SANTA, ANA, Calif.—In baseball draft terminology, scouts use the term “helium” to describe prospects’ whose stocks are rapidly on the rise.
Mater Dei senior catcher Blake Hunt has plenty of helium. Hunt has shown tools at this week’s Boras Classic, where he’s played in front of tons of upper level scouts and decision-makers. He’s gone from a projectable player to one of the better catching prospects in this year’s draft class.
“About six months ago I was on the outside looking in, and I just told myself I wanted to be in there,” Hunt said.
Hunt, who wasn’t on the Southern California Brewers roster at the Area Code Games last summer, packed on 20 pounds this past winter. He’s a physical specimen, standing at roughly 6-foot-3 and nearing 200 pounds. Hunt has a slender build with a relatively high waist and broad shoulders; he looks the part.
Behind the plate, Hunt has been light on his feet this week, moving well laterally and showing advanced instincts with his receiving hand. Hunt sets a low target and receives quietly. He’s comfortable going into and out of his crouch and he’s strong on his toes. He has shown a strong arm throwing to second base this week.
“Last year at this same point I just wasn’t there physically. I was limited in a lot of ways,” Hunt said. “In the offseason I put in a lot of work and I think it’s paying off. I hit the weight room hard, ate a lot and put on about 20 pounds. It helped me a lot behind the plate. With arm strength, I did a lot of long toss and some weighted ball programs in the offseason to help.”
Hunt said he has trained with Brent Mayne, who caught more than 1,000 big league games. He also said that he aims to model his catching technique after Giants all-star Buster Posey.
This week, Hunt has shown the ability to turn low pitches into strikes. He’s been able to stand still and balanced and let pitches travel to him, pulling his left arm up and back slightly and subtly so that he can present the ball with his glove in bottom of the strike zone, even if the pitch comes in under the batter’s knee.
“He’s a kid that grew a lot after his sophomore year and now he’s kind of filling that in and understanding how much strength he does have so I think he’s going to be a pretty special player,” Mater Dei head coach Burt Call said.
“Last year he was kind of tall and lanky and he was breaking down early as far as the season—his arm was starting to bother him a little bit,” Call said. “And he really kind of emphasized the offseason conditioning program. He really concentrated on getting in good condition as well as developing his strength. That’s helped him tremendously behind the plate catching and then also from an offensive standpoint.”
Hunt’s catch-and-throw skills stick out, but he’s also shown power potential. The righthanded hitter crushed a home run on Wednesday night. His pure batting ability still requires some development but he’s shown a sound understanding of the strike zone over the past couple days and he has the strength to generate significant torque with his wide hips and shoulders.
Hunt is not the first catching prospect to come through Mater Dei’s program. Cardinals prospect Jeremy Martinez played for Call and graduated in 2013.
“We’ve had a lot of good catchers come through our program. We always think of Jeremy Martinez who was a very good receiver with good arm strength,” Call said. “Blake is a little taller and a little more physical, but I think they handle pitchers similarly—good soft hands and good actions.”
Hunt, who is committed to play at Pepperdine, has received significant attention from scouts this spring. Two area scouts—from different Major League teams—said they could see Hunt going in the top three rounds.
“It’s been overwhelming but it’s very exciting,” Hunt said of the attention. “I put in a lot of work and it’s gotten me to the point where I am and now it’s just fun to just get to go out and play.”