Unless your favorite major league club is fortunate enough to have Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez or someone comparable, it's easy to wonder where all the catchers have gone.
Apparently to the Double-A Eastern League, where nearly every team had a legitimate catching prospect.
"I've never seen anything like this," said Binghamton manager John Stearns, a four-time all-star catcher with the Mets. "When people wonder where the catching prospects are, they're in the Eastern League."
In addition to New Britain's Joe Mauer, a once-in-a-generation catching prospect, New Haven's Guillermo Quiroz, Trenton's Dioner Navarro and Portland's Kelly Shoppach all project as future major league starters behind the plate. Binghamton's Justin Huber and Mike Jacobs both have the hitting potential to be regular big league catchers. A team that puts a premium on defense might be tempted to play Bowie's Max St. Pierre every day.
"There are some no-brainer catchers in this league," Harrisburg manager Dave Machemer said.
But there was no debate as to who was the top catcher and best overall prospect in the league. Scouts and managers raved about Mauer, BA's 2003 Minor League Player of the Year.
"It all starts with Mauer," one scout said. "When I saw Jose Reyes, I thought he was the best prospect I'd ever seen. Mauer is right up there."
1. Joe Mauer, c, New Britain Rock Cats (Twins)
He's just 20, but EL managers talked about Mauer like he was a 10-year veteran. Behind the plate, he's extremely fluid, despite his 6-foot-4 frame. He flashed an 80 arm with a quick release, throwing out a league-best 47 percent of basestealers, but managers were just as impressed with his ability to call a game and settle down pitchers.
At the plate, Mauer shows an advanced ability to hit to all fields and excellent pitch recognition. The only knock against him is that he has yet to hit for power. Unlike many young hitters, Mauer needs to become more pull-conscious. He hit only five home runs in 509 at-bats between high Class A and Double-A this year, and he has a career .423 slugging percentage.
But while Mauer hasn't shown much pop yet, few scouts and managers expect it to be a long-term problem.
"He'll develop more power," Machemer said. "He has a great smooth swing, and he has size and strength."