Betts is best bet to be top backstop taken in Draft
SoCal high schooler is likely to be first catcher selected next month
A year ago, the best high school catcher -- actually, the best catcher at any level -- in the 2014 Draft class came from Southern California. This year, the best high school catcher -- actually, the best catcher at any level -- in the 2015 Draft class comes from Southern California.
Talk about history repeating itself. A year ago, Alex Jackson was taken early in the first round out of Rancho Bernardo High School by the Mariners. This year, it's Chris Betts' turn to be a first-round pick, out of the storied program of Wilson High in Long Beach, Calif. The left-handed-hitting prospect is No. 21 on MLB.com's Draft Top 100 list.
A number of teams are interested in Betts, for his bat and for the possibility of him staying behind the plate. At a recent game, Phillies president Pat Gillick and A's scouting director Eric Kubota were present to evaluate the Tennessee commit's game. The Phillies pick at 10, the A's at 20, with several teams in the second half of the first round -- including the Brewers, Yankees and Indians -- all rumored to have interest.
This year's Draft will be held June 8-10, with Round 1 through Competitive Balance Round B broadcast live on MLB Network and MLB.com on June 8. MLB.com will provide exclusive coverage of Rounds 3-10 on June 9 and Rounds 11-40 on June 10.
One thing scouts would like to see is Betts get back behind the plate. He hasn't been able to catch for the past couple of weeks because of a forearm issue, but the hope is he'll be back there next week, giving him plenty of time to show scouts what he can do defensively. Betts' arm is his best defensive tool, so he should be able to show that off once he's healthy again.
Other than geography, there aren't too many similarities between Betts and Jackson. Betts hits lefty, always a commodity for a backstop, while Jackson swings from the other side of the plate. There were also almost no scouts who thought Jackson would catch at the next level. Betts, on the other hand, has created more of a split camp, with the majority wanting him to begin his pro career at the position. And unlike what many saw in Jackson, Betts loves catching.
"If you're going to put them side by side, it seems that Betts is more of a catcher and wants to catch," said a scout who saw both prep standouts repeatedly. "Not that Alex didn't want to, but I got the impression that he was doing it to help the team. Clearly, Chris does have the desire to catch. He has no problems receiving his pitchers, he has a really strong arm, and he shows you effort and energy."
Whether or not Betts stays behind the plate remains to be seen, but the same scout pointed out that these days, especially in a weak catching class, that "if" seems to come with any potential amateur backstop.
"I would send him out as a catcher, but I'm drafting him knowing full well this guy might end up at first base," the scout said. "It seems like that's always the case with catchers."
There are fewer questions about whether Betts' bat will play at the next level. There's plenty of power in there -- Betts had six home runs entering his game on Wednesday, and he plays many of his games in parks that are tough to get the ball out of -- and he shows enough consistency with the bat to believe he's going to hit plenty, too. Heading into Wednesday, Betts was hitting .475 over 25 games, with 28 hits in 59 at-bats. He has five doubles and a triple to go along with those six homers.
There's very little swing and miss to Betts' game, and he's drawn 28 walks as he's regularly pitched around. Regardless of his long-term defensive home, it sounds like his offensive potential fits very nicely in the second half of the first round, where most teams are discussing him. Betts drew an interesting comp to someone in last year's Draft class: Not Jackson, but the college catcher who ended up going a couple of spots behind him.
"He's definitely a strong consideration there," the scout said. "Maybe he's a high school version of what Kyle Schwarber was last year. We knew he could really hit and we're not sure if he can catch."