2013 Prospects in Review: Catcher

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Among Oscar Hernandez, Curt Casali, David Rodriguez, and Nick Ciuffo, the Rays have a sizable collection of catching talent.

Center Field
Right Field
Left Field

After recapping all the outfield positions, we move onto the infield. Up first is the catcher position. Click on the links above to check out the previous entries.

Catcher

The catcher profile can be summed up in one word: defense. Since catching is the most demanding defensive position on the spectrum, defense at the catcher position is imperative. Top prospects rarely come in the catcher profile; many excellent hitters are moved off the position to protect their legs (Wil Myers, Bryce Harper) while many traditional athletes prefer a different defensive home. Catchers also have the lowest success rates of all prospects, and many of the best catchers in baseball right now were never top prospects.

24. Oscar Hernandez (19 Y.O. in Short Season Class-A and Class-A)
192 PAs, .227/.286/.364, 6.8 BB%, 13.0 K%, 6 HR, 12 XBH

When Oscar Hernandez first came stateside, everyone was eager to see how his bat would perform. In 2012, he hit fairly well (110 wRC+) as an 18 year old in rookie ball. Promoted to Hudson Valley this year with a three game stint in Bowling Green, Hernandez didn't hit quite as well (96 wRC+ in Hudson Valley), but he showed why there is much enthusiasm for his future, as evidenced by his #2 ranking in the New York Penn League by Baseball America.

Defensively, Oscar Hernandez has the makings of being an elite defender in his prime, possibly one of the best in baseball. His arm rates as plus to plus-plus currently, and he throws accurately as well. The arm shows in his caught stealing rates; he threw out 16 of the 28 runners with Hudson Valley and the sole runner with Bowling Green. A 59% caught stealing rate is terrific for a catcher. Hernandez is athletic behind the plate, blocking pitches well for his age, and he has shown a desire to become an excellent framer of pitches. His athleticism shows in his stolen bases as well, as he stole nine bases and was caught only once. While his season wasn't great offensively, he still showed his potential with the bat. His strikeout rate was low, he showed signs of power (six home runs this year, and a .163 ISO in 2012), and he walked at a modest rate (it was better in 2011-2012).

Mayo Acosta (25 Y.O. in Double-A)
262 PA, .197/.259/.321, 8.0 BB%, 23.3 K%, 7 HR, 15 XBH

After moving across three levels in 2013 to fill in holes with different teams, Acosta spend the entire 2013 season with Montgomery. Acosta is not a serious prospect; his 2012 stands out as an outlier. He wasn't terrible before 2012 though, and he isn't incredibly old, so if he can bounce back after a poor 2013, there is a chance he could catch on as a second or third catcher.

Craig Albernaz (30 Y.O. in Triple-A)
115 PA, .225/.279/.304, 6.1 BB%, 19.1 K%, 1 HR, 5 XBH

Craig Albernaz is the prototypical organizational soldier. The Rays like his defense and the way he handles young pitchers, so he worked with the young arms with the Durham Bulls. At the plate, Albernaz is very weak, and considering he is exiting the typical prime offensive years, there is not much reason to think he will get better. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Rays retain him again this year.

Juan Apodaca (26 Y.O. in Triple-A)
97 PA, .238/.333/.357, 9.3 BB%, 25.8 K%, 1 HR, 7 XBH

After dealing the once promising catching prospect Robinson Chirinos, the Rays aquired Juan Apodaca for cash considerations from the Rangers, the team the Rays traded Chirinos to. The move was designed to bolster the Rays catching depth in the upper minors, which was depleted after the departures of Stephen Vogt and Chirinos. In June, after a poor trial with Durham, the Rays released Apodaca, and he proceeded to catch on with a team in Indy ball.

Jesus Araiza (20 Y.O. in Rookie Ball and Class-A)
205 PA, .279/.363/.324, 9.8 BB%, 15.1 K%, 0 HR, 7 XBH

While Araiza's name rarely pops up when discussing prospects, he performed solidly this year. As a 20 year old in Princeton, Araiza hit for a high average and showed a good walk rate. Unfortunately, he displayed very little power, hitting zero home runs and collecting only seven extra base hits. The low minors are crowded with catchers, so consistent playing time could be an issue.

Lucas Bailey (22 Y.O. in Advanced Class-A)
149 PA, .180/.221/.230, 4.1 BB%, 29.1 K%, 1 HR, 5 XBH

Once a favorite of prospect followers, Bailey is quickly falling out of the picture. Repeating Port Charlotte, Bailey was limited to only 43 games courtesy of a shoulder injury. In the time he did play, he was a disaster. His peripherals went even further backwards, and his one saving grace in the past several years, his power, deserted him. Though he has a strong arm, Bailey needs to show that his bat has promise for him to stick around.

