Jupiter, FL - Most baseball fans think of catching prospects as big, strong, and squatty. Big bodies, power bats, and power arms; that’s usually what gets a high school catcher taken early in the draft. But at the top of this year's list of top 2011 high school catching prospects are three “undersized” catchers who impress much more with their athleticism than anything else.
Austin Hedges, Tyler Marlette, and Javier Baez all stand a hair less than 6’0” and none have the big, wide frames associated with catchers. All three are exceptionally athletic, agile receivers with strong arms and quick bats. Marlette looks the most like a catcher in street clothes because of his thick build at 5’11”, 199 lbs, but no one would mistake him for Brian McCann or Carlton Fisk.
Often times in pro ball, the most athletic catchers are infield conversions. Bengie Molina, believe it or not, was a shortstop throughout junior college and converted as a professional. Russell Martin was strictly a third baseman in junior college. Both have won gold gloves despite never touching a catcher’s mitt as amateurs.
Hedges and Marlette are primary catchers in high school. Baez is a primary infielder who is still likely to be drafted that way, but whose slick hands and strong arm have led many scouts to work him out behind the plate.
It seems a trend that the athletic infielder is converting to catcher earlier than ever and before they get to pro ball.
Our #4 catcher, Nick Delmonico, is taller at 6’2”, but is borne from the same mold. He’s an athletic, live-bodied Tennessean, with infield experience. Delmonico is too lean and rangy to look like a catcher in street clothes. Nevertheless, he’s a top prospect with early-round potential. Blake Swihart, at #5, is also very lean and athletic, and just a shade over 6’0”. It isn’t really till you get to #6 Cameron Gallagher where you find a big, burly 6’2”, 230 lb catcher whose biggest selling points are a power bat and a power arm.
VARIETY OF OPINIONS ON RANKINGS
There’s still nearly nine months to go before the 2011 Draft and we’ve already witnessed a roller coaster of opinions on the best high school catchers. Among Prospect Wire scouts alone, we’ve ranked five different top catching prospects at five major events (Perfect Game National, Tournament of Stars, East Coast Pro, Area Code Games, and AFLAC).
Hedges stands out as the best defender, but Marlette isn’t far away and has a lot more power at the plate. But Marlette has the least projectability of the group, given his mature 5’11” build. Baez is the most athletic and has perhaps the quickest hitting hands in the country, but he’s small-framed at 5’11”, 170 lbs, and new to the position. Blake Swihart is an impressive switch-hitter and Delmonico has big projection. Cameron Gallagher has the most power, but he’s physically mature as well. Picking a #1 among them is largely a matter of taste and personal bias.
Talk to the handful of national crosscheckers who’ve seen the top candidates and it would be hard to get any consensus. There’s no Joe Mauer in this group. No one stands out above the rest.
While the “undersized athletes” are in the lead as we see it right now, a powerhouse like Cameron Gallagher or Indiana prep Maxwell Andresen is very capable of rising above. Both are from cold weather climates and have big power bats, meaning the additional repetitions in the spring could make a difference come draft time.
COMPARING 2011 TO RECENT DRAFTS
This year’s batch of high school catchers ranks well overall against those of recent drafts.
The 2009 Draft was loaded with prep backstops. Signability prevented any from going in the true first round, but seven went in the first five. And as a true measure of the top-end talent in 2009, five high school catchers ended up signing for bonuses of $980,000 or greater (according to Baseball America 2009 Draft Database).
The 2010 Draft wasn’t considered nearly as deep or top-heavy. While two prep catchers were taken in the true first round, there were no others in the first five rounds. Three (compared to five in 2009) ended up singing for over $980,000.
Consider the 2011 crop somewhere in the middle. One thing that could significantly weaken its impact is if players like Baez or Delmonico end up being drafted as infielders. In that sense, this group of catchers may be too athletic.
To see the full list of our Top-35 National High School Catchers, please use this link. You must be a Silver Pass or Gold Pass Subscriber to view any published rankings list.