Friday, March 30, 2012

Division Clash: Comparing the NL West's Prospects by Postion (Catcher)

So with Opening Day approaching for Minor League teams everywhere, I figured it would be a good idea to look at and compare the other prospects and talent from other teams in the NL West to the ones in the Giants organization. With so many players, the best thing to do in my opinion was to take the top prospects by position from each team and compare them to one another. That way, everyone gets an idea who the other NL West teams have in their system, while also engaging where teams' strengths are and where the weaknesses are as well.

In this post, I'm going to look at the catching prospects in the NL West. The prospects are Michael Perez (Diamondbacks), Tim Federowicz (Dodgers), Wilin Rosario (Rockies), Yasmani Grandal (Padres), and Tommy Joseph (Giants). I'll write up a short summary on each Non-Giants prospect, and compare all the prospects to one another at the end (I'll be doing the same things for all the other positions as well).

Michael Perez, Arizona Diamondbacks

Age: 19 years old
Drafted: 5th round of 2011 MLB Draft
Hometown: Catano, Puerto Rico
Highest level played: Rookie Ball
2011 Regular Season Numbers: .217 average, .280 OBP, .565 slugging, two home runs, two walks, 10 strikeouts in 25 plate appearances (Arizona Rookie League).

Why Perez is the D'Backs' Best Catching Prospect?

While the Diamondbacks' system is stocked to the ceiling with high-end pitching, it's position depth is rather thin. Catcher may be the most lacking in terms of depth, as Perez rates as the best catching prospect in Arizona's system, and he was just recently drafted in the 2011 Rule 4 Draft.

Perez has some pedigree, as he was a fifth round pick, and was rated as the 24th best prospect in the Diamondbacks' system according to Baseball America. From Puerto Rico, Perez is a bit raw, but he does sport some athleticism and potential at five-foot, 10 inches and a 180 pounds. His arm strength and power bat are Perez's highest rated tools, but his plate approach and ability to make consistent contact at the plate still need a lot of work. John Sickels, who graded Perez a C prospect in his Prospect Handbook, said this in his report on Perez in his 2012 PH:

"A high school catcher from San Juan, Puerto Rico, Michael Perez was drafted in the fifth round last June and signed to a $235,000 bonus. He played just seven games of pro ball in the Arizona Rookie League, but those seven games matched the pre-draft scouting reports exactly: Perez has loads of power potential from the left side, but needs to make more contact and microwave his undercooked defensive skills behind home plate. He is a long way from the majors, but catchers with a chance to hit always bear watching."

Evaluation on Perez:

Perez is still young, raw and has a long road to the Majors, but at his age (he's going to be 19), the Diamondbacks can afford to be patient with him, especially with Miguel Montero established at the catcher's position at the Major League level. He does have a nice swing from the left side of the plate, though I do want to see more tape of him in game action before I can make a definitive judgment on his overall potential at the plate. With two home runs and two doubles in 23 at-bats in Rookie Ball last year, Perez certainly has the potential to be a power-hitting catcher in the future, and his size and profile resembles Montero's in a myriad of ways. That being said, his seven game stint in Rookie Ball was such a short sample, and we'll need to see if Perez's power will be able to sustain over the full course of a season. The Diamondbacks will probably start Perez this season in Short-Season Yakima, according to George Utter of Baseball Instinct. That will give Perez a chance to work on some things both offensively and defensively in extended Spring Training.

Grade: C (Potential to rise to a C+ or B- next year if he can transition his AZL power in the Northwest League).

Tim Federowicz, Los Angeles Dodgers

Age: 24
Drafted: 7th round of 2008 MLB Draft (Drafted by Boston)
Hometown: Erie, Pennsylvania
Highest Level Played: Majors
2011 Regular Season Numbers: .277 average, .338 OBP, .407 slugging, eight home runs, 32 walks, 63 strikeouts in 382 plate appearances (Double-A Portland); .325 average, .431 OBP, .627 slugging, six home runs,  15 walks, 20 strikeouts in 102 plate appearances (Triple-A Albuquerque); .154 average, .313 OBP, .154 slugging, zero home runs, two walks, four strikeouts in 16 plate appearances (Majors Dodgers).

Why is Federowicz the Dodgers' Best Catching Prospect?

