If you’re not a Nationals fan, your team probably isn’t going to draft Bryce Harper next month. If you’re not a Twins fan, your team could probably use some more catching prospects in the pipeline. Fortunately, the pool of collegiate backstops is more than just Bryce.
There are plenty of places online to find scouting reports and video. I’m taking a different angle. What if we looked only at results—the demonstrated skills of everyone in college baseball?
For college catchers, I now have offense numbers adjusted for park, schedule and luck, along with defense and baserunning stats. These figures may not indicate a player’s ceiling, but for mature prospects like these guys, they have plenty to tell us.
To rank draft-eligible catchers, I used all that information (offense, defense and baserunning) for each of the last three seasons, with more recent seasons weighted more heavily. The familiar names land near the top, but not always in the order you’d expect. And a stats-only approach unveils some sleepers for draft day.
1. Yasmani Grandal – Miami
Grandal not only has a cool name, he’s far and away the leader of the pack. His OPS is over 1.300, making him the clear leader on offense for the second year running. His defense is solid if not spectacular. He’s no Harper, or even Matt Wieters, but he’s a very, very good prospect in a year with a middling college crop. The rumor mill has him going as early as the top five, and he deserves to be there.
2. Cody Stanley – UNC Wilmington
Next to Grandal, Stanley is the best all-around backstop. His baserunning numbers are the best of this group (including 12 steals in 14 tries this year)—obviously not the most important thing in evaluating a college catcher, but they may suggest he’ll age more gracefully than others. He’s a bit small (listed at 5-foot-10 or 5-foot-11), but his demonstrated skill puts him clearly in the top three here.
3. Bryan Holaday – Texas Christian
Another smallish guy who has gotten it done on the field. According to my numbers, he’s been the best defensive catcher in Division One over the last three years, and he’s combined that with solid offense each year. He’s only a tick behind Stanley overall, meaning that when some team gets around to taking him in the eighth round or so, it may get a steal.
4. Cameron Rupp – Texas
On the strength of a big season at the plate last year, Rupp gets more attention than either Stanley or Holaday. He’s demonstrated his ability behind the plate, but a weaker offensive season as a junior makes me wonder what kind of potential he really has. A 23 percent strikeout rate this year counts heavily against him.
5. Micah Gibbs – LSU
Gibbs started the season higher on draft boards, but like his LSU squad in general, he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. His defense numbers have sagged this year after an impressive four runs above average last season, and his bat hasn’t been enough to lift him into elite territory. If the scouts were right about him all along, he may turn out to be a pleasant surprise.
6. Blake Forsythe – Tennessee
These last three spots are separated by decimal points, so Forsythe, the least-hyped of the trio, may turn out to be the best deal on draft day. He has also been better than Rupp and Gibbs if you limit the analysis to 2009 and 2010, as his freshman year was below average.
There’s a huge gap between Rupp/Gibbs/Forsythe and everybody else. You’ll hear names like Michael Kvasnicka (Minnesota) and Robert Brantly (UC Riverside), but to the extent they are elite players, it’s due to factors that didn’t show up in the results until this season. Even if we only look at 2010, Kvasnicka doesn’t have the offensive resume of Stanley or Gibbs. He also hasn’t played much catcher, so it’s tough to say whether he can stick there.
There are some other guys worth looking at, though. The clear No. 7 on the list is Ben Heath of Penn State, who has had a monster season at the plate, outhitting every other D-1 backstop except for Grandal. His performance has come out of nowhere: Before this year’s 1.200 OPS (including a nearly 1.500 OPS on Friday nights), he managed only .750 in 2009.
Rounding out the top 10 are three guys who should get more love for their defense. David Frietas (Hawaii), Jeff Arnold (Louisville) and Gregg Glime (Baylor) were among the best defensive backstops this year, and all were solidly above average at the plate, as well. Frietas is a bit more of a question mark than the others, as he transferred this year from a California junior college. All three probably have ceilings somewhere between backup catcher and bench coach.
There’s never enough quality catching to go around, but for teams picking in the latter half of the first round, there are some solid candidates after Harper and Grandal. Stanley and Holaday, especially, will be available for several rounds. Future stars they are not, but the next Jonathan Lucroy? Maybe so.