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2009 Draft-Eligible Top College Catcher Tournament

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…

Photo Credit: usctrojans.cstv.com

Photo Credit: usctrojans.cstv.com

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.

The Field of 16 – Top College Catching Prospects

It’s about time we got back to doing some positional rankings around these parts, don’t you think? We covered the top prep righthanded pitching prospects here, here, here, and here, as well as the top college righthanded starting pitching prospects here, here, and here. After a bit of a break, it’s time to jump back in this time with college catching prospects, a topic danced around but never ranked both here and here. Because straight rankings can become a little tiresome after a while, I decided to do something different with the catching prospects. Will it be cool? Will it be super lame? Will it be more confusing and time-consuming than it’s worth? Stay tuned! The top 16 college catching prospects in all the land after the jump, as well as the unveiling of just how we’ll be ranking them this time…

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2009 MLB Draft: College Big Board Report Cards

Things have been quiet around here lately, but for good reason…it’s report card season! Yes, I do have a day job that may keep me updating from time to time, and, yes, filling out report card after report card takes priority over draft coverage – sad, but true. However, with all that grading in the books, it’s time to move on. What better way to celebrate than by doing some more grading!

In case you’ve been busy like me and haven’t kept up with some of the top college prospects, below the jump is a look back at our earlier College Big Board 1.0 (just the top 25 this time) with grades based on their performance through the first three weeks of the college baseball season. (more…)

2009 MLB Draft: College Big Board 1.0

1. Steven Strasburg (RHSP – San Diego State)

Alright, so far this is pretty easy…

2. Alex White (RHSP – North Carolina)
3. Grant Green (SS – Southern California)
4. Dustin Ackley (OF – North Carolina)
5. Kyle Gibson (RHSP – Missouri)

White is a confusing prospect. On one hand, he’s second on the board and, while Green may be very close behind him at number three, is a worthy candidate to go number two overall. On the other hand, if we pretended Strasburg wasn’t draft-eligible this year, would White as the number one pick in the country feel right? That may be a silly way of looking at it, but I can’t help it. Maybe it’s more about my personal hangup about what a number one overall pick should be. I like White a lot and genuinely believe he can front a big league rotation, but it would feel like a weak draft if he went number one overall. Ugh, that makes no sense. I’m just thinking out loud, disregard this paragraph…

6. Mike Minor (LHSP – Vanderbilt)
7. Tanner Scheppers (RHSP – Fresno State/St. Paul Saints)
8. Aaron Crow (RHSP – Missouri/Forth Worth Cats)
9. Andrew Oliver (LHSP – Oklahoma State)

Minor is a personal favorite and higher on this list than he’ll sure be on others – watching Cole Hamels every fifth day the last few years has turned me into a huge backer of lefties with plus changeups. Scheppers is also higher here than he’ll be on most rankings, but, remember, this ranking is based on the assumption of good health into the summer.

10. Josh Phegley (C – Indiana)
11. Mike Leake (RHSP – Arizona State)
12. James Jones (LHSP – Long Island)
13. Kendal Volz (RHSP – Baylor)
14. Mike Nesseth (RHSP – Nebraska)

Phegley as the third ranked college bat may seem a little strange, but his statistical profile is hard to ignore. He heads up an underrated group of college catchers that feature a surprisingly high number of players on the list – well, maybe it isn’t all that surprising, but it was surprising to me as I put the list together, whatever that’s worth. Leake over Volz is a little strange, but it came down to present plus command and movement over potential power plus stuff across the board.

15. Sean Black (RHSP – Seton Hall)
16. Jake Locker (OF – Washington)

Sometimes I have a hard time letting go. I know I previously admitted having Locker = poor man’s Grady Sizemore burned into my brain, but Sean Black this high could be just as egregious a selection. Black was a big prep prospect not too long ago who has failed to live up to the hype at Seton Hall. Loads of raw talent + more difficult playing conditions (subpar team, so-so conference, and colder weather) = potential sleeper prospect. Locker will fall down the list (and eventually off altogether) as other players emerge this spring, but I had to put him way up here as a nod to his prodigious talent.