Curt Casali (24 Y.O. in Advanced Class-A and Double-A)
329 PA, .316/.404/.488, 11.9 BB%, 14.9 K%, 10 HR, 28 XBH

Few prospects in the system raised their stock more dramatically than Casali. Acquired by the Rays from the Tigers for Kyle Lobstein (who also had a very good year), Casali carried the reputation of a glove-first catcher. In 2013, he dispelled that image. He had a 116 wRC+ in Port Charlotte, and a 216 (!) wRC+ in Montgomery.

The most remarkable aspect of Casali's season was how well rounded and complete it was. He hit for a high average, walked at a very good rate, struck out at a below average rate, and hit for above average power. His CS% was a little low, but his reputation is that of a good defender. About the only negative was his age; however, catchers tend to develop more slowly, so it is not much of a concern. This season wasn't out of nowhere, as he hit for a .792 OPS in 2012. If he continues to hit next year, he has the upside of an everyday catcher.

Keith Castillo (25 Y.O. in Double-A)
132 PA, .190/.288/.284, 12.1 BB%, 25.8 K%, 1 HR, 9 XBH

Castillo got off to a late start stateside, first playing in the U.S. in 2011 at age 23. After hitting well in a small sample size, he hasn't hit since. Though he walked at an above average rate, he strikes out a lot and hits for little average or power. When Curt Casali was promoted, he received inconsistent playing time. Castillo did not play at all near the end of the season, so I'm not sure if he was released.

Nick Ciuffo (18 Y.O. in Rookie League)
169 PA, .258/.296/.308, 5.3 BB%, 23.7 K%, 0 HR, 7 XBH

The top pick by the Rays in the 2013 draft, Nick Ciuffo got off to a rough start in professional ball. Ciuffo doesn't project as a top hitter, but scouting reports indicated he has above average to plus power. However, he didn't hit a single home run in pro ball and smacked only seven extra base hits. His strikeout and walk rates also need improvement. If his short stint with the GCL Rays was of any indication, Ciuffo has some work to do with the bat. However, catching prospects with good tools receive plenty of leeway in that regard.

Jake DePew (21 Y.O. in Advanced Class-A)
230 PA, .223/..274/.261, 6.5 BB%, 17.0 K%, 1 HR, 6 XBH

Drafted in the 9th round of the 2011 draft, DePew took an overslot deal to forgo his scholarship to Louisville. Since signing, he has failed to hit, and in 2013, the Rays sent him to Port Charlotte as a stop gap measure. His 2012 performance in Hudson Valley (.541 OPS) certainly didn't warrant the skip of a level, but Bailey's shoulder injury necessitated it. DePew unsurprisingly struggled, hitting for a meager .535 OPS. If the Rays decisions this past year are any indication, DePew is viewed more as an organizational player than a serious prospect.

Wilmer Dominguez (23 Y.O. in Rookie Ball)
60 PA, .164/.220/.164, 6.7 BB%, 26.7 K%, 0 HR, 0 XBH

Few players who first play in the GCL at 22 years old are significant prospects. And after hitting zero extra base hits in the 2013 season, Dominguez certainly isn't changing anyone's mind. While having a number of catching options in the low minors is important, Dominguez's spot in the organization is probably in jeopardy after his 2012 and 2013 campaigns.

Jesus Flores (28 Y.O. in Triple-A)
189 PA, .178/.212/.244, 3.7 BB%, 22.2 K%, 2 HR, 8 XBH

The Rays signed Jesus Flores to a minor league deal in an under-the-radar move in June this year. Jesus Flores has an interesting back story. After a terrific season in the Mets farm system in Advanced Class-A as a 21 year old, he was selected in the Rule 5 draft by the Nationals and stayed with them for the full season. His 79 wRC+ was not terrible for a player jumping from A ball to the major leagues, and his 129 wRC+ in 2009 gave many hope that he would develop into a good starting catcher. However, he missed the entire 2010 season with injuries and performed very poorly in 2011 and 2012. He signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers in 2013, but was released after only 80 plate appearances in Triple-A.

So when the Rays signed him, they were hoping to buy low on a player who once showed significant promise. However, Flores' time with the Bulls was very uninspiring, a sign that he just isn't the player he was before the stress fracture in his shoulder. While splitting time with Chris Gimenez, Flores hit a pitiful .178 with few walks marginal power.

Chris Gimenez (30 Y.O. in Triple-A)
375 PA, .224/.350/.305, 15.2 BB%, 16.8 K%, 3 HR, 19 XBH

Partnered with Jesus Flores for much of the year was Chris Gimenez. While many fans clamored for Gimenez to make the Rays opening day roster over Jose Lobaton due to a solid late season stint with the Rays and a good season in Durham, the Rays wisely elected to send him to Triple-A. While he showed a very good K/BB rate, Gimenez hit for a low average and poor power, leading to a 93 wRC+. While he is a fine 3rd catcher to stash away in Triple-A, Gimenez's chance as a consistent major league player likely has passed.

