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Who is the best draft-eligible college catcher in all the land? We’re going to find out tournament-style! First up, the four participants facing off in our very special Steve Chilcott Regional…
Steve Chilcott Regional
1. Ryan Ortiz
4. Dan Black
2. Robert Stock
3. Anthony Sosnoskie
The Chilcott Regional, brought to you by the first overall pick of the 1966 Draft and one of only three top picks never to reach the big leagues (Brien Taylor and Matt Bush being the others), is headed up by one of the most athletic catchers in the country, Ryan Ortiz of Oregon State. Ortiz has a slightly above-average arm, but it plays up because of a very quick release. He’s got a big league frame (6-3, 205), but it’s more of a wiry, athletic build than a classic catcher’s body. He has limited upside with the bat because of unimpressive swing mechanics and his setup at the plate leaves plenty to be desired, but he has shown a very mature approach at the plate in his two years starting for the Beavers.
I think Ortiz would be lucky to have a pro career that follows the Eli Marrero/Mitch Maier path – getting at bats as a super-sub capable of filling the role of backup catcher, reserve corner outfielder, and occasional corner infielder. That’s not a knock, by the way; more young players would be better served by playing up their strengths (in Ortiz’s case, his above-average athleticism and experience at multiple positions on the diamond) and accentuating the positives in their games. Do everything in your power to be a great big league starter, of course, but if things don’t work out as planned then don’t fight a utility future, embrace it.
The challenger, Black, is a totally different animal. His oversized frame (6-4, 220) delivers exactly the kind of punch you’d expect – plus raw power and a plus throwing arm. In my world, a few plus tools beat the heck out of a ton of solid-average ones. In fact, in looking at the little bit of research I did a while back about why so many college catchers fail, I came to the following conclusion:
Catching prospects that fail seem to fall into three central categories: no stand out tools (for some reason players that are supposedly solid in all phases in the game don’t tend to pan out at the position), a string of developmentally damaging injuries (pretty self-explanatory), and more D than O. So all you have to do is find that offensive-oriented catcher with above-average tools and a clean injury history. Easy as that, right? Interesting to note that Jeff Clement, the highest drafted college catcher of the decade, only really fit one of the three criterion – he was an offense first prospect with question marks about all of his non-hit tools and creaky knees. He is still a good prospect, but he’s now 25 years old and back in AAA. Hmm.
Yes, I realize that’s hardly a groundbreaking conclusion, but it’s all I’ve got. Anyway, Black’s two standout tools give him the edge over Ortiz. Simplistic, I know. Sometimes it’s just as easy as that.
Plus raw power and plus arm strength > above-average arm, athleticism, solid contact skills, and below-average power. Black has the higher ceiling (big league starter either at catcher or third base), but Ortiz has the higher floor (his positional versatility is very appealing)In an upset, Black knocks out consensus favorite Ortiz to move on to the second round. Gee whiz, isn’t this fun?
The second matchup isn’t quite as entertaining. I remain a stubborn, stubborn man when it comes to Robert Stock’s catching potential. We’re at the point when almost everybody in the free world sees Stock as a pitcher, but me. You’d think that would be enough to convince me to give up the obsession with his unrealized upside behind the dish, but you have no idea the depths of my stubbornness. I still see the prep version of Stock that tantalized with plus arm strength, plus athleticism, and a projectable frame with lightning quick wrists that had scouts predicting he’d hit for as much power at Southern Cal than Jeff Clement. His mid-90s heat and potential plus curve have scouts believing his professional home will be on the mound, especially now that he’s getting starters innings as a pitcher for the Trojans, but I remain steadfast in my belief that his upside as a catcher hasn’t totally vanished despite three lackluster years at the college level. In a catching crop chock full of players with limited upside, Stock’s true talent level stacks up with all but a select few. Sosnoskie is a little bit like the anti-Stock in that he offers well above-average defense at present, but with a lot less offensive upside. He has shown a good bit of progress with the bat so far in 2009 (leading the Hokies in homers and rocking a 26-15 BB/K ratio), but it may be too little too late to change the perception that he’s a backup catcher at best in the pros. He’s pretty clearly in the lower half of the top 16 college catching prospects, and it will be interesting (to me, anyway) where he’ll eventually stack up against players with similar skillsets on draft day. Anyway, Stock wins this one going away.
4. Dan Black
2. Robert Stock
Two of my top five catchers (spoiler alert!) square off in the Chilcott Regional Final. No need to change my stubborn ways now, right? The winner is Stock but only by the tiniest of margins. It’s downright silly to compare any player to Baltimore phenom Matt Wieters, and it’s even sillier to compare the loser of a competition like this to such a stud prospect, but the scouting reports on Black all read like very poor man’s versions of Wieters. I’m not even sure what a comp like that means (what can we really expect out of a very poor man’s version of Wieters?), but it is just too sexy a comparison to ignore. Even still, give me Stock and that upside that only I still believe in, fool that I am. Welcome to the Final Four of College Catchers, Robert Stock.