Editor's Note: Red Baron has compiled this year's top prospects in three parts, which can be found by clicking on Part I, Part II, and Part III. The post below is a portion of those massive posts, focusing in on a single prospect at a time, which should make a search of any one prospect easier to find. All of our 2016 prospect coverage and write-ups can be found at the Viva El Birdos 2016 Prospects hub.
#20 Mike Ohlman, C/1B
Opening Day 2016 Age: 25
2015 Level: Double A Springfield, Arizona Fall League
Relevant Numbers: 11.0% walk rate (AA), 18.5% K rate, 12 homers, 417 PAs, 118 wRC+, .315 BABIP
So, what's so great about this guy?
It isn't often you see a meaningful player acquired for nothing but cash (except on the free agent market, I suppose, but you know what I mean), but that may be exactly the situation for the Cardinals with Ohlman, whom they acquired from the Baltimore Orioles this past February for cold, hard cash.
What puts Ohlman on this list, even at this modest placement slot, is the potential for average- to above-average offensive production coupled with the positional ability. In the Baltimore system, Ohlman was seen as exceedingly unlikely to remain at catcher, even in a part-time capacity, and the bat just doesn't really hold up for a player on the far right side of the defensive spectrum. However, since coming to the Cardinals, Ohlman has made strides with his glove behind the plate, and there is now a realistic chance he could be a useful piece in a backup role.
Part of the improvement has been Ohlman's own efforts, of course, but part has also been an organisational philosophy issue; the Cardinals looked at his defense behind the plate and believed there was enough there to work with. The coaching staff took a special interest in him, and he's put in the work. It's an excellent argument for the idea sometimes players really do just need a change of scenery, much as that justification may be overused. There are who knows how many guys out there stuck on an organisational treadmill, unable to advance, and perhaps what is needed most is a fresh set of eyes, or a different set of expectations, and suddenly a player's skillset has value in a way his previous club just maybe never saw, for whatever reason.
What Ohlman offers at the plate is an ability to control the strike zone, in a very Cardinal-hitter-esque kind of way; his 11.0% walk rate and 18.5% strikeout rate in 2015 feels like almost exactly the prototype range for the type of hitter the Redbirds try to cultivate these days. Also very Cardinaly is his relatively modest power, considering the fact he's 6'5" and large-framed in general; his .145 ISO at Hammonds Field is absolutely nothing to write home about. Unless, I suppose, your letter consisted of,
"Dearest Mother -- I am traveling the wilds of Western Missouri as this missive reaches you. I have seen many things in my wanderings, but most striking of late was a giant of a man, clad in full regalia of ignorance, who took a positively Bunyanesque swat at a rawhide sphere, but failed to hit it even beyond the reach of a man patrolling the green pasture toward which he sent it hurtling. Also, there's this big Bass Pro down here, and I bought a crossbow, even though you always said it was too dangerous. -- Finn"
In which case Ohlman's iffy power would be something to write home about, I guess.
Behind the plate, it's a big-time arm, a good mental approach to game-calling and the like, and very questionable defensive actions on the whole. More than anything, Ohlman is simply a much larger person than catchers usually are, and he's somewhat hampered by his frame in terms of moving around. Still, his hands work well, and he understands the game, so even if he is perhaps somewhat physically limited, perhaps the minutiae of the position that we're still only beginning to fully embrace is where his strengths lie.
This will be an interesting year for Ohlman; the Cardinals seem to still be confident in his ability to handle the catching duties of a part-time player, but the fact they brought in Brayan Pena on a two-year deal to backup Yadier Molina is perhaps indicative Ohlman's arrival as a viable backstop is not imminent. Each of the past two seasons, Ohlman has gone to the Arizona Fall League, and essentially bombed out. I'm talking alarming strikeout rates over 30% levels of bombing out.
If Ohlman ultimately sticks at catcher, he could be a very valuable commodity as a reasonable on-base guy capable of playing behind the plate and spelling a player at first base as well. If catching is not an option long term, however, the bat simply doesn't appear to play at first or DH full time, and it would seem he might almost immediately fall off the radar as a prospect.
Player Comp: Steve Pearce, as a moderate-power, patient hitter who plays only bad defensive positions and began behind the plate.