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2023 MLB Draft Stock Watch: Catcher Preview



In today’s 2023 stock watch, we’re beginning a position by position preview for the 2023 draft class, starting with the position furthest up the defensive spectrum: catcher.

Catchers are the least productive offensive players in the majors, and it’s not particularly close, but as we’ve written about previously at Baseball America, we could be entering a new golden era for the position. There are a number of talented catching prospects who are soon to be entrenched big leaguers, with D-backs catcher Gabriel Moreno leading the way.

The matriculation of prospects like Adley Rutschman, Korey Lee, Keibert Ruiz and Shea Langeliers, as well as looming prospects including Francisco Alvarez, Diego Cartaya, Endy Rodriguez and Tyler Soderstrom, could adjust how we view catching talent in the majors, in addition to various rules changes that could tweak how teams value catcher profiles in general.

A catcher’s arm strength and accuracy could become more important in upcoming years, as rules MLB adopted for 2023 including restrictions on pickoff throws and the pitch clock will make it easier for players to steal bases. Similar rules in the minors led to dramatic increases in the number of steals and the success rate.

The last five years have been strong ones for the catcher position, particularly at the top of the draft. Since 2018 at least one catcher has been selected among the top 15 picks. There’s a chance that doesn’t happen in the 2023 draft, as the highest-ranked catcher on our current draft board is Virginia backstop Kyle Teel, who checks in at No. 21.

Below is an overview of the 2023 catching class as it stands today, with information on current top-100 prospects, other catchers to know and a 20-80 grade on the talent of the position relative to an average draft year. We’ll revisit these position previews at the end of the draft cycle and see if our preseason grade holds up or needs adjustment.  

Top drafted catchers of all time (by bWAR):

  1. Johnny Bench, Reds (1965, 2nd round) — 75.1
  2. Gary Carter, Expos (1972, 3rd round) — 70.2
  3. Eddie Murray, Orioles (1973, 1st round) — 68.7
  4. Craig Biggio, Astros (1987, 1st round) — 65.5
  5. Joey Votto, Reds (2002, 2nd round) — 64.3
  6. Joe Mauer, Twins (2001, 1st round) — 55.2
  7. Ted Simmons, Cardinals (1967, 1st round) — 50.3
  8. Josh Donaldson, Cubs (2007, supp. 1st round) — 46.7
  9. Dale Murphy, Braves (1974, 1st round) — 46.5
  10. Thurman Munson, Yankees (1968, 1st round) — 46.1
  11. Buster Posey, Giants (2008, 1st round) — 44.8
  12. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (2000, 4th round) — 42.2
  13. Jason Kendall, Pirates (1992, 1st round) — 41.7
  14. Darrell Porter, Brewers (1970, 1st round) — 40.9
  15. Brian McCann, Braves (2002, 2nd round) — 32.0

Top drafted catchers of the bonus pool era:

  1. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs (2014, 1st round) — 11.2
  2. Will Smith, Dodgers (2016, 1st round) — 10.8
  3. Mike Zunino, Mariners (2012, 1st round) — 9.8
  4. Sean Murphy, A’s (2016, 3rd round) — 7.9
  5. Mitch Garver, Twins (2013, 9th round) — 7.7
  6. Daulton Varsho, D-backs (2017, 2nd round) — 6.7
  7. Danny Jansen, Blue Jays (2013, 16th round) — 6.5
  8. Luke Voit, Cardinals (2013, 16th round) — 5.6
  9. Jacob Stallings, Pirates (2012, 7th round) — 5.3 
  10. Adley Rutschman, Orioles (2019 1st round) — 5.2

Number of top 100-ranked catchers in each draft class (bonus pool era)

  • 2012: 9
  • 2013: 7
  • 2014: 9
  • 2015: 5
  • 2016: 10
  • 2017: 9
  • 2018: 7
  • 2019: 4
  • 2020: 8
  • 2021: 9
  • 2022: 7
  • 2023: 7 

2023 Top 100 Catchers:

21. Kyle Teel, Virginia

Teel has an impressive foundation of natural athleticism, with strong contact and zone control abilities as well as solid all-fields power as a lefthanded catcher. That combination makes him one of the most appealing backstops in the 2023 class, especially after hitting .305/.409/.481 with 15 home runs and 23 doubles over his first two seasons with Virginia. Teel has plus arm strength behind the dish, but needs to refine his defensive ability behind the plate.

25. Blake Mitchell, Sinton (Texas) HS

Mitchell is the clear-cut top prep catcher in the class, and brings an enviable package of power to the table. He has a well-developed and muscular physique that could allow him to get to plus raw power in the future as a lefthanded hitter, and he has one of the best throwing arms in the class as well, with plenty of sub-2.0-second pop times in games and a fastball that’s been into the mid 90s on the mound. If he improves his contact ability, he has exceptional upside.

