2010 Draft Preview: Catchers
See also: Scouting reports for infielders projected to go in the top two rounds
See also: Scouting reports for outfielders projected to go in the top two round
After it was well-received last year, we return to a position by position format for our scouting reports. This week we break them up by position and next week we'll present the Top 200 list, which will be more accurate because we've had time to further report and sort through what looks to be a very complex draft.
The classification system is relatively straightforward, and the players who qualified for writeups are those who we think have the talent to go in the first two rounds. We also give you a thumbnail assessment of how the talent looks at each position this year.
Our rankings and scouting reports are based on conversations with major league front-office personnel, scouts, and college and high school coaches in the weeks leading up to the draft. The scouting reports were written by Jim Callis, Aaron Fitt, Conor Glassey, John Manuel and David Perkin.
Few players ever have entered the draft with more hype than Bryce Harper, who highlights the catcher class. Miami's Yasmani Grandal was having a tremendous offensive season and trying to become the fourth straight Atlantic Coast Conference player to be the first four-year college catcher drafted, following Matt Wieters (2007), Buster Posey (2008) and Tony Sanchez (2009). Scouts usually lament the lack of catching depth, and this year is no exception as college prospects such as Tennessee's Blake Forsythe and Texas' Cameron Rupp backed up.
1. Bryce Harper
JC of Southern Nevada
After Harper skipped out on his final two years of high school to enroll in a wood-bat junior college league, even his biggest supporters probably would have underestimated how he would perform this season. Over his 180 regular-season at-bats, the 17-year-old hit .417/.509/.917. The school record for home runs was 12, set when the school still used aluminum bats. Harper finished with 23. He has top-of-the-scale power, but scouts have differing opinions about what kind of hitter he'll be. Some believe his exaggerated load and ferocious swings will cause him to strike out 125-140 times a season and keep his average around .250. Others believe in his exceptional hand-eye coordination and expect him to calm down his swing in pro ball, figuring .280-.300 isn't out of the question. Harper also has 80 raw arm strength on the 20-80 scouting scale, but he needs to shorten up his arm action for it to play better behind the plate. Scouts are also split on where he'll end up defensively. Some believe he'll be fine at catcher. Others think he will either outgrow the position or that his bat will be too good to hold back, so a team will want to move him to the position that gets him to the big leagues the fastest—either third base or right field. Harper has done some incredible things on a baseball field, like hitting 500-foot home runs, throwing runners out at first from the outfield, and scoring from second base on a passed ball. He's received more attention and unfounded criticism than any amateur player in years. Perhaps the biggest question now is: Is it possible for him to live up to the hype? He's seeking to break Stephen Strasburg's record bonus, and that certainly won't reduce the hype or the pressure.
2. Yasmani Grandal
Grandal has been on the radar a long time. He was an Aflac All-American and potential high draft pick whose Miami commitment and fair senior year caused him to fall to the 27th round in 2007, when the Red Sox drafted him. A native of Cuba who moved to Miami at age 11, he started as a freshman in 2008 for the Hurricanes' 53-11 club that entered the College World Series as the No. 1 seed and produced three first-round picks. Grandal didn't hit .300 in either of his first two seasons, though, and struggled at the plate for Team USA last summer, hitting just .182. Grandal has traded his all-pull approach for more contact and an all-fields swing in 2010, and the results have been dramatic. He has dominated the Atlantic Coast Conference, where he was hitting nearly .500 in league games, and he ranked among the national leaders in on-base percentage (.545) and walks (43). A switch-hitter, Grandal has some length to his swing but has shortened up from the left side and has solid-average raw power. Defensively, he plays with energy and is slightly above-average as a receiver. His throwing arm is his biggest concern, as some scouts have seen more 2.1-second pop times (below-average) than would be expected of a top draft pick. Grandal doesn't defend like fellow South Florida product Tony Sanchez, who went No. 4 overall last year, and his offense is not on par with previous ACC catching products Matt Wieters and Buster Posey. He still figures to go in the top half of the first round and was rumored to be in play as high as No. 4 overall to the Royals.
3. Justin O'Conner
Cowan HS, Muncie, Ind.
