Backstops tough to catch in this year's Draft
Two high schoolers lead thin group of talent behind plate
Developing catching is a necessity for every team. But it's much easier said than done.
Finding quality backstops in this year's Draft will be a greater challenge than usual as the group of available catchers is particularly thin. The top two are both high schoolers, both expected to be difficult to sign, and one of them might not stay behind the plate.
"There aren't not many options," one scouting director said. "There's a handful, I guess. It's almost next to a non-existent class. But every year, someone will take [catchers] on. Blake Swihart's bat is worth taking a shot [on]. He can play anywhere. Austin Hedges is clearly the best catcher, but the rest of it's not as clear."
To see when the catchers go, tune in to live coverage of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft, beginning with a one-hour preview show on Monday, June 6, at 6 p.m. ET on MLB.com and MLB Network, followed by the first round and supplemental compensation round. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Days 2 and 3, featuring a live pick-by-pick stream, expert commentary and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of every Draft-eligible player. You can also keep up to date at Draft Central and by following @MLBDraft on Twitter. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.
For now, here's a primer on the few top backstops who teams will be looking at during the early stages of the Draft. Where they rank in the Draft Top 50 Prospects are in parentheses.
Blake Swihart, Cleveland HS, N.M. (19)
One of the better high school bats in the Draft, Swihart can hit for average and power from both sides of the plate -- and he's relatively new to switch-hitting. He's got a very strong arm and could be decent defensively behind the plate, but teams may want to make a Bryce Harper-like move and put his bat in an outfield corner position, where it certainly would play just fine. The biggest question about this New Mexico product is his signability. He's made a strong commitment to the University of Texas and it will likely take an above-slot deal to get him to go pro.
Austin Hedges, Junipero Serra HS, Calif. (32)
While Swihart might be the best high school hitter at this position, there's no question Hedges has the top glove, probably among all the catchers in this class. The California prepster is above-average to plus behind the plate across the board and he's a high-energy leader. Right now, he's a better defender than he is a hitter, but most believe he'll hit enough to be a very good everyday catcher. Like with Swihart, getting him to that next level will be difficult as Hedges is supposed to be a tough sign.
Andrew Susac, Oregon State (36)
A legitimate prospect out of high school, Susac went to Oregon State instead of signing. Now a Draft-eligible sophomore, there are mixed reports about Susac. He's got some legitimate power, particularly to his pull side as a right-handed hitter, but there is some question about whether he'll hit enough to tap into that power. He's improved his defense this year, though he's a little stiff, and shows glimpses of a plus throwing arm. He missed time with a broken left hamate bone, but that shouldn't impact his status too much. A team that saw him play very well over the summer and believes he can be an everyday catcher might take him in the opening round.
Peter O'Brien, Bethune-Cookman (40)
When the spring began, O'Brien was in the conversation about top catchers and as a collegian he looked destined to be a first rounder. But the player who excelled for Team USA last summer has not been consistent this year. He still has good raw power, but some worry about him making enough contact to get to the power. He shows glimpses of a strong arm, but overall his defense needs work. The dearth of catching might mean O'Brien gets an early look, but not nearly as early as people once thought.
Nick Delmonico, Farragut HS, TN (43)
The son of former Tennessee head coach Rod Delmonico, Nick plays like a coach's son, with advanced knowledge of the game, particularly at the plate. It's his bat that will get him drafted, as he has a nice left-handed swing that should allow him to hit for average and some power. He's got tremendous strike-zone judgment as well. He hasn't been catching for very long, focusing on it this year for the first time after having been largely an infielder. He's raw defensively, and some have doubts about his ability to stay behind the plate, but others believe he has the skills to be average if he sticks with it. A left-handed-hitting catcher is always a hot commodity, so a team that believes he can stay behind the plate might take a shot.
Others: Brett Austin, Providence HS, N.C.; John Hicks, Virginia; Tyler Marlette, Hagerty HS, Fla.; Pratt Maynard, North Carolina State; James McCann, Arkansas.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.