power being as significant as his plus raw power applies to Stephenson as well. You could keep talking yourself into circles when it comes to trying to find similarities and differences between prospects — Betts and Bird share the pros/cons of being very heavily scouted for multiple seasons, for example — so we’ll just go ahead and quit while we’re almost ahead now.

Betts and Stephenson or Stephenson and Betts. Either way, you’re looking at two quality catching prospects worthy of mid- to late-first round draft consideration. I’m more comfortable with Betts right now, but the upside of Stephenson is not lost on me. Ask me again in a month and you may or may not get the same answer, but I’ll almost certainly have changed my mind a dozen times or so in the interim. I’m glad there’s a few more weeks to think this over.

We could end the conversation here because yesterday’s quick and dirty attempt at research indicated that there will only be two successful big league catchers out of this year’s high school class, right? No? Fine, let’s go a little deeper. Before we do, allow me to get on public record that my knowledge of any year’s group of high school prospects pales in comparison to what I know (or think I know) about a given year’s college players. I’ve actually seen more high school baseball this year than I can ever remember (probably been since my own HS days ten plus years ago) – been averaging around three games a week since mid-March with games today, Thursday, and Saturday morning on the docket – but that just means I’m a fraction more informed – and even that’s debatable since, again, I’m not a scout – about high school ball in a very small geographical footprint of the country than I’d otherwise be. I’m still largely at the mercy of whatever publicly available information finds its way to the internet, plus whatever bits of information I can procure from pals I’ve made in the game over the years. In other words, I’m going to be wrong a lot more than I’m right when it comes to high school prospects, so accepting that now is probably best for everybody involved. Anyway…

Lucas Herbert (San Clemente HS, California) looks to be the best of the rest thanks to his well-rounded set of defensive tools and mature approach at the plate. I’ve seen plus pop times out of him, an impressive feat for any young catcher but more so because I’d say his arm is more good than great. Times like that speak to his quick release and nimble footwork behind the dish. His swing is nice and quiet with just a little bit of jumpiness in his back right foot, but otherwise well-orchestrated coordination between his upper and lower halves. If any prep catcher has a chance to be a regular player outside of the draft’s first round, it’ll be Herbert.

Right behind him is the draft’s best young defensive catcher in Garrett Wolforth (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas). Whether or not he’ll hit enough to ever profile as more than a defense-first backup at his best remains an open question – there’s some bat speed there, though he’s still raw at the plate – but his soft mitts and rocket arm should make him a popular guy on draft day.

If we go back yet again to yesterday’s findings, then we should be on the lookout for three more intriguing catching prospects that could crack the draft’s first five rounds. I’ll go with Justin Cohen (Riverview HS, Florida), Elih Marrero (Coral Gables HS, Florida), and Nick Dalesandro (Joliet Catholic HS, Illinois). I won’t pretend to know all that much more about these players than what most could ascertain through some good old fashioned internet sleuthing, but I am intrigued by Cohen’s bat, Marrero’s well-roundedness, and Dalesandro’s (who reminds me a tiny bit of Blake Hickman a few years ago) arm and athleticism.

I’ve had Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS, Colorado) higher than this in the past and was ready to keep him in the top five names or so, but I’ve heard what we can charitably call mixed things about him this spring. On the other end of the spectrum are Nick Fortes (Deland HS, Florida) and Joey Bart (Buford HS, Georgia), two players that I’ve heard good things about over the past few weeks. One name that I don’t know much about but would love to know more: Brendt Citta (Leland HS, California): I could see either Citta or Cooper Moore (Huntington Beach HS, California) finishing higher where I tentatively have them at the moment.

C Chris Betts (Wilson HS, California)
C Tyler Stephenson (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
C Lucas Herbert (San Clemente HS, California)
C Garrett Wolforth (Concordia Lutheran HS, Texas)
C Justin Cohen (Riverview HS, Florida)
C Elih Marrero (Coral Gables HS, Florida)
C/RHP Nick Dalesandro (Joliet Catholic HS, Illinois)
C Dominic DeRenzo (Pittsburgh Central Catholic HS, Pennsylvania
C Wyatt Cross (Legacy HS, Colorado)
C Nick Fortes (Deland HS, Florida)
C Joey Bart (Buford HS, Georgia)
C Brendt Citta (Leland HS, California)
C Alex Webb (Columbia Central HS, Tennessee)
C Justin Glover (Dunedin HS, Florida)
C Cole Warken (Martin Collegiate SS, Saskatchewan)
C/1B Cooper Moore (Huntington Beach HS, California)
C Tyler Garrison (Mill Valley HS, Kansas)
C/3B Cody Roberts (Blessed Trinity Catholic, Georgia)
C Baylor Rowlett (College Station HS, Texas)
C Chris Cullen (West Forsyth HS, Georgia)
C Cal Raleigh (Smoky Mountain HS, North Carolina)
C Hunter Stovall (Pelham HS, Alabama)
C Cesar Salazar (Sahuaro HS, Arizona)
C Michael Curry (Gainesville HS, Georgia)
C Eric Jones (South Mecklenburg HS, North Carolina)
C Chase Smartt (Charles Henderson HS, Alabama)
C Sean Buckhout (Don Bosco Prep, New York)
C Carlos Reyes (Hialeah HS, Florida)
C Ryan Fineman (Agoura HS, California)
C Malik Brown (Birmingham Groves HS, Michigan)
C Cole Buffington (Kennesaw Mountain HS, Georgia)
C Kyle Schmidt (Smithville HS, Texas)
C Tyler Murray (Huntington Beach HS, California)
C Angel Lopez (Perkiomen HS, Pennsylvania)
C Noah Croft (Olathe South HS, Kansas)
C/RHP Brendan Illies (Puyallup HS, Washington)
C Gian Martellini (Bishop Hendricken HS, Rhode Island)
C Scott Kapers (Mount Carmel HS, Indiana)
C Ryan Sloniger (Punxsutawney HS, Pennsylvania)
C/3B Gabriel Garcia (Monteverde Academy, Florida)
C Dalton Blumenfeld (Alexander Hamilton HS, California)
C Tyrus Greene (St. Augustine HS, California)
C/RHP Kyle Davis (Miller HS, Alabama)
C Darren Shred (St. Roch Catholic, Ontario)
C Jacob Washer (West Stokes HS, North Carolina)
C Hunter Hearn (Crosby HS, Texas)
C Briggs Benson (Tift County HS, Georgia)
C Jackson Lueck (Orangewood Christian HS, Florida)

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3 Comments

  1. Dave from Saugus says:

    Hahahaha two words for you! “Ryan January”. Flying up boards will be a top 4 rd pick!

    • Rob Ozga says:

      Yes! Great name. I’ve seen him actually. Totally forgot he was in this class. Really impressed with his actual catching (strong hands, great target, very mobile) and his athleticism was striking. Got mixed up with him because I had him in my notes as both a 2015 and 2016 graduate. Did he officially reclassify or am I confusing him with somebody else? I’d definitely put him in the top four round mix. Might even wind up the third HS catcher off the board. Good catch, thanks.

  2. Bob Thomas says:

    Bob From NY – A top NY catching prospect attracting interest at Pre-Draft workouts is Andy Karlan, laser arm, power bat, clutch player, NY Section 1 Class AA Playoff MVP, written up by the Bureau, cross-checkers and 5+ MLB teams, young senior.

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