By The Baseball Beginnings Guy
June 16, 2010
For months on end, we heard how catching was at such a premium in this draft that good young catchers would have value. When push came to shove, that’s not how the 2010 draft played out for three Southern California catchers, Stefan Sabol, Jake Hernandez and Aaron Jones.
Instead of spending money to develop talent with upside, teams waited. Sabol went to the Braves in the 17th round, a pick for a team that loves high school players and always will. Hernandez fell to the Tigers in the 22nd round. Jones went to the Red Sox in the 37th round. Sabol and Jones have college commitments to Oregon and Hernandez has a firm commitment to USC.
The college commitments put the onus on major league teams to decide how much money they really want to spend to develop young catchers when they spend the rest of the year whining about how little catching there is.
Might it be time to look themselves in the mirror and ask why, using these three players as an example, do they whine about not having young catching when they won’t pay for it in the first place?
The selection process forces some questions to be asked. For starters, do younger scouts understand how to evaluate the position? Catching is, by far, the most technical position. It’s not as simple as running the watch on throwing times. It has to do with footwork, quickness, shifting the weight, quiet hands, coordination, knowledge of situations and individuals and how to cheat and make it work.
There are advanced factors of catching even young catchers won’t learn until they are in the big leagues. I’ve never seen a high school catcher, no matter how advanced, truly know how to frame and steal pitches. It’s not a dig on any of them – none of them have caught long enough to understand the subtle tricks of the trade that will help separate major league catchers from organizational catchers.
Baseball itself contradicts the old adage that catching is the quickest path to the major leagues. For all the chest-thumping about how college catchers don’t call their own games, tell me why, then, are the later rounds populated by low-ceiling college catchers who are being drafted not as prospects but as minor league roster fillers?
The industry is counter-intuitive. The only way to develop a major league starting catcher is to get them as teenagers, invest the money, and wait five years for them to become starting catchers. There are rare college exceptions to the rule, but just for arguments sake, look at the catchers in the Hall of Fame, and tell me how many of them were signed out of high school.
Since we’re staying in Southern California, begin with Gary Carter from Fullerton High School. A former quarterback, Carter could run, throw and hit for power. He was raw defensively, from what I have been told, but you can’t take the athlete out of the athlete. The scout who signed him out-bluffed a tribe of area guys and gloated for years.
Moving across the country, Johnny Bench was a high school sign, noted for his big arm and big power. He, too, rose quickly, and nobody cared if he had a stout body.
Look at the Northeast and Yogi Berra signed out of high school. The money tools for a catcher – defense, arm and power – were present in all three guys.
Mike Scioscia was also drafted as a high school catcher. Ivan Rodriguez was signed at age 16.
If you want to look pre-draft, Joe Torre and Del Crandall (hey look, another Orange County catcher, via Fullerton High, delivered courtesy of Johnny Moore), were high school catchers.
If baseball wants catching, draft it young, draft it better, put your money where your mouth is, and show us that you want individualistic athletes and not mindless low-talent ceiling drones. If I wanted bad catching, I’d go the Cal League.
Nobody is saying that any of these three Southern California high school catchers are going to be mentioned with these other players. Maybe one of them will. Nobody knows. I’m smart enough to know that I don’t know how good any of these three guys will be five years from now. All you can do is look at the tools, close your eyes, and imagine.
I will say that when you take all of the signing factors out of this, what you get – in my eyes – is this.
The best pure defender is Hernandez. The best pure hitter is Sabol. The best power potential is Jones. The smoothest thrower is Hernandez, but the quickest arm action and strength might be Jones. Not one of these guys is a bad athlete. Jones might be the best athlete of the three – not a slight at either of the other two guys – and some would say you could flip a coin and come out a winner. I’d agree. Sabol is a good athlete in his own right, so much so that I keep saying second base, but he might surprise me in five years defensively. Hernandez will probably develop offensively from where I have seen him, and I will give him contact abilities when he’s staying up the middle.
Which guy is the best? Doesn’t matter. What does matter is that each of these guys had more than organizational value. Part of the reason college baseball is flourishing is because teams won’t invest in technicians. They want tools, but they forget that in catching, to be technical is a tool.
There is a reason major league catchers can hang around until they are almost 40, giving you limited offense. It’s because baseball won’t spend the money to sign and develop talented high school catchers from the start. Pennants, believe it or not, are not always won and lost on the field. They are won and lost in that draft room, or in the ownership suite, where dollars determine talent.