2013 Draft Preview the Seventh: Catching Fire, 18 and Under Division

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Catchers, of the high school variety.

I like Tyler Lyons. Like, a lot. Like, I really like him, you know? I mean, I don't like like him, but I really like him. Does that make sense? You know what I mean by like like, right? Like, I wouldn't necessarily go out of my way to steal one of his game-used jerseys so I could stash it under my bed and smell it before I go to sleep at night. Not that kind of like. I guess if he just happened to give me one of his jerseys, though, you couldn't blame me if it did find its way under...my...

Hmm. I believe I may have said too much. This is a problem. I'm going to have to hypnotize you all now in order to make you forget any of this happened. Look deeply into my eyes, El Vivi Birders....erm, uh, look deeply into your computer screen....you are getting very sleepy....very, very sleepy...you are relaxed, no cares, no concerns....you are as relaxed and carefree as a man watching Tyler Lyons start a game for the St. Louis Cardinals, sitting on a comfy sofa....wearing a homemade Tyler Lyons jersey that may or may not have numbers on the back made from coloured duct tape....feel the warmth and relaxation as Tyler Lyons basks in the glow of your affection, secure in the knowledge that one day he will feel your love through the television screen, and realise you should be together....

Damn it! I forgot what I was doing with the whole hypnosis thing.

Ah, fuck it. Let's look at some high school catchers for the draft, okay?

The Cardinals are not, currently, in need of a catcher, in case you hadn't noticed. And not just in terms of the big league club; the farm system has some intriguing names floating around as well. Still, you don't draft for need; everybody knows that. So would the Cardinals head down the road of a project backstop with a first-round pick? Well, that would depend on the player in question, I suppose.

And you know what? That is, perhaps, the single most comforting answer I can think of to that question, and I can give it with complete confidence. I no longer worry this club is going to be confined in their drafting by a certain strategy, or that a certain player will fall into a demographic they refuse to plumb. Dan Kantrovitz has not been scouting director long enough for me to have such confidence, most likely, but I believe in the organisation that has built the game's best farm system. If a high school catcher is the guy they feel good about, that's the guy they'll pick. I like this feeling.

On to the players who may or may not be the guy they feel about.

Jon Denney, C, Yukon High School (Oklahoma)

6'2", 205 lbs

Bats: Right

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Two words come to mind for me whenever I watch video of Jon Denney doing, well, pretty much anything. The first is Fast, and the second is Hands. He just has great hands, quick and strong, and it shows on both sides of the ball. His hands are so fast he can make seven minute frosting in four and a half minutes. (Little baking humour there. And my mother wonders why I've never married...)

Behind the plate, he has plus receiving skills already, and his catch-and-throw is aided by a smooth, fast transfer from glove to hand that stands out to me as being unusually strong. He moves well overall back there as well, the result of a strong, agile build that seems very much in line with the type of body teams are looking toward in catchers these days. More Buster Posey (though Denney doesn't have quite that level of athleticism), than Bengie Molina, if you know what I mean. (I was tempted to say Young Yadier instead, but I admire the work Yadi has done on his conditioning enough I won't make that joke.)

With a bat in his hands, Denney has plus bat speed, again almost entirely the result of great hands. I like his swing, it's balanced and sound, though I'm not sure he'll ever hit for much power without some tweaking to it. Still, I would be picking nits to make too big a deal of that, particularly considering his youth. There's plenty of time to work on his swing.

I really like Jon Denney. He may be my favourite prep actual catcher in the draft this year. I say actual because I'm still a huge fan of Zack Collins, whom I covered all the way back in the first edition of this year's previews, but I don't see him as a catcher long term. Denney, he stays behind the plate. And he could be great. I guess we'll just have to wait. Perhaps it will be fate.

