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1. C Blake Swihart (Cleveland HS, New Mexico)
The hardest prospects to write about are the ones at the top of lists like this. What more can be said about Swihart that hasn’t already been said? The Texas commit has shown all five tools (hit, power, defense, arm, and speed) this spring, an extreme rarity for a catcher at any level. I realize speed is easily the least important tool you’d need to see in a catching prospect, but Swihart’s average running ability works as a proxy for his outstanding athleticism. In that way, Swihart is the prototype for the next generation of catchers. After an almost decade long flirtation with jumbo-sized backstops (e.g. Joe Mauer and Matt Wieters), baseball is going back towards an emphasis on athleticism and defense behind the dish.
A no-brainer to stick behind the plate (the aforementioned athleticism and reported 95 MPH-caliber arm from the mound will help), Swihart’s biggest tool is his bat. Plus opposite field power and consistent line drives are not the norm for a typical prep prospect, but Swihart’s hit and power tools both project as plus in the future. I stand by my belief that Swihart will catch for a long time as a professional, but his great athleticism and plus bat might convince a team to fast track Swihart’s development by switching him to third base or right field. It should also be noted that Swihart has a little extra leverage because he’ll be draft-eligible again in 2013 after his sophomore season.
2. C Eric Haase (Divine Child HS, Michigan)
The biggest question mark on Haase is how the Westland, Michigan native wound up committing to Ohio State in the first place. Lack of allegiance to his home state university aside (I kid!), Haase profiles similarly to Blake Swihart, except without Swihart’s switch-hitting ability. Despite the typical risk involved that comes from selecting a cold weather prospect early, he’ll still find his way ranked near the top of some clubs’ draft boards. Strong defensive chops, plus athleticism, a strong pro-ready build, and a balanced swing will do that for a guy.
3. C Riley Moore (San Marcos HS, California)
One of the draft’s fastest risers, Riley Moore does two things really, really well. Moore can throw with the best of them and Moore can hit the ball a long way. Plus arm strength and plus raw power will get a young catcher very far on draft day. Throw in an above-average hit tool and really nifty footwork behind the plate and you’ve got yourself a young player with the potential to be a first division starter.
4. C Elvin Soto (Xaverian HS, New York)
Of my many odd player evaluation biases, one of the weirdest is my affinity for players from non-traditional locales. Something about the possibility of untapped ability just gets me all worked up, I suppose. Like Eric Haase before him, in Soto we have another cold weather prospect with a well-rounded skill set. I see big promise with the bat, a pro-caliber arm, and the potential for plus defense in the very near future.
5. C Garrett Boulware (TL Hanna HS, South Carolina)
Without the benefit of meaningful statistics, two of the most difficult things to assess at the high school level are plate discipline and pitch recognition. Boulware’s patient approach to hitting has gotten raves from everybody I’ve heard from, so, with the absence of BB/K data, I’m ready to take those positive reports and run with them. There is a chance Boulware gets moved off the position, but I think his above-average arm and good but not great hands should keep him a catcher for at least a few years.
6. C Cameron Gallagher (Manheim Township HS, Pennsylvania)
The “local” guy that I’ve seen this year a few times – 90 minutes away is local, right? – has had himself an oddly inconsistent year for a potential top five round draft prospect. He reminds me a good bit of Tyler Marlette, except with a tiny bit (we’re talking teeny tiny) less arm strength and a good bit more raw power and physical strength. So, basically, he reminds me of Marlette except for three pretty big differences – maybe that’s not the best comp after all. Gallagher is still a very raw defender, but steady improvement throughout the spring has led me to believe he can remain a catcher, assuming he doesn’t experience another growth spurt. The raw power is undeniably his biggest strength and there are some who think he’s got enough bat to handle first base if the whole catching thing doesn’t pan out. Not sure I’m buying into the bat that hard, but also not sure he’ll be moving to first any time soon.
7. C Austin Hedges (JSerra HS, California)
I don’t feel too bad about ranking Austin Hedges lower than most because, when it comes down to it, what do these rankings really mean anyway? I hope they are a good resource for fans checking in on their team’s newest draft pick, but they won’t influence what happens on draft day one iota. Despite my lack of love, Hedges is a potential first rounder. Words don’t really do his defense justice, but I’ll give it my best shot all the same. Austin Hedges is already one of the 30 best defensive catchers in the country. I’m talking pro, college, and anything in between. Young catchers who can pull off a plus-plus arm, fantastic hands, and all-around plus receiving ability are few and far between. The bat is the problem. He has a long way to go before being labeled a finished product, but, as of now, I’d have to really squint hard to see a future where Hedges ever hits more than one of the league’s lesser 8-hole hitters. Selfishly, I’d love to see him go to UCLA on the off-chance that he’d get some time on the mound and really put that cannon of a right arm to work.
8. C Nicky Delmonico (Farragut HS, Tennessee)
Delmonico is another player who could realistically sneak into the first round who I’m not quite as high on as others. He’ll get the last laugh on draft day, so I don’t feel too bad breaking him down now. In Delmonico, I don’t see a standout tool. His arm works alright and there is some power upside, but there is no one part of his game that makes you stand up and take notice. In his defense, well, I like his defense. So many had written him off as a catcher, but in my brief looks and the scouting reports I’ve read, I don’t see anything that makes me think he’ll have to move to first anytime soon.
