The Future of Catching and the Draft | The Golden Sombrero Baseball Blog | MLB, Fantasy, College & High School Baseball News

The Future of Catching and the Draft

With the draft quickly approaching and in light of the incident with Buster Posey at the plate a week ago, I think it makes sense to look at the catcher position and the future of it within the draft.  Granted I probably would not even have considered this if the two best catchers in baseball weren’t currently on the disabled list, but that hardly makes anything about the inherent risks of the position less true.  No reader of this site requires an explanation of these risks and the dangers of the catcher position, but I am skeptical many would disagree that it’s about time the offensive catcher disappears from baseball, and it starts with the draft.

Don’t get me wrong, anything better than a .750 OPS from a catcher should certainly be welcomed, and I’m certainly not suggesting that catchers shouldn’t strive for success on both sides of the ball.  What I am saying, however, is that devoting top draft picks to catchers should no longer be a consideration for competitive organizations.  Teams like the Astros essentially draft by randomly pulling names out of jars, so this probably doesn’t apply to them.  In hindsight, the Twins and Giants would quite obviously have begun the careers of Joe Mauer and Posey at a position where the thought of 600 at-bats would be the standard as opposed to impossibility.  Posey is certainly capable of playing third, and if years of catching hadn’t bulked his lower half up, short might have also been a possibility since it was his primary position during his first two years at Florida State.  Mauer probably has the feet and athleticism for third and certainly has the arm.  Any position on the field would carry a more encouraging long term prognosis than catcher, though, in terms of keeping these stars in the lineup.

Catchers capable of a .700 to .750 OPS can be found all over the amateur ranks and can be signed cheaply.  They can also be converted either at or after signing.  An example is Colorado’s Jordan Pacheco, a former All-American infielder during his time at UNM and at La Cueva High in Albuquerque, who he helped lead to two national titles.  Pacheco was converted immediately to catcher upon signing.  Pacheco and Posey are far from similar players.  Pacheco is catching because it likely is the only position that is capable of getting him to The Show.  This is hardly the case with Posey or Mauer, whose bats are good enough to make it at any position.

The real point of this piece, although it took me a minute to get to it, is that the process of protecting superstar careers from the innate risks of the catcher position begins with the draft.  Let’s use the top-rated catcher on every club’s 2011 board, Blake Swihart of Cleveland High in Rio Rancho, NM, as our case study.  Swihart will probably fall in the middle of the 1st round barring signability issues, with which all UT signees come equipped.  How much of this is based on the potential for him to actually catch?  There is reason to believe that it is worth about 10 picks or so based on Swihart’s fall from what some scouts viewed a potential top-10 pick a month or so ago.  This small slide came as a result of Swihart spending much of the spring season at short, leaving many scouts unfamiliar with what he is capable of behind the plate.  Still, a top-20 bat is worth several million dollars, especially considering how rare they are in this class.  Based on playing time, however, the case can be made that he is actually considerably more valuable if he were to play third or right, the positions that many think he belongs in the long term.  The amount of time that exceptionally athletic catchers miss in their mid and late 20s is unacceptable given that many players are still under the control of the teams who drafted them at that stage of their careers.  Additionally, Swihart will surely debut at a younger age if he were to play any position other than catcher due to the fact that he won’t be required to familiarize himself with the rigors of handling a staff.

I’m not going to write a piece about potential additions to the rules to help prevent collisions at the plate because star players in their early 20s shouldn’t be back there in the first place.  When Posey returns, I greatly hope that the Giants make the logical move and begin converting Posey to third or right.  Hopefully when Swihart’s name is called it will be as a C/IF and that whoever drafts him intends to develop him as an IF.  Bryce Harper’s career layout after spending his amateur years behind the dish must become the standard for elite bats like Mauer’s, Posey’s, and Swihart’s.

2 Comments

  1. Rick B. says:

    Dee, in your opinion should the Yankees start to call a spade a spade and move Montero from behind the plate to 1B/DH full time then? It seems like this debate goes back and forth every year about the value of a fringe catcher with a good bat for behind the plate vs a 1B with an average bat (ie .280/.340/.450) slash line. I guess the question I’m asking is should the players defense behind the plate even factor into the decision? Or should the decision be about getting the bat on the field and keeping him healthy for as long as possible? A penny for your thoughts.

  2. dee says:

    the yankees were willing to use a bad catcher with a good bat for a decade, so they are definitely in the minority when it comes to the way teams evaluate the position. i don’t think there are a lot of folks who consider posada’s career a bust, but did they get the most out of him? of course not. in fact they did not even come close since whatever his bat brought to the win column, his glove, or lack thereof, always detracted a portion. montero still has a little to prove in the minors i think considering how soft his line is right now. i think having him on the 25-man gives the yankees a lot of flexibility with the dh spot since tex and gay-rod probably need more days off than they are getting right now. i would at least wait for boston or tampa to pass them in the standings first, but then i would bring him up, let him hit, and see what the older guys’ bodies dictate in terms of the lineup, catching included. to me, montero is not in the same class as posey, though. montero might be the type of player who, for that team, would catch because it’s the only way to get his bat in the lineup. with posey and mauer and swihart, there are about 4 or 5 other ways to get their bats in, and so those should be exercised until they can’t be anymore. my proposal to some extent is that the catcher position should be a fallback plan. with the corners clogged most days, montero might already be there with the yankees. but yeah, get him up as soon as the yankees fall out of first or his isolated power in AAA rises.

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