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2016 Draft Preview No. 5: Catch a Rising Star

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Three young catching prospects, all with big-time offensive potential, and featuring various levels of defensive polish and ability.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The intro will be short, because I wrote a bunch of intro-y sort of stuff in the first player's scouting report for whatever reason. (Usually I write these from beginning to end, but sometimes I skip writing the preamble and do the reports themselves first.)

What we have here today is a group of three catchers, all of whom, somewhat strangely, hit from the left side (it's a weird theme of this year's draft; lefty-hitting catchers), and offer varying degrees of catching acumen. Obviously, you don't draft for need in the MLB draft -- particularly if you're picking an eighteen or nineteen year old -- but considering the Cardinals' organisation currently features an aging, now oft-injured star behind the plate and a potential future of Carson Kelly, who put up an 80 wRC+ last year in High A ball, catching prospects just might be of some interest to all of us, don't you think?

Ben Rortvedt, C, Verona Area High School (Wisconsin)

5'10", 190 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

A while back, I put up the initial group of players I consider my early favourites on the position player side of things, and included in there was a high school catcher with a sweet lefty swing by the name of Herbert Iser. In discussing Iser, I mentioned how unusually deep the catching class was this year, and how close a call it was putting Iser in the favourites section over another high school catcher. Well, we've got three catchers here today, two high schoolers and one who is basically the same age. And the close call against Iser was Ben Rortvedt, who we have right here.

The first thing that jumps out about Rortvedt, just looking at him before he even makes a move athletically, is the build. Ben Rortvedt is not built like a high school kid. He's built like a college running back, a solid ball of muscle with an absurdly low percentage of body fat, and it all speaks to an athlete who could legitimately be called explosive, even though that's an adjective rarely applied to those of the catching persuasion.

Like Iser, the most striking thing about Rortvedt's game is the level of polish and sophistication he shows defensively, as well as the overall balance on both sides of the ball. High school catchers usually hit like high school stars, the result of superior athletic ability and hand/eye coordination outpacing all but the highest-level pitching of their age group, can usually throw like madmen, the result of young legs and knees combined with strong arms, giving them the ability to put up showcase pop times that sound drool-worthy but are just as often a tease, given the fact they're essentially recorded in practice, and the don't look much of anything like real catchers when it comes to the finer points of the craft.

Now, that does seem to have changed in recent years, as a wave of high school catchers has come to the fore over the past half-decade who have been coached in a different way from eras past, but even so, the point remains. Catchers are great athletes, and in high school they do the things being a great athlete allows you to do behind the plate. The rest of the stuff is still learned later on, as the innings pile up and the mental rolodex of batters is compiled, and the curious relationship between pitcher and catcher is dissected, sunk into, and inhabited. Catching is almost all finer points, and those finer points take time to learn.

However, Ben Rortvedt, in a similar way to Herb Iser, almost seems to put the lie to the notion it has to be that way. Rortvedt is not only precociously talented, but also just plain precocious, far further along the developmental path of a catcher than you would expect to see.

The catch-and-throw skills are as good as any you're likely to see in this year's draft, with quiet, soft hands behind the plate, and an arm that has been clocked well into the 80s on throws down to second base. He moves extremely well behind the dish, as well, getting low to block pitches in the dirt with aplomb and showing outstanding lateral mobility. It's tough to really judge the intangibles of a catcher at such a young age, admittedly, as pitches are usually called from the dugout and you're dealing with adolescent males, none of whom generally have a particularly high level of sense about them, but for what it's worth, Rortvedt draws high marks for his intelligence, maturity, leadership, and feel for the game. Personally, I'll steer clear of going too hard on those qualities as a purely distant observer, but understand those accolades are given to Rortvedt by others.

Rortvedt also has one other advantage, particularly on the defensive side, over nearly every other high school catching prospect in the draft this year, including the players we're talking about today. If you look at the listed heights of most of these other players, you consistently see 6'3", 6'3", 6'4", 6'3". Herb Iser is 6'3", and it's one of the things that somewhat concerns me. Larger players can certainly be athletic and nimble and graceful and everything else, but when it comes to squatting behind a plate and moving around, there seems to be some innate bias physically toward players of more modest stature.