9. C Tyler Marlette (Hagerty HS, Florida)
Marlette has as much upside at the plate as any high school catcher sans Swihart, but questions about his defense continue to suppress his stock. The shame of it is that he has above-average defensive tools – he’s surprisingly natural behind the plate – but lacks the polish that comes with years of practice at the position. The aforementioned upside as a hitter works in much the same way. In batting practice Marlette is a monster, but he’s more of a gap-to-gap hitter in game action thus far. A solid defensive catcher with plus power is a heck of a prospect, of course. An iffy defensive catcher who may or may not stick with gap power is less exciting. This is where teams who have seen Marlette multiple times over a couple of years have a huge leg up on what I do.
10. C Grayson Greiner (Blythewood HS, South Carolina)
Regular readers of the site knew I couldn’t get past the top ten without throwing a major upside play in there somewhere. Greiner is a little bit under the radar, partly because of a really strong commitment to South Carolina. I mentioned earlier that teams are moving away from bigger catchers, but Greiner’s picture perfect 6-5, 220 pound frame could have a few teams backpedaling on that strategy just a wee bit. With that pro-ready frame comes, you guessed it, plus raw power and really intriguing arm strength. With that pro-ready frame also come some mechanical issues that need to be ironed out, but that’s a problem for the minor league instructors, not the faceless baseball draft writer.
11. C Greg Bird (Grandview HS, Colorado)
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.
12. C Brandon Sedell (American Heritage HS, Florida)
Sedell is a pro-ready backstop from a high school program with a deserved reputation of being a pro ballplayer producing factory. His calling card is his tremendous raw power, though it is limited somewhat to the pull side. He won’t win any Gold Gloves for his work behind the plate and his throws down to second won’t evoke comparisons of the Molina brothers, but he sets up a nice target for his pitcher and moves around laterally better than you’d expect from a big guy. He gets bonus points for his extensive experience catching high velocity arms. This may be a little nuts, but I feel as though the recent pros that have come out of American Heritage in recent years (most notably Eric Hosmer, still the most advanced high school bat I’ve ever seen) have brainwashed some scouts into thinking the game comes easy to all prep players there. Sedell isn’t Hosmer, but he’s still a damn fine pro prospect with big league starter upside.
13. C BreShon Kimbell (Mesquite HS, Texas)
Kimbell is unusually strong, very athletic, and a gifted defender. He also has shown big raw power in the past, but inconsistencies with his swing mechanics make his trips to the plate hit or miss, no pun intended. Some good pro coaching could turn him into a high level pro prospect in short order. Also, BreShon – a fella with a name like that is obviously destined for greatness, even though I sometimes read it as Bre$hon.
14. C Brett Austin (Providence HS, North Carolina)
First Austin Hedges, then Nicky Delmonico, and now Brett Austin – my trio of lower than expected rankings is finally complete. It all comes down to what you want in a catcher, I guess. I’ll take defensive ability, raw power, mature hitting actions, and arm strength, in that order. If you don’t have a plus tool in any of those four areas, I’m a little nervous. Austin’s defensive work has been spotty this spring, and he’s not assured of starting his professional career as a catcher. I’d generously give him a 55 on raw power – damn good to be sure, but not on the level of a handful of players ranked above him – and his arm is average on his best day. He’s got impressive athleticism and arguably the best foot speed of any prep catching prospect, so a position switch – second base, maybe? – could actually help his pro standing in my eyes.
15. C AJ Murray (Westfield HS, New Jersey)
Fast-rising prospect poised to make me look stupid for having him this low. Area scouts rave about his athleticism and sheer physical strength.
And now for five more guys that I couldn’t bear to leave out, but knew that if I started to write a little something about them then I’d wind up writing about high school catchers forever. With two weeks until the draft, that’s a no-no. Five additional high school catchers that I’m high on with very brief thoughts on each:
16. C Daniel Mengden (Westside HS, Texas)
A good low-90s fastball has most preferring Mengden on the mound, but I’m going to stubbornly stick by him as the receiving end of a pitcher-catcher battery, thank you very much. Why do I like him as a catcher? Well, you already know he has a plus arm back there and his defensive actions are all very good. I also have liked what I’ve seen out of his swing so far; it is the kind of level, line drive producing swing that might not generate a ton of raw power, but will help him keep the ball off the ground and into the gaps.
17. C Taylor Nichols (Faith Academy, Alabama)
Quick draft day math problem for you: plus power plus plus arm strength minus strong college commitment (no offense South Alabama) equals potential top ten round catching prospect.
18. C Hunter Lockwood (LD Bell HS, Texas)
No weaknesses in Lockwood’s game, just a really solid, well-rounded skill set.
19. C Aramis Garcia (Pines Charter HS, Florida)
Similar to Nichols in that he’s best known for his power bat and power arm.
20. C Dylan Delso (Broken Arrow HS, Oklahoma)
Like Greg Bird and Brandon Sedell above, Delso has no problems catching high velocity heat. Archie Bradley’s prep catcher approves.