The Dodgers have had quite a history of finding catching talent (Mike Piazza, Paul Lo Duca, Russell Martin, Carlos Santana), though keeping it in their organization has been a bit of a different story. Since Martin, the Dodgers haven't had much success in this department, as evidenced by free agent Rod Barajas getting a majority of playing time behind the backstop last season.

I had a hard time with this one mainly because I was torn between Federowicz and Gorman Erickson. Federowicz, who came from the Red Sox organization in the three way trade that sent Eric Bedard to Boson last year, is a polished defensive-first prospect and doesn't come with a lot of upside (his grade from Baseball America was 45 with low risk). Erickson on the other hand may be better with the bat, but he didn't really break out until last season. So, I decided to go with Federowicz, who is generally rated higher by most experts than Erickson. Baseball America rated him as the 10th best prospect in the Dodgers system, while Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball Analyst rated him as the Dodger's 14th best prospect.

As for Federowicz, he split his minor league season between Portland of the Eastern League and Albuquerque of the Pacific Coast League. At the plate, he didn't quite impress in Double-A, but he held his own for his position as he posted a .277/.338/.407 slash in 382 plate appearances. After he was traded to the Dodgers, he made the most of the PCL's hitter-friendly confines, as he raised his slash to .325/.431/.627 in 102 plate appearances. The strong performance with the Isotopes earned him a late season call up to the Dodgers, but his tenure was mostly irrelevant, as he played in only 7 games and hit .154 in 16 plate appearances.

Evaluation on Federowicz:

Offensively, he profiles mostly as replacement level or slightly above offensively, as he doesn't sport much power (his career high in home runs at any level was 10 in the Sally in 2009) and doesn't really hold much potential to hit for high average (the only times he hit over .300 was in the Sally and PCL). His ability to make contact is decent (he's been in the 76-88 mark in terms of contact percentage over his minor league career) and he does sport a good approach and eye at the plate (his BB/K ratio has been over 0.50 at every level since 2010), but his tools and ceiling don't rate as anything special.

Defensively is where Federowicz profiles well, as scouts have been high on his footwork behind the plate as well as his strong throwing arm. He threw out 37 percent of baserunners in Portland last year, and while that rate regressed to 22 percent in the PCL (though he only played 22 games), he still averaged a 33 percent rate between Portland and Albequerque in 2011. His career caught stealing rate is 33 percent, so it's obvious that Federowicz has the tools to be a very good defensive catcher at the Major League level.

With A.J. Ellis and Mike Treanor ahead of him at the Major League level, Federowicz will probably start the year back in the PCL in 2012, but should get a shot to compete for the starting job at some point this year. If he continues to hit Triple-A pitching in 2012 like he did in 2011, he could get more playing time than the seven game stint he saw last season.

Grade: C (I consider him to be a platoon/backup catcher at the Major League level for the most part, but if his offensive game can continue to improve, he could have a couple of seasons where he could be a starting catcher. Defensively, he profiles well, but his future as a Big Leaguer depends on how he handles the stick with the Dodgers.)

Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

Age: 23
Signed: 2006 by Rolando Fernandez and Felix Feliz
Hometown: Bonao, Monsenor Nouel, Dominican Republic
2011 Regular Season Numbers: .249 average, .284 OBP, .457 slugging, 21 home runs, 19 walks, 91 strikeouts in 426 plate appearances (Double-A Tulsa); .204 average, .228 OBP, .463 slugging, three home runs, two walks, 20 strikeouts in 57 plate appearances.

Why is Rosario the Rockies' Best Catching Prospect?

A Top-30 prospect according to John Sickels last year (he was ranked the 28th prospect in baseball according to Sickel's 2011 list), Rosario is probably one of the highest rated offensive prospects in the Rockies system behind Nolan Arenado. Last year, Baseball America ranked Rosario as the second best prospect in the Rockies system and last year, Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball analyst rated him as the 37th best prospect in baseball.

However, despite the accolades and stellar season in Double-A in 2010, Rosario failed to build upon the hype in 2011. Even though it was his second campaign in the Texas League, he struggled to make consistent contact (78 percent contact rate; 21.4 percent strikeout rate) and showed serious flaws in his discipline and approach at the plate (0.21 BB/K ratio, a .16 decrease from the previous season). The same plate discipline problems continued in the Majors when he got a call up late in the year, as he struck out 20 times in 57 plate appearances while only walking twice (a 0.10 BB/K ratio).

