With thin crop of catchers in Draft, Stephenson on rise
Thanks to a rash of injuries thinning out a so-so crop of talent, the 2015 First-Year Player Draft is shaping up as one of the most confounding in recent years. Even before top prospects started getting hurt on what seems like a weekly basis this spring, the pool of catchers looked historically thin.
When MLBPipeline.com released its initial Draft Top 50 Prospects rankings in December, it featured just one backstop: Chris Betts of Wilson High (Long Beach, Calif.) at No. 22. Only twice in the first 50 Drafts did fewer than two catchers get taken in the top 50 selections: in 2011, when the Red Sox popped Blake Swihart (now the best prospect at his position in the Minor Leagues) at No. 26; and in 1996, when Josh Glassey was the first one off the board at No. 58 to the Dodgers.
The good news for 2015 is that Kennesaw Mountain High's (Kennesaw, Ga.) Tyler Stephenson has blossomed this spring, emerging as the best all-around catcher available. By comparison, Betts stands out foremost for his power, but he generates mixed reviews about his ability to remain behind the plate in the long term.
"Stephenson is on the rise," an area scout said. "I like him a lot. He's big and physical with a plus arm, and he's exceptional at receiving and throwing. He has raw power but a bit of a long swing."
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Stephenson also shows promise on the mound, with a fastball that can hit 91 mph and some power to his breaking ball, but his future definitely is as a catcher. He performed well at the World Wood Bat Association World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., last October and excelled at the Perfect Game High School Showdown in Emerson, Ga., in March. Stephenson went 6-for-13 with a double and triple, and he played well defensively as Kennesaw Mountain finished second in the Showdown to Parkview High (Lilburn, Ga.).
Stephenson's arm is both strong and accurate, his hands are soft and he demonstrates unusual agility for a player his size. His bat speed, physical strength and the loft in his right-handed stroke give him the power potential to hit 20 homers per season in the big leagues. Though the scout mentioned the length of his swing, Stephenson has produced against quality competition and has the tools to profile as at least a quality regular even if he doesn't hit for a high average.
Committed to Georgia Tech, Stephenson has drawn comparisons to former Yellow Jackets star Matt Wieters because of his frame and skills. He won't go as high in the Draft as the Orioles All-Star did -- No. 5 overall in 2007 -- but Stephenson has more helium than most prospects right now. Considering how much the demand at his position outstrips the supply, his momentum could carry him into the first round.