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.