DURHAM, N.C.—All the evidence points to the high school catching class being much, much stronger than the college catching class this year.
Still, some college catcher figures to go in the first round, or the supplemental first round. In the previous six drafts, a college catcher has been drafted in the first round every year other than 2006.
The top candidates in ’09 include two names that have been in the mix from the start in Indiana’s Josh Phegley, a preseason first-team All-American, and Boston College’s Tony Sanchez. The third candidate now appears to be North Carolina’s Mark Fleury, who is in his first season as a full-time starter.
Phegley was the favorite coming in, but Sanchez’s better defensive skills and improvement offensively vaulted him to the top of the rankings. Sunday, Sanchez played in front of about 40 scouts, including at least two scouting directors and plenty of other national scouts (i.e., crosscheckers and/or special assignment scouts). His performance almost stopped before it started when Sanchez was hit by a pitch on his right (throwing) hand in his first at-bat in the top of the first. After a delay lasting several minutes, Sanchez stayed in the game, and he hit a line-drive home run in the eighth inning.
Sanchez gave up a stolen base but still showed off his solid-average arm strength and solid receiving skills. He’s ahead of Phegley in most regards defensively, with Phegley considered fringe-average and Sanchez solid average if not a tick above. Sanchez has thrown out 37 percent of basestealers and is batting .352/.443/.685 with 14 home runs, tying him for second in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Phegley is hitting .383/.485/.688 with 12 homers for Indiana against a softer schedule in the Big Ten. He also has thrown out just 28 percent of opposing basestealers.
The X-factor now coming into focus is Fleury, who was ACC player of the week this week for North Carolina. Several scouts and coaches noted to Jim Callis in last year’s Cape Cod League Top 30 that Fleury didn’t have a standout tool but was more well-rounded than most of the Cape’s other catchers, and he’s shown that this spring. He’s become North Carolina’s third-best hitter, after lock first-rounder Dustin Ackley and third baseman Kyle Seager, who deserves his own draft blog soon.
Batting .339/.427/.655 for the year, Fleury has gotten his power bat going of late, hitting three homers last week with one monster blast to dead center field against UNC Wilmington on Tuesday. He has handled elite pitching in his career at North Carolina—he pointed out in an interview that even though he’s only been the starter one year, he has handled all of UNC’s pitchers in bullpens and fall practices over his career.
Fleury has softer hands and better offensive ability than the catcher he replaced, three-year starter Tim Federowicz, and "FedEx" went in the sixth round last year to the Red Sox. Fleury, a lefthanded hitter, should exceed Federowicz’s draft spot even though he lacks FedEx’s plus arm. Now he is in the discussion with Sanchez and Phegley for being the first catcher drafted, though he’s likely third on most draft boards.
"You can have a pretty good debate on Sanchez," said one scout who was on hand to see Sanchez on Sunday. "Last summer, he struggled catching velocity. I like Fleury. I don’t think any of them should be strongly considered for the first round, (but) someone may take ‘em there.
"Fleury caught better this year and in the Cape at times than Sanchez did. If you went to five other guys, they may say he’s not, and this is the way it is. Someone may say I don’t believe in either bat, and I’d rather take Phegley than those guys. It’s a real tough year."
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