Reese McGuire, C, Kentwood High School (Washington)

6'1", 190 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

McGuire is, as of this moment, the top catcher on pretty much everyone's list, and pretty likely to already be gone by the time the Cards go on the clock. Still, we've certainly seen stranger things than a player like this fall come draft day if just one or two teams go off the board to grab other players they like for one reason or another.

Most of the talk about McGuire begins -- and could very well end -- with his arm. And, I'm not going to lie, he has the kind of arm people should be talking about. He is positively....Yadi-esque back there. The transfer from glove to hand isn't as fast, or quite as smooth, as that of Denney, but this kid has the kind of raw arm strength you just can't teach. The technique can be refined (not that he isn't solid already); the arm is just there.

Beyond arm strength, the rest of McGuire's receiving skills are solid enough. His footwork is above-average, and most of what I've heard about his makeup and intelligence are positive. It's hard to say too much about what kind of head a 17- or 18-year-old kid has on his shoulders; we're all dumb as hell at that age. But still, it's better to hear he's mature and intelligent than to hear he likes to bash mailboxes on the weekends then tweet about it, right?

On the offensive side, there are more questions for McGuire. Personally, I'm not sold on him developing into even an average hitter long term, and see him purely as a defensive player. He's somewhat slight of build, and while he should fill out a fair bit, I don't think his frame is ever going to be as strong as may other players.

For me, McGuire has the arm and glove to be a real weapon behind the plate. I don't believe he'll ever be a weapon standing at the plate, though, which is why I'm higher on Denney. Still, there is every reason to believe this kid could be a special catcher on the defensive side, and that's more than enough reason for him to get drafted, probably in the first half of the first round.

Nick Ciuffo, C, Lexington High School (South Carolina)

6'1", 200 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Okay, so on the continuum of players covered today, here's how I feel about Ciuffo, presented in logic puzzle format:

I feel better about Ciuffo's bat than I do McGuire.

I feel better about Denney's defense than I do Ciuffo.

I do not feel better about Denney's defense than McGuire.

Okay, time to fill out your grids, kids!

Hmm. It would be a harder puzzle with more than three players. Also, if I hadn't just done scouting reports for them. Damn.

Anyway, I think Nick Ciuffo has a chance to be a really good catcher down the line, though I personally think his ceiling falls short of that of Denney. He's got a strong, slightly thick build that gives him plenty of functional strength already, and I like his swing pretty well. He certainly takes an aggressive cut at the ball, which I generally admire. In fact, if pressed, I would probably say I like his swing the best out of all three players covered here today.

The question for Ciuffo is whether he can stay behind the plate. He's not a definite mover, in the Daric Barton mold, but he's also not a slam dunk to remain at catcher. His arm is good, but his hands are suspect. His feet work well enough, though no better than that. Personally, I think he can stay back there, and that gives his value a nice boost in my book. Am I ready to sell the farm to put down a bet on that, though? No. I am not.

If he doesn't stick at catcher, that's when the problems start for Ciuffo. He probably doesn't hit enough for first base, maybe not even enough for third, and I don't think he runs well enough for the outfield. He is, after all, a catcher at the moment, and catchers (non-Bryce Harper division), don't generally have the wheels to patrol the outfield. If he's not a catcher, I'm just not sure what he is.

So, to sum up, I like Denney the best. I love the hands, and I think he ends up hitting more than McGuire, my second on the list. I have no doubt McGuire is a catcher, and that level of surety is what will get him drafted, and the reason I have to put Ciuffo number three. He has a higher ceiling offensively than McGuire, I believe, but the risk that he ends up without a position is a significant one.

As for which the Cards would like, or would go for, I firmly believe any of these three could catch their fancy, with McGuire likely the number one guy on the list. In fact, if he's still sitting there when El Birdos hit the clock, I would be rather surprised if they didn't scoop him up, simply on a value for the pick basis. As for the other two, I would welcome either one into the system, though Ciuffo, in my ever-so-humble opinion, probably fits better with their second pick at 28, rather than at 19.

Farewell, friends. It's been nice spending this time with you.

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