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The Scouting Department: Top Catchers

by Josh Boyd
July 3, 2003

The Scouting Department will break down the top minor league prospects at a different position every two weeks during the second half of the season. The rankings are based on projected major league ceiling, combined with information acquired from scouts and other front office executives

1. Joe Mauer, Twins
Age: 20  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 1
How Are The Arms?

BEST CS/SB RATIO

CS

SB

PCT

1. Joe Mauer

20

15

57

2. Kevin Cash

22

21

51

3. Yadier Molina

25

29

46

4. Guillermo Quiroz

24

33

42

5. Ryan Jorgensen

14

22

39

6. Hector Gimenez

18

31

37

6. Gerald Laird

18

31

37

8. Rob Bowen

18

31

37

9. Dioner Navarro

21

38

36

10. Kelly Shoppach

18

39

32

One AL scout simply called Mauer "The Package." After hitting .400 in big league camp this spring, Mauer went to high Class A Fort Myers and recovered from a slow start to hit .335-1-44, earning a midseason promotion to Double-A New Britain. While he slugged just .412, with 12 doubles and one home run, Mauer continued to show one of the best approaches in the minors drawing 24 walks and as many strikeouts. He also led the Florida State League by throwing out 57 percent of basestealers. Jeff Mathis has outperformed Mauer as a pro, but "because of Mauer's upside and projectable power," according to an AL scouting director, he's the consensus choice. "He has a good approach, shows the ability to hit, he's athletic, has hand-eye coordinationthere's every reason to believe there's power to come."

2. Jeff Mathis, Angels
Age: 20  Level: High-A  2002 Ranking: 2
The AL scout said Mathis is "some kind of combo between (Mike) Lieberthal and (Jason) Kendall." Though he projects as an advanced receiver with well-rounded catching skills and plus arm strength, Mathis hasn't deterred basestealers in the Cal League this season, throwing out just over 24 percent. A Cal League scout offers this up on Mathis' defense: "There is a lot of effort to his game, and because of that he might not get much better. But he is a gamer and will work hard." That is surprising considering Mathis' natural athleticism, but he is still raw mechanically as a catcher. He played shortstop and pitched in high school, while also serving as a personal catcher for Marianna (Fla.) High teammate and fellow 2001 first-rounder Alan Horne. Offensively, however, he looks like a middle of the order threat with gap power and over the fence juice to come.

3. Guillermo Quiroz, Blue Jays
Age: 21  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 15
The Jays were convinced Quiroz had the tools to be a big league receiver when they signed him out of Venezuela, and they saw enough potential at the plate to give him a $1.2 million bonus. After his first two seasons Quiroz hardly registered a blip on the prospect radar, as he fought to get to the .200 mark. In 2002, he experienced a breakthrough, hitting .260 for Class A Dunedin This year his power has emerged as another weapon. "I think his understanding as a catcher calling the game has helped his bat, average-wise, with pretty good thump," the AL scout said.

4. Justin Huber, Mets
Age: 20  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 4
Huber got off to a slow start this year thanks to a back injury, but he has done enough to warrant a second-half promotion. Huber has above-average raw power, but he impresses scouts with his simple approach at the plate. He has a short, quick stroke and keeps his hands inside the ball. "Solid sturdy everyday catcher with line-drive, gap hitting ability and good strength. Might hit for near average power," the AL scout said. "Defensively he has plenty of arm, but will need to work on his flexibility behind the plate. his hands are just OK and hopefully will improve as time goes along."

5. Kelly Shoppach, Red Sox
Age: 23  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 12
Shoppach initially attracted attention as a prospect for his defense, but he has displayed steady improvement at the plate as a pro. He started 2003 on the shelf after last season ended prematurely with shoulder surgery. He has bounced back, throwing out runners at a better-than-average rate of 32 percent in the Eastern League. "If he stays healthy, he could be ready next year, allowing them to trade (Jason) Varitek," an AL executive said.

6. Koyie Hill, Dodgers
Age: 24  Level: Triple-A  2002 Ranking: 7
Evaluation: Started the year in Double-A to play everyday while David Ross was in Triple-A. Hill has struggled to throw out runners at the Triple-A level, but he is hitting 100 points higher in Las Vegas than he did in Jacksonville. Has better arm strength than Paul LoDuca, who is one of the few starting big league catchers with a below-average arm, but the converted college infielder needs to improve his all-around catch-and-throw package. Hill projects as a solid-average hitter in the .280-.290 range with doubles power and the ability to get on base.