17. Kentrail Davis (OF – Tennessee)
18. Robbie Shields (SS – Florida Southern)
19. Jared Mitchell (OF – Louisiana State)
20. Kyle Seager (2B – North Carolina)
21. Rich Poythress (1B – Georgia)

Counting Locker at 16th, that gives us sixth straight position players in a row. How about that? These five should all be big league starters if all goes according to plan, though only the two outfielders profile as potential all-stars.

22. Sam Dyson (RHSP – South Carolina)
23. Chris Dominguez (3B – Louisville)

All or nothing, here we come. Dyson’s arm is electric, but his injury history and control both need some cleaning up. Dominguez has his detractors, but two plus tools (arm and power) make him stand out in a weak college class for hitters. If he puts it all together this season, expect crazy power numbers out of Dominguez, especially in Big East play.

24. Ryan Ortiz (C – Oregon State)
25. DJ LeMahieu (SS – Louisiana State)
26. Trevor Coleman (C – Missouri)
27. Robert Stock (C – Southern California)
28. Ryan Jackson (SS – Miami)

Five spots, only two positions. Sorting out the college catchers and middle infielders is one of the trickier things to do in this class. Ortiz is an underrated player because his skillset is so broad. Players like this often get overlooked for not having one standout tool to suck scouts in. LeMahieu is a far better hitter than Jackson, but they are close in the overall rankings because Jackson’s defense is outstanding. Big league front offices realize the importance of quality defense now more than ever, so where Jackson falls on actual draft boards will make an interesting case study in just how focused teams are developing their own standout defenders through the draft. As I already wrote about in the mock draft, Stock = catching version of Sean Black. Of course, baseball is a weird game so there may be more to the story than that simple equation (I like equations, by the way…if you haven’t noticed. We might be able to claim that Stock = Black without the catching disclaimer if the Southern Cal product has a big season on the mound for the Trojans.

29. AJ Pollock (OF/2B – Notre Dame)
30. Jason Stoffel (RHRP – Arizona)
31. Bryan Morgado (LHSP – Tennessee)
32. Kyle Heckathorn (RHSP – Kennesaw State)

Pollock is a hard player to figure, but if the position switch to second base actually sticks, he’ll fly up draft boards this spring. He is a very good basestealer, has playable pop, and is difficult to strike out. Pollock is one of the few I haven’t seen play yet, so I’m just throwing this out there…what about Chone Figgins as a comp?

33. Ben Tootle (RHRP – Jacksonville State)
34. Shawn Tolleson (RHSP – Baylor)
35. Jake Cowan (RHSP – San Jacinto JC)
36. Blake Smith (OF/RHSP – California)

The first junior college player to make the list is a righty with a great frame, 95 MPH fastball, and three plus pitches. Cowan, the former Virginia recruit, will be in contention to be the first juco player picked in 2009.

37. Tyler Lyons (LHSP – Oklahoma State)
38. Jeff Inman (RHSP – Stanford)
39. Ryan Weber (RHSP – St. Petersburg JC)

Weber is the second junior college arm on the list, a fact worth noting because neither the aforementioned Jake Cowan or Weber is Daniel Webb. Webb, the consensus top junior college talent, failed to crack the top fifty. Blazing fastball or not, he was just too raw a prospect for our tastes.

40. Micah Gibbs (C – Louisiana State)
41. Matt Thomson (RHSP – San Diego)
42. Brad Boxberger (RHRP – Southern California)
43. Tommy Medica (C – Santa Clara)
44. Brad Stillings (RHSP – Kent State)
45. Steve Fischback (RHRP – Cal Poly)
46. Nick Hernandez (LHSP – Tennessee)
47. Gavin Brooks (LHSP – UCLA)
48. Jordan Henry (OF – Mississippi)
49. David Hale (RHSP – Princeton)
50. Ben Paulsen (1B – Clemson)

And that’s 50. Not a very inspiring last group, but, let’s be real, it’s not a very exciting year for high-end college talent. I think I picked the wrong year to start doing this…

Check back all weekend long for occasional updates on college baseball’s opening weekend.