Ask anyone what the most difficult position to draft in baseball is, and some might throw out pitching and shortstops. However, from the standpoint of being able to draft, develop and get a player to live up to their full potential, it has to be catcher.
A big reason it is so difficult to find catching is because the position is more physically and mentally demanding than any other spot on the field. These players have to know everything about their pitchers and how to call games, take a beating from foul balls and wild pitches, understand the strengths and weaknesses of opposing hitters and still make time to develop their hitting.
Since the offensive bar for catching is so low, and the value of an excellent defensive catcher is incredibly high, we seem to expect less production from the position.
Looking at the crop of catchers in this year's class, it is not a star-studded group, but there are a few names at the top of the heap who have the potential to be, at worst, solid regulars behind the plate. There is a huge drop after the top three, who all project to be first-round picks.
Here is a look at the top five catching prospects in the upcoming 2013 Major League Baseball Draft.
No. 1: Reese McGuire, Kentwood HS (Kent, WA)
Strengths: Best defensive catcher in the draft. He is a tremendous athlete behind the plate with great agility and already shows the ability to block breaking balls in the dirt.
Receiving skills are solid already. He also boasts the best pop times (usually in the 1.8-1.9 second range) and strongest throwing arm among all catchers in this class.
Weaknesses: Still very raw offensively. McGuire does boast above-average raw power but struggles to have it show up in games.
Swing gets long thanks to a bat wrap and high leg kick that throws off his timing, especially against better velocity. Despite good receiving skills, still shows a tendency to stab at the ball with the glove.
Overall Future Potential: McGuire has the most raw potential of any catcher in this class. His defensive skills alone could make him a starter for a long time, but he will have to prove that his offense will be good enough to play every day. Being able to get the bat through the zone quicker and improving his pitch recognition will determine if he is a star or just another catcher.
No. 2: Jon Denney, Yukon HS (Yukon, OK)
Strengths: Solid offensive skill set with bat speed and raw power. He has a very quiet approach at the plate with no wasted movement, and bat control allows him to barrel the ball on a consistent basis.
Solid-average throwing arm behind the plate. Not the most accurate thrower in the world, but will make enough plays to stay as a catcher. He could move off the position to get his bat moving quicker, though that would significantly lower his value.
Weaknesses: Overall defensive skills leave something to be desired. Very raw as a receiver and still struggles to move behind the plate. Balls in the dirt are going to give him problems. Denney will have problems adjusting to off-speed stuff and can get a little too reliant on his bat speed instead of playing the ball.
Overall Future Potential: Denney has the most offensive upside among catchers in this draft class. He also projects to be an above-average overall hitter, so if he is even fringe-average defensively, he could be a star. Due to questions about his glove, there is a chance he could be relegated to first base or DH.
No. 3: Nick Ciuffo, Lexington HS (Charleston, SC)
Strengths: Like Denney, Ciuffo has a very good swing from the left side of the plate and projects to have above-average power. He also shows a strong ability to make contact, which gives him a good chance to be an average hitter.
Above-average arm strength from behind the plate. Receiving skills are very strong, among the best in the class. Good, strong catcher frame at 6'1", 200 pounds.
Weaknesses: Shows inconsistent pop times from behind the plate, ranging anywhere from 1.85-2.0. Also struggles to make the throw down to second base. Denney will pull off the ball too often, leading to strikeouts and more soft contact than you would like.
Overall Future Potential: Good raw tools behind the plate. Arm strength and receiving skills will play right away, but he does have to show more consistency with his throwing motion. Even with some struggles offensively, Denney has enough power and bat speed to eventually become an average hitter. He has the ceiling of an All Star, though he could carve out a nice career as a solid regular if the glove and hit tools don't progress as expected.
No. 4: Chris Okey, Eustis HS (Mt. Dora, FL)
Strengths: Okey has an average defensive profile, with some arm strength and decent receiving skills. He is never going to be considered elite behind the plate, but should be adequate thanks to a good frame and projectable skills. He has some ability to hit for average thanks to bat speed.
Weaknesses: Overall defensive skill set leaves something to the desired. Okey also has a limited offensive profile because his swing is not going to produce a lot of power. He takes very little stride in his load and uses more of his upper body to drive the ball. He will have gap power, but home run pop will likely be fringy.
Overall Future Potential: Okey's best bet to get to the big leagues is as a defensive-oriented catcher with arm strength, ability to block balls and some athleticism. His bat is not going to be special due to lack of power projection, but his bat speed could help him become a .260-.270 hitter.
No. 5: Andrew Knapp, California
Strengths: Knapp offers the kind of floor that the first four catchers on the list don't. He is still raw as a hitter, but he knows how to catch good velocity and breaking stuff having played in the Pac-12 for the last three years.
Weaknesses: He doesn't offer much offensive upside, as his bat speed is just adequate and power is fringy. He has shown improvement as a hitter, increasing his average from .265 last season to .350 this year. Knapp does struggle receiving the ball, which is a red flag for a college catcher, and his arm strength is average.
Overall Future Potential: Knapp is the kind of catcher who could end up being in the big leagues for 10 years as a backup thanks to his athleticism and some tools with the bat. He will have to show vast improvement in his receiving and throwing skills, as well as the ability to make contact, in order to be a starter.
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