Another Elite ACC Backstop
Miami's Grandal is latest product of conference's catcher assembly line
CORAL GABLES, Fla.—In the past three years, the Atlantic Coast Conference has produced three catchers drafted among baseball's top five picks: Tony Sanchez in 2009, Buster Posey in 2008 and Matt Wieters in '07.
During that same span, the rest of amateur baseball—college and high school—produced zero top-five catchers and only five first-rounders at the position.
This year, the ACC assembly line has cranked out another standout catcher (though not a projected top-five pick): Miami junior Yasmani Grandal, a 6-foot-2, 210-pound switch-hitter with a power stroke.
Grandal, a native of Havana, Cuba, was drafted out of Miami Springs High in the 27th round in 2007 by the Red Sox. He said the Royals, Indians and Diamondbacks called in the first and supplemental rounds but did not draft him when he declined their offers.
A source said the highest offer was $775,000, which was about a quarter-million short of Grandal's target. Grandal did not say how much it would take to sign him then or now.
"The draft is crazy," Grandal said when asked where he thought he would be selected this June. "They could tell you the first round, and you go in the 50th."
Grandal, who hit .299/.410/.599 with 16 homers last season, made second-team all-ACC. He was beaten out for the top spot by Sanchez, who continued the ACC's amazing run at catcher when he was drafted fourth by the Pirates.
Grandal's numbers compare favorably with those of Sanchez, who hit 24 homers in three years at BC and had a career-high 1.059 OPS as a junior. Grandal entered this season with 23 homers in just two years and had a 1.127 OPS in ACC play in '09.
"Not to sell Yas short, but Posey and Wieters are special guys," Miami batting and catching coach Joe Mercadante said. "Sanchez is a guy who is going to get after it every pitch defensively, but Yas has a chance to hit for more power than Tony."
Boston College Coach Mik Aoki praised all four catchers, calling Wieters the "most toolsy" of the bunch.
"If you put Wieters on the mound, he can throw 94 or 95," Aoki said. "He has plus power from both sides of the plate. Overall, he might end up being the best of the four, but that's splitting hairs because they are all good.
"Posey was a phenomenal hitter, but Grandal is pretty darn close," Aoki said. "Grandal is a hitter you have to game-plan around. You don't want to face him in a critical situation. Compared to Tony, Grandal is a tad more polished offensively and has more pure power. You have to pitch him differently each time.
"Defensively, Grandal is athletic and has an above-average arm. He has gotten better each year we've played him. And just as an aside, I like the way he carries himself on the field. He is a classy dude. Other than when he plays BC, I wish him well."
Mercandante said Grandal is a more "fluid" hitter from the left side who has improved tremendously from the right. Last season, Grandal hit .301 with seven homers vs. lefties and .298 with nine homers vs. righties.
"From the right, he is a little more stiff and has had trouble repeating that nice short swing he has from the left side," Mercadante said. "But he has come a long way since his freshman year, especially in terms of plate discipline.
"His freshman year, he didn't understand the strike zone and just relied on being a big, strong kid and driving the ball. But he has learned how to get his pitch, even though he is being pitched around more this year."
Mercadante said he would rank Grandal with any catcher in the country defensively. He said the Hurricanes have worked with Grandal on his lateral quickness and flexibility—with great results, including four runners picked off base last season.
And even though Grandal threw out just 21 percent of basestealers last season, Mercadante attributes that mostly to pitchers not doing enough to hold runners close.
"He is a polished defensive catcher," Mercadante said. "He has one of the most accurate arms of any player I've coached—always around the bag. He gets it down there in 1.9 to 2.0 seconds, and if you are in that 1.9 to 1.95 range, that is solid average for the next level."
Phillip Wisser, who coached Grandal at Miami Springs, agrees the Hurricanes star is best on defense. Wisser recalls a playoff game during Grandal's senior year when a runner tried to steal second on a curveball in the dirt. Grandal backhanded the ball, and—from his knees—threw the runner out by two steps.
"Yas had that baby face, but he stood out from day one as a 6-foot, 190-pounder in the ninth grade," said Wisser, who now coaches at Coral Gables High, minutes from Miami's campus. "He's a good kid—not arrogant or cocky. He doesn't come from a lot of money, but his parents taught him well."
Grandal, who arrived in the U.S. when he was eight years old, may not come from money, but big cash is in his future if everything goes well in the draft. So far this spring, he has shown impressive offensive maturity, hitting .388/.504/.612 with three homers and 25 RBIs in 103 at-bats.
"A lot will depend on his offensive output," Mercadante said of Grandal's expected draft slot. "If he shows he can hit for average and put up similar power numbers like he had last year, then I think he enters the late first-round discussion or the supplemental round."
Perhaps the Red Sox will draft him 26 rounds sooner this time. After all, what better city than Boston for a guy they call "Yas"?
But Grandal, who is majoring in criminology and minoring in business, said he won't let nicknames or sentiment enter the equation.
"The round doesn't really matter," said Grandal, already using what he's learned in UM's business courses. "If the money is right, I will pursue a pro career this year. If that doesn't happen, I will come back and graduate."