Scouts had been split on whether O'Conner was a better prospect as a power-hitting third baseman or as a pitcher with a 93-95 mph fastball and a hammer curveball. When he began catching at the end of the showcase circuit last summer and played regularly behind the plate this spring, though, it settled any debate about his future. He's now the top high school catching prospect in the 2010 draft. His standout tool is his arm, which grades as plus-plus and is capable of producing 1.8-second pop times. The 6-foot-1, 190-pounder is agile behind the plate, though his inexperience shows in his receiving. O'Conner also generates above-average thunder with his tremendous bat speed, showing power to all fields in batting practice. A righthanded hitter, he's pull-conscious in games and struggled at times against quality pitching last summer, so there's some question whether he'll hit for a high average. Even if he doesn't, his arm and power could make him an all-star catcher. And if he can't make it as a position player, he has an attractive fallback option as a pitcher. The Arkansas recruit is unlikely to make it past the first round.
4. Kellin Deglan
R.E. Mountain SS, Langley, B.C.
As a member of Canada's junior national team, Deglan has been steadily improving his stock as he has performed well in games against pro players in extended spring training exhibitions. Deglan has gotten bigger and stronger every year and has worked hard to maintain his balance and footwork behind the plate. He is an advanced receiver and has a strong arm, consistently displaying pop times around two seconds flat. Scouts do have a couple of questions regarding Deglan's swing. He has long arms, which can lead to a long swing, and he sometimes swings around the ball and can be attacked inside. But he also has a lot of strength and when he pulls his hands inside the ball, he can use his arms for leverage, which gives him intriguing power potential. When you combine all those things, it's easy to see why teams see a lot of potential in Deglan. He also has great makeup and the leadership qualities that teams look for in catchers. Because of his premium position and lefthanded power potential, Deglan could go as high as the back half of the first round, but grades out as more of a second- to third-round talent.
5. Micah Gibbs
Gibbs has the best receiving skills among catchers in the 2010 draft, and those and his ability to handle a pitching staff earn repeated comparisons to Jason Varitek. He doesn't have a cannon behind the plate, but his arm strength is average and he enhances it with a quick release and good accuracy. However, he had thrown out just 15 percent of basestealers through mid-May, down from 32 percent in his first two seasons. His hitting has gone in the other direction, as he was batting .424, up from .306 the previous two years and .212 with wood bats in the Cape Cod League last summer. A 5-foot-11, 207-pound switch-hitter, Gibbs has spread out his stance, added more balance and simplified his swing. He has strength, but his swing can get loopy at times and he doesn't have an abundance of bat speed or power. He may not be more than a .260 hitter with 10-12 homers annually in the majors, but his defensive ability should make him a starter. The scarcity of catchers often enhances their draft status, so Gibbs could sneak into the first or sandwich round.
6. Mike Kvasnicka
After catching sparingly in his first two seasons at Minnesota, Kvasnicka has seen semi-regular action behind the plate this spring while senior Kyle Knudson has recovered from offseason labrum surgery on both hips. Kvasnicka already was an attractive draft prospect as a 6-foot-2, 210-pound switch-hitter with a balanced stroke, good power potential and strike-zone discipline. Now his stock has jumped with the possibility that he could be a catcher rather than a right fielder. He has solid arm strength and accuracy, and he has the athleticism, hands and work ethic to become an average receiver. While he might have been a fourth-round pick as an outfielder, he now figures to go in the first two rounds as a catcher. If he winds up moving back to the outfield, he still has enough bat to reach the big leagues. Kvasnicka's father Jay was a Twins eighth-round pick in 1988—Minnesota drafted Mike in the 31st round out of high school—and reached Triple-A.
7. Alex Lavisky, St. Edward HS, Lakewood, Ohio
8. Stefan Sabol, Aliso Niguel HS, Aliso Viejo, Calif.
9. Cameron Rupp, Texas
10. Will Swanner, La Costa Canyon HS, Carlsbad, Calif.
11. Rob Brantly, UC Riverside
12. Blake Forsythe, Tennessee
13. Andrew Knapp, Granite Bay (Calif.) HS
14. Cody Stanley, UNC Wilmington
15. Matt Roberts, Graham (N.C.) HS