Taylor Hawkins (19 Y.O. in Rookie League)
139 PA, .171/.259/.252, 7.9 BB%, 26.6 K%, 1 HR, 8 XBH

Taylor Hawkins is another example of an above slot toolsy high school draft pick that has failed to pan out. His draft report indicated that he had plus power, which led to 74 home runs in high school, one short of the national record set by Jeff Clement. So far in pro ball, that power has been absent. He hit only one home run this year, his first in pro ball, and has has 10 career extra base hits. None of the other tools have stood out either. Hawkins is a catcher and he has good raw power, but he needs to start showing it in games.

Luke Maile (22 Y.O. in Class-A)
407 PA, .283/.351/.402, 10.1 BB%, 13.3 K%, 4 HR, 32 XBH

While many of the Rays catching prospects are defense-first players, Maile is the opposite. In college, scouts questioned his defense, though it is worth noting that he was statistically excellent defensively this year. He threw out 51% of base runners and allowed only two passed balls. However, it was Maile's offense that caused him to be drafted by the Rays in the 8th round. He hit for a 114 wRC+ this year, showing a very good K/BB rate but not much power (.119 ISO). Maile was a 22 year old playing in the Midwest League, so he was old for a top prospect at the level. While Maile probably won't show up on any top 30 lists, he definitely is in the conversation for the top 50.

Ryan McChesney (23 Y.O. in Short Season Class-A and Advanced Class-A)
101 PA, .247/.396/.333, 10.0 BB%, 10.0 K%, 1 HR, 5 XBH

An undrafted free agent signed by the Rays during 2012, McChesney helped with some fill in duty this past season. When the Rays had a shortage of catchers with Port Charlotte, McChesney stepped in. The rest of the season was spent with Hudson Valley. While McChesney has shown very good plate discipline, his inability to hit for an average or for power hurts him. He has taken advantage of the wildness of younger pitches, but that probably won't work up the ladder.

Chad Nacapoy (23 Y.O. in Rookie League)
41 PA, .158/.200/.158, 4.9 BB%, 34.1 K%, 0 HR, 0 XBH

Like McChesney, Nacapoy's primary role is to fill in the holes in the low minors. The Rays' 38th round pick in the 2012 draft repeated Princeton this year and struggled mightily in his 41 plate appearances. Nacapoy's place in the organization is dependent upon the Rays comfort with their catching depth in the lower levels.

Omar Narvaez (21 Y.O. in Short Season Class-A)
162 PA, .267/.311/.333, 4.9 BB%, 13.0 K%, 0 HR, 8 XBH

Oscar Hernandez's catching partner in Hudson Valley, Omar Narvaez was excellent at throwing out base runners; he nabbed ten of the twenty who tried to steal. At the plate, Narvaez was above average at making contact and hitting for an average. However, he rarely walked and hit for little power. The Rays did get him a fair amount of playing time even with Hernandez on the team, so it may be an indication that they see something beyond the numbers in him (or they were just trying to keep Hernandez rested).

Justin O'Conner (21 Y.O. in Class-A)
439 PA, .233/.290/.381, 7.1 BB%, 25.3 K%, 14 HR, 31 XBH

When Justin O'Conner was selected by the Rays in the 2010 draft, many fans were happy that the team managed to nab the top prep catcher in the draft. However, O'Conner has failed to live up to the hype, though the past two years may be signs that he is improving. His 25.3 K% was the lowest of his career, and the 14 home runs are the highest. Scouts also still are encouraged by his defensive tools, saying he has a plus arm (56 CS%) and is good at blocking pitches. At the same time, there is still plenty of work to be done. Though he posted the highest batting average of his career this year, a .233 mark is still very low. Additionally, his strikeouts prevents him from tapping into his plus power consistently. They have made him a bit of an all or nothing hitter, as nearly half of his extra base hits went for home runs. Still, O'Conner is young and is a catcher, so there is still time for him to regain his top prospect status.

Geoff Rowan (23 Y.O. in Class-A)
72 PA, .169/.217/.185, 4.2 BB%, 20.8 K%, 0 HR, 1 XBH

A 39th pick in the 2012 draft, Rowan has struggled in his two seasons of professional baseball. After OPS'ing a pitiful .433 in 2012, he actually hit worse in 2013 with a .402 OPS. As a late round pick, Rowan's time with the Rays may not last much longer.

Mark Thomas (25 Y.O. in Double-A)
202 PA, .151/.195/.274, 4.0 BB%, 28.2 K%, 4 HR, 13 XBH

After a solid 2012 season, Thomas began to receive attention as a prospect. Baseball America surprisingly named him the Rays 31st best prospect, buying into second half improvements with the bat. However, it all came crashing down in 2013. Repeating Double-A, Thomas hit for a 31 wRC+ and saw a spike in his strikeout rate with a collapse in his walk rate. Baseball America stated that he was a very good defender, so Thomas deserves more time just based on that. Still, he needs to return to his 2012 level if he expects to make a major league team in the future.

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