At 5'10" or so (he's listed at both 5'10" and 5'11"), Ben Rortvedt manages to pack a tremendous amount of dynamic strength and athletic ability into a frame more fitting for a catcher. He's almost exactly the same size as the skinny version of Yadier Molina we've seen the past couple years. Ivan Rodriguez was 5'11" and 190. Craig Biggio was 5'11" and 185. (Admittedly, Biggio was moved from behind the plate, but not because he couldn't play the position.) Jason Kendall was six foot even and 190 pounds. Certainly there are exceptions; 6'5" Joe Mauer was a very good defender before injuries ruined his career. But overall, catchers are largely cut from a similar bolt of cloth in terms of the physical type that tends to work best behind the plate.

My point it, Rortvedt has an almost prototypical catcher's frame, and while I wouldn't draft a player based entirely on his height and weight measurements, if it comes down to a tiebreaker, I could certainly see going with the player whose stature leads to fewer concerns about him getting too big and too slow for the position.

On the other side of the ball, Rortvedt shows exceptional power potential, befitting an athlete who looks the way he does, with plus bat speed and explosive hands. He shows a willingness to use all fields, again in a way that would suggest a player much older and wiser, and has pop going the other way as well as to the pull side. I saw some bad habits in the late summer/autumn from him, when his swing looked a little too busy at the later showcase-type events, but I don't find that particularly concerning. His approach is intelligent and mature, balanced to all fields, and he has plus power potential to go with it. There is almost nothing not to like about Ben Rortvedt's game and potential, and the longer I look at him, the more I wonder if I didn't maybe make a mistake leaving him off my list of favourites.

via rkyosh007:

Andrew Yerzy, C/1B, York Mills Collegiate HS (Toronto, ON)

6'3", 212 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

One feature of both the catchers whom I've gushed about already today, Herb Iser and Ben Rortvedt, has been a common level of power potential greater than what you normally expect from the catching position. Both have outstanding bat speed, Rortvedt perhaps most notably of all, leading to high-end raw power that simply isn't that common among those who wear the tools of ignorance.

Well, that common thread continues with Andrew Yerzy, perhaps reaching its highest high so far, in fact.

Yerzy has as much raw power as any high school hitter in the draft this year, particularly when it comes to over the fence potential. The bat speed doesn't necessarily jump out quite as much as some others, but he's one of those hitters who just seems to have the knack for putting loft on the ball, getting it up in the air and sending it on a ride. He sometimes hits with a toe tap in his swing, and sometimes with a full leg kick; I prefer the leg kick version, as he seems to have better balance that way, staying back off his front foot so much. He's capable of hitting the ball hard from dead center to the right field line, but can get pull-happy and looks to probably be shiftable at higher levels. Of course, whether or not that remains true will have to be seen down the road, as Yerzy develops and perhaps learns to better use the opposite field, but for now his swing orients his production toward power and toward the pull side.

There's some question about the quality of competition for Yerzy, as there always is for cold-weather kids; he plays on a high-quality travel team, but is still Canadian, and thus well outside the baseball belt of weather and opportunity that leads so many Californian and Floridian kids (not to mention Texans), to end up in the professional sports business. He's also played on the Canadian Junior National squad and has acquitted himself well against international competition, so again perhaps that helps to alleviate concerns. Until he makes it -- or doesn't -- though, it's going to be an open question.

Where I actually have more concerns about Yerzy, to be honest, is behind the plate. He's a very good receiver of the ball, with extremely soft, quiet hands, and so I think there's a chance he could end up one of those players the pitch-framing data likes quite a lot, and he seems to understand the position well. However, that thing I said a little while ago about Ben Rortvedt having a built-in advantage by being 5'10"? Yerzy is one of those catchers who fall on the opposite side of the spectrum, at a legit 6'3" and with a big, thick frame overall. He's as heavy-footed as any high school senior you're likely to see, a real base-clogger in scouting parlance, and that lack of nimbleness comes through to his catching, as well. He just doesn't move around particularly well behind the plate, struggling to get low enough on blocking and slow to come up out of his crouch on throws. He has a strong enough arm to make the throw down to second, definitely, and is plenty accurate, but that lack of explosive athleticism leaves him with slow pop times in general.

Of the three players here today, I think Yerzy is the most likely to end up moving out from behind the plate, probably ending up over at first base. He doesn't run well enough to profile in the outfield. I don't know that the defense will be unplayable at catcher, but I also think there's a very good chance he ends up in the situation of his bat being good enough, intriguing enough, and advanced enough, that a team may not want to wait on what production he could offer to see if he can figure out how to be a defensive plus behind the plate. It's a funny sort of conundrum, obviously; the offensive potential in a catcher could make him a star, but waiting to see if the catching part develops also means you're wasting that offensive potential. I have a feeling the team drafting Yerzy will, if he signs, leave him at catcher for a while, but he's likely going to fill out even further, end up at more like 225 or 230, and the bat will dictate he be rushed along, probably moving to first.

