Many backstops in Draft come with a catch
Highly regarded prepster Jackson among those who look headed for a position change
Last year's Draft was something of an anomaly. High school catching was an area of depth, with three prep backstops in the top 25 of MLB.com's Top 100 Draft prospects list. Even more intriguing was the fact that they each have a good chance to stay at the position.
This year's Draft class is more typical in regard to talent behind the plate. There are some catchers who are first-round candidates, but two of the top three might never catch professionally. Then there's the Catch-22 of worrying about the long-term health of players who have already spent a lot of time at the position.
This year's First-Year Player Draft will be held June 5-7.
"It's getting harder and harder to find catching," a National League scouting director said. "There's not a lot of them. Guys that catch for a long time, you worry about them because they've been catching for a long time. You're damned if you do, damned if you don't."
Southern California high school product Alex Jackson is the highest-ranked catcher on every board, but his future at the position is very much in doubt. His stock is built around his bat, which has a chance to be special. He's not without defensive skills, especially his arm, but many teams will want to move him to the outfield, a la Wil Myers and Bryce Harper, to get his offense to the big leagues faster.
"I think you start him there but eventually he ends up moving to a corner outfield spot," an American League cross-checker said about Jackson. "I've seen him drop a lot of balls. It's a premium bat. There are some guys in the big leagues who aren't the greatest receivers. The bat plays. You could have a pretty special bat from behind the plate. But he's athletic enough to handle the move and is very similar to Wil Myers."
Unlike last year, there's a big drop-off among high school catchers. Jakson Reetz, from Nebraska, is the best of the rest, none of whom appear to be first-rounders. Louisiana prepster Chase Vallot's bat is ahead of his glove, JJ Schwarz from Florida has some ability, as does Evan Skoug in Illinois. Hawaii's K.J. Harrison has been making some noise and moving up Draft boards. But none of them are top-of-the-board types.
There are some college backstops who are getting a ton of first-round buzz, but many of them come with asterisks. Some believe University of Indiana outfielder Kyle Schwarber is the best college hitter in the country, but few, if any, believe he can stick behind the plate.
"I don't think he does," the cross-checker said. "I think you start him at first base. The bat is so good, I get worried that if there are guys with injury issues in the past (Schwarber had knee surgery in 2010), if he gets really hurt, then what? I think the bat's too good [to risk]."
Then there's Max Pentecost, the consensus top all-around catcher in the Draft. He doesn't have the best bat, and he might not be the best defender. One scouting director said that if Pentecost were playing at a program bigger than Kennesaw State, he'd be generating more buzz. As it is, his name has been coming up in top-10 conversations, thanks to his having one of the few everyday backstop profiles in the Draft and the dearth of college hitters in general.
"He's the one guy I can say I'm positive can stay back there," the cross-checker said. "He's going to hit. He's the one guy who's a definite everyday guy. After that, you can't be sure.
"[The talent is] definitely not deep. There's a few: Pentecost, Jackson if you think he can catch. After that, you can put them in a bag and pull them out. It's pretty light."
To see how it works out for the catchers, tune in for the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, taking place on June 5-7, starting with the Draft preview show on MLB.com and MLB Network on Thursday, June 5, at 6 p.m. ET. Live Draft coverage from MLB Network's Studio 42 begins at 7 p.m., with the top 74 picks being streamed on MLB.com and broadcast on MLB Network. MLB.com's exclusive coverage of the second and third days will begin with a live Draft show at 12:30 p.m. ET on June 6.
MLB.com's coverage includes Draft Central, the Top 100 Draft Prospects list and Draft Tracker, a live interactive application that includes a searchable database of Draft-eligible players. Every selection will be tweeted live from @MLBDraftTracker, and you can also keep up to date by following @MLBDraft. And get into the Draft conversation by tagging your tweets with #mlbdraft.