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Miami’s Collins Tops College Catching Draft Class

College position players are always a highly valued commodity in the draft. Scouts can watch college players develop over several years, establishing a level of comfort in their evaluations that cannot be matched by prep players. Furthermore, evaluators can watch college players against strong competition each spring, as well as the summer, when many of the top collegiate prospects participate in highly competitive wood-bat leagues.

Some positions are valued more than others in the draft process, with up-the-middle defenders often carrying the most potential. This year’s college class is light on shortstops and outfielders who could stick in center field at the next level, but the depth of college catching has emerged as a strength of the 2016 class.

Miami catcher Zack Collins appears to be the top catching prospect in the class. Collins has been well-known in amateur scouting circles for quite some time, having participated in some of the top high school showcases leading up to his senior year in high school. The Reds selected him in the 27th round of the 2013 draft, but Collins opted to honor his commitment to Miami, and it appears that his decision will pay off. He’s likely to be selected in the first round of this year’s draft.

Collins is batting .425/.587/.726, ranking first in the nation in OBP. He’s a lefthanded hitter with plus power potential and a patient approach. Collins leads the nation with 48 walks, and his plate discipline has improved this season. Through his first 150 plate appearances, he drew 68 three-ball counts, according to Miami’s athletic communications department.

Collins has made impressive progress offensively, but it’s his defensive improvements that have him in first-round consideration. Once thought to be a bat-only prospect, Collins has turned into a potential next-level catcher.

“Going into this year I thought for sure I had to get better defensively to prove to everybody that I can catch at the next level and I think I’ve done that so far,” Collins said. “I left the Cape early to come work with a catching coach, and coach (Norberto) Lopez, our new catching coach, has helped me out a ton.”

“I think I’m getting better every single day. I don’t think there’s one thing that I can tell you that I’m good enough at right now, so me and Lopez, we work at everything every single day—blocking, receiving, catching and throwing—everything, so I just try to get better every day.”

When asked which major league players inspire him, Collins identified Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy. “Right now I think he’s the best defensive catcher in the big leagues, if you just look at numbers and how he holds strikes in the box and throws out runners,” Collins said of Lucroy.

Even at the collegiate level, Collins thinks about pitch framing.

“Some umpires allow us to go out a little further and some umpires don’t, so you’ve just got to adjust to the game,” Collins said of pitch-framing, noting that his technique is tailored to individual pitchers. “If pitchers have more movement you have to set up inside or outside, whatever . . . it’s just adjustments.”

Collins understands the idea of pitch-framing, though there are better receivers than him in this year’s class. On the college side, Jake Rogers (Tulane), Michael Barash (Texas A&M) and Sean Murphy (Wright State) are ahead of him, to name a few.

While Collins is not a plus defender, his progress is encouraging, and even if teams believe he’s a below-average defender, he’s made more evaluators believe that he can be a catcher. 

“His defense is a 40 (on the 20-80 scouting scale), but when you have that kind of offensive output, he’s still extremely valuable,” an official with an American League club said.

Multiple Options

Collins headlines the 2016 crop of catching, but he’s only one part of a college class that may be the deepest the draft has seen in several years. Over the past 10 drafts, 69 college catchers have been selected in the top five rounds, an average of about seven per season, with the most in a given year being nine.

Collins, Rogers, Barash and Murphy are joined by Andrew Knizner (North Carolina State), Chris Okey (Clemson), Matt Thaiss (Virginia), Brett Cumberland (California) and Logan Ice (Oregon State) as college catchers who are candidates to be picked in the top few rounds. There are several other college catchers in the mix in the relatively early rounds, including Nick Sciortino (Boston College), Cassidy Brown (Loyola Marymount), Michael Hernandez (Division II Nova Southeastern) and junior college prospect Tyler Lancaster (Spartanburg, S.C., Methodist). 

“There’s some depth in college catching,” an American League scouting director said. “There is no slam dunk superstar, but there may be a lot of big leaguers.”

This year’s catchers could come off the board quickly. Even if there are just a few everyday players, the class could still produce several major leaguers.

Of the 30 starting catchers in the majors, 15 were drafted out of college. Of the 34 backup catchers to appear in the major leagues so far this season, 13 were drafted out of college.

It’s clear that teams see value in college catchers. Whether it’s for their experience, leadership skills or longer track records, they are valued early in the draft, and fill many of the major league catching roles.

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