I like Andrew Yerzy a lot, even if I'm unsure about his future behind the plate. The bat, I think, plays reasonably well most places, even over at first, and he has the hands and the acumen to maybe make it work at catcher. Would I bet on it? No, probably not. But I don't think a bet on his offensive potential is a bad place to be, at all.

via MLB HD:

Ryan January, C/OF, San Jacinto JC

6'3", 200 lbs

Bats: Left

Throws: Right

So, what's so great about this guy?

Wait, seriously? Another left-handed hitting catching prospect with plus power potential? The hell kind of draft shenanigans is this this year?

Well, that's exactly what we have here, in the form of Ryan January, the only of our trio to already be out of high school. He was originally slated to be a 2016 draftee anyway, but reclassified when he changed schools and entered in 2015. He ended up not drawing a ton of interest (I wonder if he just slipped through the cracks, seeing as how clubs already had him on their 2016 follow lists), and so headed off to junior college in the hopes of getting a second crack at it this year. He's committed to LSU if things don't go his way this year, but I have a feeling he'll likely never see the field in Louisiana.

January, like Andrew Yerzy, is on the big side for a catcher, standing a similar height, but weighing 15-20 pounds less. The big difference, though, is in watching Yerzy move around behind the plate, one is struck by how already he looks big and slow for the position, while watching January one is struck by how, um, bouncy he seems back there. Bouncy? Sure, what the hell. Bouncy. The raw arm strength test probably actually favours Yerzy, and yet January gets the ball down to second quite a bit faster consistently, simply because he has that ability that all catchers possess, to come up out of the crouch in what seems like an instant, and get into position to step and throw remarkably fast.

January is also, like Yerzy, originally a cold-weather player, with all the accompanying questions, being from Massachusetts. However, playing for San Jacinto should go a long way toward taking those concerns somewhat off the table, as San Jac is a junior college powerhouse athletically; one of those community schools that has embraced athletics as an identity and drawing card. Think College of the Canyons, or Miami Dade, places like that. Playing for that sort of school, against some fairly high-end competition at times, should help solidify January's reputation.

I think Ryan January has an extremely high ceiling offensively, particularly for a player I expect to stick at catcher. He has tremendously quick hands -- and in high school used a hand load much like Gary Sheffield, though he's apparently worked on toning it down since getting to San Jac -- and uses them to wait on pitches better than most hitters his age. He's capable of driving the ball, with power, to all fields, hitting more booming line drives than towering fly balls, and that approach should give him significant value at the plate. He's aggressive, attacking anything within the zone, and that aggression is both a strength and also probably my biggest concern, as he could end up a low-OBP type hitter if he doesn't improve his plate approach down the road. On the other hand, the fact he's capable of aggressively going after pitches without swinging and missing very much at all could be seen as a huge positive.

The optimistic outlook on January is a plus-contact, above-average power type hitter who's also capable of playing a solid defensive catcher position. He likely won't be a defensive whiz, necessarily; I'm not particularly comfortable speaking with too much authority on catching defense in an amateur, but others whose opinions I respect see him as being fine, but probably nothing special, behind the plate. Still, it's not the worst thing in the world to have an offensive-minded catcher, particularly if he can be even just average defensively, and I think there's a very good chance January could end up with a well-above average bat for the position.

via The Prospect Pipeline:

Of the three players here, I expect Rortvedt to go in the first round, probably in the back, or perhaps even falling into the Comp A sort of area. The other two are trickier; depending on how he performs at the junior college level this spring, I could see Ryan January going anywhere from Comp A to maybe the third round, with anything lower than that potentially sending him off to LSU, barring an above-slot deal. Yerzy I have a tough time projecting; his value probably varies significantly depending on how teams feel about his potential to stick at catcher. I could see him creeping as high as the second round, if a team believes he could stay behind the plate. For me, he's more of a round 3-4 guy, though one I think could represent a strong value there, simply because I see him as a strong candidate to move out to a lower spot on the defensive spectrum.

Another batch in the books, everybody. Have a nice Wednesday, and I'll be back next Wednesday with the first of many scouting report posts covering the 2016 crop of college pitchers.