Mason Martin is a Top 20 First Base Prospect, While Catching is Currently a Weak Spot for Pirates

Baseball America began their lists of the top prospects at each position on Wednesday. They started with catchers, a position where the Pittsburgh Pirates lack a true top prospect, so it’s no surprise that there weren’t any listed among the top 20 catchers. That’s especially true this year when the catching position is considered strong.

On Thursday, BA moved to first base and they had Mason Martin as the 18th best prospect at the position. He was a late  round pick in 2017, who played in the GCL and tore up the league, posting an OPS that was 116 points higher than the second best in the league. We heard recently that his off-season workouts have him at a solid 220 pounds, while he is now 6’2″, which is two inches taller than his listed draft height. The scouting reports that thought Martin was maxed out at 6’0″, 205 pounds, which was supposed to limit his upside because he had no room to fill out, were obviously wrong.

That’s the good news at the position, but mentioning Martin is the lone representative means that Will Craig wasn’t among the top 20 at the position. That’s especially bad considering that it’s a one star (out of five) class this year at first base. We have talked a lot about Craig recently and our 2018 Prospect Guide covers his main issues and how he can fix them, so I thought I’d go into a little more detail on the catching position.

The Pirates are thin at the catching spot, especially since Elias Diaz is no longer their top catching prospect due to putting in too much time in the majors last year. Deon Stafford was the only catcher to make our top 50 prospects, though I’ll mention that Jacob Stallings got pushed off the list by the two pickups in the Rule 5 draft, so he’s right there in the same tier as the last prospects on the top 50 list.

The problem right now is that Stafford still has defensive work to do to stick at catcher. His bat is more advanced and he could move off the position in the future. Stallings is a fine third string catcher, who could probably serve as the backup on a few big league teams now, but that’s his upside. You have Jin-De Jhang returning, but he had an off-season injury, so we don’t know if he will be available right away in 2018. His defense has improved and his offense came on at the end of the year (mostly in the playoffs) last season after missing a lot of time due to an oblique injury. His upside is a backup in the majors and even that is far away at this point.

Christian Kelley could be one to watch this year because he has the defense to add value at the position and his bat has slowly improved since entering the system. Getting out of the brutal summer heat in the Florida State League could lead to better results for him at Altoona this year. So keep him in mind for this season.

The Pirates drafted two catchers fairly early in 2016 with Arden Pabst and Brent Gibbs. I think they missed on those two, especially with Gibbs in the seventh round. He has a strong arm, but he was described as a raw catcher when signed and I didn’t see any improvements throughout the 2017 season. He also doesn’t have any plate patience, so even his offense seems limited. Pabst is a solid defender, but his bat is lacking at this point and he couldn’t play winter ball as scheduled this off-season due to an injury.

The Pirates drafted two catchers early in the 2017 draft and it looks like they made two good picks, with Stafford showing a solid potential bat and displaying better defense than the reports (which had him rated very low). Jason Delay is in the Jacob Stallings mold of strong defense, strong college record behind the plate, but a bat that is currently lacking. I had multiple minor league pitchers I talked to this off-season call him the best catcher they have ever thrown to, while raving about how he works with the staff. If he can hit a little more, then that defense will really carry him through the system.

The best potential might come from the international side, where the Pirates have given some of their bigger bonuses to catchers recently. We saw Yoel Gonzalez develop into a solid catcher at West Virginia this year, then after him, you have Gabriel Brito, Samuel Inoa and two catchers signed this past year in Jommer Hernandez and Yeison Ceballo. The Pirates were also apparently high on Venezuelan catcher Juan Mena, who was signed on July 2nd. All six of those catchers are still developing their game at the lower levels. Catchers usually take longer to develop, but this group is all in the 16-21 age range. So there is a lot of potential in this group, especially with Inoa having a semi-breakout before suffering multiple injuries in the DSL this year.

The position overall is still weak due to current rankings, but it’s not hopeless with the players they have now in the system.

  • I liked the Christian Kelley pick when it was made, and I still do. And I loved the video John posted here of the Ceballo kid. But we’re still awfully thin at catcher, no matter how much I like those two.

  • Andrew Susac is still in DFA limbo. The Pirates should put in a claim or make a Zamora type trade for him. He still has an option left and could pair with Stallings at Indy. He was once a top 100 prospect for the Giants. I suspect multiple teams might put in a claim for him.

  • I can still remember the McGuire trade. It was like living a bad dream. And for us dreamers, the dream lives on.

    Some years ago, the Pirates traded for a lousy pitcher from the Giants who had a very bad contract. This along with the stupid trade to the Cubs of our young third baseman and the above mentioned trade leads me to believe that there must be something in the water in Pittsburgh.

    It does not bother me so much that the Pirates do not spend money. I can live with that. But these kind of deals make me want to only root for the Orioles. But that does not work, since the Orioles, who spend more money, tend to spend it stupidly, and have Peter Angelos as their owner.

    I have been a Pirates fan for 55 years. I do not plan on changing that. But since I do not live in the Pittsburgh area anymore, I do not drink the water anymore. Would someone please check the water? NH is a smart guy. I like a lot of what he does. But the McGuire trade really makes me wonder about the water.

