The Rays farm system has a reputation for identifying pitching prospects.
The same could be said for their ability to develop catcher defense. Unfortunately, the Rays haven’t had any luck developing the bat to go along with that defense, and since catchers still have to bat they boast fewer major league successes in that area. This is probably why the Rays aren’t as well known for developing catchers as they are pitching.
Almost every catcher to come through the Rays organization in recent years has developed his defense to at least league average. Jose Lobaton. Curt Casali. Luke Maile. Justin O’Conner. Nick Ciuffo. Jake DePaw. David Rodriguez.
Jamie Nelson and Paul Hoover should be credited with these achievements. Nelson is now the assistant hitting coach with the Rays, but he was previously the catching coordinator in the minors and spent a significant amount of time working with catchers across the system. Hoover is the current minor league catching coordinator and was a converted catcher in the Rays system.
The Rays are doubling down on their confidence in this capability, converting 2B Brett Sullivan and CF Zac Law to the position. Both have shown an ability to hit at least league average in the past, and the Rays are hoping that continues as they develop their value behind the plate.
Maybe the most exciting player at the position, though, is 19 year old Chris Betts. Drafted in the 2nd round in 2015, he is different from the rest in that he likely already has a well above league average bat. Considering how successful the Rays have been at developing catcher defense, there is a good chance Betts will develop into an all-around above average catcher.
If that happened, he would be the first catcher developed by the Rays to be above average in both offense and defense for the Rays. Imagine that!
Is this a strategy the Rays should continue to pursue? Draft bat-first catchers knowing there’s a good chance the farm can develop the defense? It certainly seems like a good way to play to their organizational strengths and weaknesses.