57. Ralphy Velazquez, Huntington Beach (Calif.) HS 

Velazquez made a name for himself as a bat-first catcher as an underclassman, but his impressive fall, which included improved defensive work behind the plate, made him one of the biggest up-arrow prospects in the 2023 class. With better feedback on his ability to stick behind the plate, Velazquez has an exciting profile, with above-average raw power from the left side, a strong ability to control the zone and plus arm strength.

72. Ryder Helfrick, Clayton Valley HS, Concord, Calif.

Helfrick is a well-rounded high school catching prospect with a solid foundation of defensive ability behind the plate. He is quick and athletic, with above-average arm strength and a fast release, and he’s also a good runner for a catcher, with above-average run times. He has impressive bat speed from the right side and makes hard contact, but could improve his pitch recognition and swing decisions.

76. Campbell Smithwick, Oxford (Miss.) HS

Smithwick has an impressive batting eye at the plate and offers a sound offensive profile as a lefthanded hitter that’s built around his on-base ability. He doesn’t often chase out of the strike zone, and has some pull-side power with a leveraged, uphill swing. He has solid catch-and-throw skills behind the plate as well.

78. Jack Payton, Louisville

Next up in a strong recent line of Louisville catching prospects that includes No. 1 overall pick Henry Davis (2021) and Dalton Rushing (2022), Payton had a monstrous 2022 season and hit .350/.429/.504 with 23 doubles. Payton has hammered fastballs, including 93-plus mph velocity, and has plenty of strength in his frame that should turn some of those doubles into home runs in 2023, when he should be the team’s everyday backstop after splitting duties with Rushing in 2022.

97. Michael Carico, Davidson

Carico had a breakout season with Davidson in 2022, when he hit .406/.559/.843 with 21 home runs and 21 doubles. He led Division I hitters in OBP and was named a third-team All-American. Carico hasn’t faced significant samples of major league-caliber velocity, but his contact rates in general are exceptional and he also shows solid actions and receiving ability behind the plate.

Other Notable Catchers:

  • Corey Collins, Georgia — Collins dealt with injuries in high school that prevented him from being seen as frequently as he otherwise would have, and since getting to campus at Georgia he’s shown impressive power as a lefthanded hitter. His production against fastballs is impressive, but he needs to improve against secondaries and there’s a decent chance he moves off catcher in pro ball.
  • Fernando Gonzalez, Georgia — Gonzalez is the defense-first backstop on the 2023 Georgia team. How he splits time with Collins this spring will be interesting to see, but scouts praise his ability to handle top-tier arms as a defender, even if he’s more of a below-average or fringy offensive profile.
  • Calvin Harris, Mississippi — Harris split time at catcher and in the outfield in 2022 while playing on the same team as Hayden Dunhurst, but should get more time behind the plate in 2023. He flashed impressive contact ability out of high school and in 2023 showed solid average and on-base ability, if not much power potential.
  • Cooper Ingle, Clemson — Ingle stands out for his bat-to-ball skills and ability to control the strike zone. He showcased some of the best strike-zone discipline in the Cape Cod League in 2022 and throughout his Clemson career has made contact at an 87% rate, while chasing out of the zone at just a 20% rate.
  • Riley Jackson, Eau Gallie HS, Melbourne, Fla. — A bat-first catching prospect, Jackson is strong and physical with the ability to put a charge into the ball from the right side. He can be inconsistent, particularly against secondary offerings, and will need to refine his defensive ability.
  • Bennett Lee, Wake Forest — Coaches rave about Lee’s defensive ability behind the plate, and in 2023 he’ll get plenty of opportunities catching premium stuff after transferring from Tulane to Wake Forest. He has solid raw power and walks at a solid clip, so if he performs with the bat in the ACC, he could rocket up boards.
  • Zion Rose, IMG Academy, Bradenton, Fla. — Rose has one of the most physically impressive bodies in the 2023 class. He’s extremely athletic, runs well for a catcher and has an endearing, all-out style of play. His pure bat-to-ball skills are strong and after transferring to IMG Academy for his senior year, he'll get plenty of opportunities to prove his abilities on both sides of the ball.
  • Luke Shliger, Maryland — Shliger had a breakout season in 2022 where he hit .349/.492/.598 with 12 home runs and 22 doubles for Maryland. While his power disappeared in the wood-bat Cape Cod League, he continued to get on base at a high clip (.412) and generally makes pitchers work by not expanding the zone.
  • Alex Sosa, Viera (Fla.) HS — Sosa intrigued scouts over the summer with impressive bat speed and a sweet swing from the left side of the plate. He’s strong and physical with a chance to hit for power and profile as a bat-first catcher if he can tighten his defensive actions.
  • Jared Thomas, Loyola Marymount — Thomas was eligible in 2022 and ranked at the back of the BA 500 after a solid season with Loyola Marymount, where he hit .306/.394/.472 with solid actions behind the plate.

2023 Class Catcher Grade: 40

The top 100 depth of the 2023 class seems comparable to recent years, but a lack of impact talent at the top of the list holds it back for now. 

Jason Savacool Billmitchell

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