    • McGuire not rated in the top 20 catchers in the minor leagues, so there’s that…

      • It’s really a no-win situation.

        Huntington either has had another first round draft pick bust, or he traded a legit prospect in a salary dump to boost a 75-win club.

        There’s just no manner in which he looks competent here.

        • Now…if Appel had signed the year before, the Pirates miss out on Meadows…

          So maybe it’s Appel and Reese back-to-back? Yikes!

          All things being equal…wow, that looks bad.

      • terrygordon30
        February 1, 2018 6:37 pm

        And how many minor league catcher do the Pirates have that are rated above McGuire?

    • Well the Pittsburgh water has been on a boil water advisory that rotates through different parts of the city for about the last year so you may be on to something.

  • The Pirates need to trade all of their catching prospects for salary relief/flexibility and/or minor league infield depth. This is a new age. Good young catchers are not needed anymore.

  • No comments from me on the catching prospects but I am a firm believer in the HUGE IMPORTANCE of having a REALLY GOOD catcher. Traditionally, the best catchers are well respected team leaders, cerebral, mentally tough and emotionally stoic. We haven’t had that since Russell Martin – who I think was absolutely vital to our turnaround.

    • I absolutely hated seeing him leave.

      • I am usually critical of a lot of things the Pirates do but there was no way to justify paying Martin what Toronto did. My only issue is the complete miss made when the Pirates included McGuire in that silly trade two years ago. At the very least it would have been nice had they traded from an area of strength instead of an area of weakness. No way they could have though Jhang was going to make it and they certainly should not have felt that Diaz was going to be really good (especially after his injury that year). McGuire may not amount to much but you can’t trade away that asset when you have nothing else in that spot.

    • I have that thought every time Cervelli comes to the plate and that stupid “that’s amore” song plays, and those idiotic love/relationship advice videos are cringe worthy. It always looked like Cole couldn’t stand him, among others. He may be a good catcher, but the better catcher and leader went to Toronto.

  • I’ve been disappointed to see that Samuel Inoa hasn’t yet turned many heads despite outside evaluators clearly seeing the DSL club, as evidenced by their praise for Sherten Apostel.

    This position is very, very clearly the worst in the entire system.

  • We certainly don’t need that McGuire kid! Is the height thing with Martin like basketball where everyone is two inches taller then they actually are? I am glad to see him get a little love. As for Craig I get the feeling that there is something there but for whatever reason he isn’t or the Pirates haven’t been able to tap into it. Just a side note I saw Mark Appel has left the game. We dodged a bullet with him. Between him and Alverez I wonder if the Pirates could do a better job of identifying personality flaws that ultimately lead to a player not reaching their potential. Seems like a lot of those types if guys are represented by Boros

    • No, Martin will still be listed at 6’0″, 205 I’m sure. That new height/weight is right from his dad, who is his personal trainer and he said that he grew two inches last year.

      • why anyone would say an 18 year old is maxed out is why i have questioned the reports on him. Plenty of kids grow a good bit after high school and Mason seems very much dedicated to his development, agility and speed. Hoping he is able to continue his climb this year.

        • When a scout judges body projection it’s done on the present frame, and yes, a 6′ kid who’s a muscular +200 lb is absolutely maxed out. There’s just not much more good baseball weight you can add to that frame. It’s a *credit* to the work he’s put in to date.

        • Think of it this way, Andrew McCutchen is a maxed out 5’11” and 185 lbs. Much more weight would drastically slow him down.

      • Looking at Martin’s social media accounts, I believe he is taller than 6′ 0″ and still has some room to fill out. Clearly he already has some experience in the weight room though. I know, scouting on social media is so pathetic!

    • Do you think the Astros made a mistake taking Appel and passing on Kris Bryant ? Or is Huntingdon the only dumb GM in MLB ?

  • Not to worry McGuire is coming back.

    • McGuire would be the top catching prospect in the system even after his knee surgery last year. He proved in the Dominican this winter that he was healthy, holding his own on offense in a very pitcher-friendly league (OPS 28 points over league average), while throwing out 55% of baserunners.

      • Why did we trade that guy?

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          February 1, 2018 12:06 pm

          Because Pirates were too cheap to eat a bad contract

        • There seems to be too much belief that the Pirates traded away a future star in McGuire. In reality, his future is probably that of a back-up catcher in the mold of Chris Stewart.

          • I see it both ways, because from the ball of fire he was when drafted, he sort of drifted further towards average as he developed (?). Sometimes a change of scenery provides an adequate wake-up call.

            Regardless of what it was, hopefully he has moved beyond that. For the Pirates, he was not moving forward, and including him in the trade was not a loss. Unloading the remaining $18 mil of a bad contract was the right thing to do.

      • WillyMoGarcia33
        February 1, 2018 12:29 pm

        Doesn’t seem his minor power surge in AA carried over. Not a single extra base hit in winter ball.

        • He’s a younger player with just Double-A experience in a very pitcher-friendly league, so his performance was just fine for his age/experience and a small sample size. He hit better than eight guys who have Major League experience on his own team, including Jung-Ho Kang. Coming off knee surgery, the most important part would be that he was healthy and played well behind the plate.

      • Is there any possibility of moving Will Craig to catcher?