7. Ryan Doumit, Pirates
Age: 22  Level: High-A  2002 Ranking: 10
Injuries sidetracked Doumit for most of his first two seasons and prevented him from playing everyday in 2002. "He's had such a hard time staying healthy and his current position isn't friendly to injury-prone players," the AL exec said. He has produced a .296 average with six home runs from the left side. Doumit has above-average arm strength, but has only thrown out 21 percent.

8. John Buck, Astros
Age: 21  Level: Triple-A  2002 Ranking: 3
Buck has seemed to regress in the upper levels, though he's been regarded as the Astros No. 1 prospect in each of the last two years. Most scouts point to his added muscle as part of the problem. "I have always been a bit of a Buck skeptic because of his low walk rates and a concern that he'd end up pretty thick physically," the AL exec said. "His lack of power this year is really alarming, and he's damn slow--11 DPs already. If he can't catch, he's Craig Wilson lite. I like Craig Wilson a bit, but if you take away his mild plate discipline then he's not worth a roster spot." The scout disagreed: "He's still putting his body control together but has at least plus power potential with OK bat ability, and he's a decent defensive player for his size and has plenty of arm."

9. Dioner Navarro, Yankees
Age: 19  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: 22
Comparisons to Pudge Rodriguez are just silly. Navarro is unlikely to ever hit for the same type of power, and while his defense is stellar, it's tough to approach the standard Rodriguez set. Navarro, however, is going to hit for average, draw walks and put the ball in play. He will gain strength as he fills out his diminutive 5-foot-10 frame, and he already shows doubles pop. The Yankees have always been impressed with his ability to work counts and use the whole field. He reached Double-A before turning 20.

10. Gerald Laird, Rangers
Age: 23  Level: Triple-A  2002 Ranking: 13
One of the key players Grady Fuson targeted after coming over from the A's, Laird hasn't elevated his game with this year's move to Triple-A Oklahoma. After hitting .279/.343/.416 in Double-A Tulsa, he started to hear whispers that he would be Ivan Rodriguez' eventual successor. While he has above-average raw power, he tends to be long to the ball with just average bat speed. He needs to show the ability to make better adjustments, especially on breaking stuff.

11. Chris Snyder, Diamondbacks
Age: 22  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Snyder has the prototypical big, strong catcher's build scouts look for. He smacked 19 home runs in his first 462 at-bats, in high Class A Lancaster, to earn a promotion to Double-A El Paso. Both are hitter's havens, but Double-A will serve as a better gage for Snyder's long-term offensive ceiling. Defensively, he has all the tools, with the take-charge attitude expected from a backstop.

12. Josh Willingham, Marlins
Age: 24  Level: Double-A (DL)  2002 Ranking: NR
Selected as a shortstop out of Arkansas, Willingham has since been moved to third base and then to catcher last fall in instructional league. As it became more evident that Miguel Cabrera was going to establish himself as the present and future at the hot corner, Willingham's bat was simultaneously developing into a threat the organization didn't want to waste. They felt he had the tools to handle the move. After a hot start in the FSL, a knee injury sidelined him in Double-A.

13. Hector Gimenez, Astros
Age: 20  Level: High-A  2002 Ranking: 20
A June slump (.154) has caused Gimenez' average to dip to .247; he suffered through a similar slump last May and managed to hit .263-11-42 as a teen in the South Atlantic League last year. He's been better from the right side, though, like Navarro, his youth and ability to switch hit make him worth watching. Gimenez' defense is his strength and he's thrown out 37 percent, compared to 32 last season.

14. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Age: 20  Level: Double-A (DL)  2002 Ranking: 25
Molina profiles along the lines of one of his older brothers--Benji Molina--a strong defender with limited offensive abilities. He can put the ball in play, but is a bit of a free swinger, can't run and won't draw walks. If he doesn't get into a situation as an everyday player like Benji, he should be able to serve the role his other brother Jose does for the Angels. He's currently out of action with a wrist injury.

15. Kevin Cash, Blue Jays
Age: 25  Level: Triple-A  2002 Ranking: 6
Cash's swing has changed this year, as he's gotten away from the quick line-drive stroke he employed during his ascent to Triple-A. Cash has been uppercutting more this year, resulting in more punchouts and a lowly .302 on-base mark. Defensively, he's one of the best in the minors with an outstanding arm. He could develop into a platoon catcher with 10-home run potential.

16. Rob Bowen, Twins
Age: 22  Level: Triple-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Bowen is on the comeback trail, re-establishing his prospect status after a dismal 2002 campaign. He profiles as a backup receiver in the big leagues based on his defense alone. He has one of the stronger arms in the minors, and his raw power is another intriguing tool. His plate discipline is not refined, though, and he has holes in his swing.

17. Mike Tonis, Royals
Age: 24  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Evaluation: Tonis has missed significant time over the last two seasons with knee and shoulder injuries, but he's been healthy this year. He has never hit for power as a pro, producing a .354 slugging percentage in Double-A Wichita this year. While scouts say his arm strength has been sapped by last year's shoulder surgery, he has managed to throw out 30 percent of basestealers this season.

18. Jeremy Brown, A's
Age: 23  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Because of the book "Moneyball," Brown will never be fairly evaluated until he gets to the big leagues. Some scouts have already been overly critical of him, saying "the only plus tool he has is organizational hype," and, "He can't hit for average or power and I haven't seen his supposed catch-and-throw skills in a game yet; but he does walk a lot if that's all you're looking for in a catcher." That's a bit harsh, and Brown can swing the bat with some authority. He'll have to hit a ton to make it as an everyday big league receiver, though, because he offers very little with his other tools. His body is what has created the most debate among scouts and performance-based evaluators, and scouts don't believe he'll be serviceable behind the plate. A patient hitter, he has drawn 41 walks against 39 strikeouts, but his .391 slugging in Midland, a notorious hitter's park, is not up to par.

19. Ryan Jorgensen, Marlins
Age: 24  Level: Double-A (DL)  2002 Ranking: 17
Jorgensen is on the DL with a back injury. When he's healthy, he's one of the top catch-and-throw receivers in the game with cat-like reflexes and a rocket-arm. He takes pride in gunning down runners, and works hard on his craft. He profiles as a backup catcher in the big leagues.

20. Craig Ansman, Diamondbacks
Age: 25  Level: Double-A  2002 Ranking: NR
Ansman has plus-plus raw power, but scouts question how that will translate at higher levels. He struggles with offspeed stuff and pitches out of his zone. "He is very stiff, and I don't believe he will ever make the throw to second base consistently," an NL scout said. "He has bat speed and plus juice."


Others to watch:

Ryan Christianson, Mariners
Pete LaForest, Devil Rays
Mike Nixon, Dodgers
Miguel Perez, Reds
Shawn Riggans, Devil Rays
Rene Rivera, Mariners
Dane Sardinha, Reds
Dave Wallace, Indians

Sleepers:

John Baker, A's
Brian McCann, Braves

Graduated to the majors:

Miguel Olivo, White Sox
Josh Bard, Indians
Victor Martinez, Indians
Jason Phillips, Mets
Robby Hammock, Diamondbacks

Injured:

J.R. House, Pirates


Analyzing last year's top 10 catcher's list (posted in August 2002)

1. Joe Mauer, Twins

Maintained his top spot and reached Double-A

2. Jeff Mathis, Angels

Stayed at No. 2, but is gaining on Mauer

3. John Buck, Astros

Dropped back in the pack, still hasn't mashed in the upper levels

4. Justin Huber, Mets

Slowed by spring neck injury, making steady progress

5. Victor Martinez, Indians

On top for some scouts, but his defensive tribulations have him working out at first

6. Kevin Cash, Blue Jays

Still waiting for bat to catch up to outstanding defensive skills

7. Koyie Hill, Dodgers

Started slow in Double-A, heated up with move to Triple-A

8. Josh Bard, Indians

Won big league job on strength of his defense, but .220 average might not fend off Martinez' bat for long

9. J.R. House, Pirates

Knocked off the fast track by Tommy John surgery, another setback ended his season this spring

10. Ryan Doumit, Pirates

Has moved past House and Humberto Cota on the Pirates organizational depth chart

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