While the strikeouts and lack of walks will always be something of concern for Rosario, he does still have a lot of upside as a prospect. Even with the regression in his second year in Tulsa in 2011, Rosario remains one of the Rockies' best position prospects. Baseball America rated him as the fourth best prospect in the Rockies System going into 2012, and the MiLBA rated him the third best prospect in the Rockies System and the fourth best catching prospect in baseball.

Evaluation on Rosario:

Rosario possesses two plus tools: his arm strength and power. In terms of arm strength, his success in terms of gunning down runners is dually noted, as he hasn't posted a throw-out rate below 38 percent since 2008 (his second season in Casper). Scouts note that not only does he have a cannon for an arm, but that his footwork and exchange are very clean as well. Defensively, Rosario does have some flaws, as his blocking ability could still use some work, and he could move laterally better, according to Baseball America. However at 23 years old, he still has time to develop his skills behind the plate as well as his game-calling (which will only get better with more experience).

What attracts scouts and experts the most about Rosario however, is definitely his hitting potential, specifically his power. Rosario has mashed over his minor league career, and despite all the flaws and letdowns of his 2011 season, his ability to hit the big fly with ease didn't regress in the slightest. He hit 21 home runs in Tulsa, and three home runs in 57 plate appearances with the Rockies. In addition, he also posted extra base hit rates of 39 percent and 63 percent in Double-A and the Majors, respectively. Scouts note that he has a short stroke, can hit Major League fastballs and has 30-home run potential at the Major League level.

Still though, much like Joseph in the Giants system, the big question with Rosario is whether or not he'll see enough hittable fastballs once pitchers start to adjust to his free-swinging ways. Rosario has an aggressive approach that sometimes borders on "too-aggressive" more often than not. Scouts and experts note that breaking balls give him a lot of trouble, and he tends to chase pitches outside the zone often. To make matters worse, he doesn't walk much, and has never walked much in the Minors (his best walk rate, 8.7 percent, came in his first season in the Pioneer League). If the strikeouts continue to be an issue in high minors and Majors, this could be a huge red flag because Rosario's approach will never result in him drawing enough walks to counter a lot of strikeouts (career high 0.42 BB/K ratio).

Rosario is far from perfect, but he's an impressive prospect nonetheless. In terms of the catching prospects in the NL West, his arm strength and power tools probably rank highest. That being said, his plate approach might be the worst (and Joseph isn't exactly Scott Hattesberg). At his age, there is still some time for Rosario to develop, and he could project into a more athletic Yadier or Bengie Molina, with even more home run potential. That being said, if his approach doesn't improve, his ceiling could be Miguel Olivo-esque.

Grade: B (I love the power and the arm strength, so I'm cutting him some slack despite the lackluster 2011 season overall; however, it will be a crucial year for him in 2012. Either he makes the step to being an All-Star caliber catcher this year, or he struggles and shows that he probably is destined for platoon or backup duty behind the plate.)

Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres

Age: 23
Drafted: 1st round (12th overall) in the 2010 MLB Draft by the Cincinnati Reds
College: University of Miami (FL)
Hometown: La Habana, Cuba
2011 Regular Season Stats: .296 average, .410 OBP, .510 slugging, 10 home runs, 41 walks, 57 strikeouts in 251 plate appearances (High-A Bakersfield); .301 average, .360 OBP, .474 slugging, 4 home runs, 13 walks, 39 strikeouts in 172 plate appearances (Double-A Carolina); .500 average, .667 OBP, .667 slugging, zero home runs, five walks, one strikeout in 18 plate appearances (Triple-A Louisville).

Why is Grandal the Padres Best Catching Prospect?

The former Cuban defector's future looked bleak, as he seemed blocked in the Reds system by the team's top prospect Devin Mesaroco, who is destined for the starting job at some point in 2012. However, the Padres took advantage of the Reds' system depth and lacking of pitching consistency at the Major League level, and Grandal came along with Yonder Alonso in a trade for Padres ace Mat Latos. Suddenly, Grandal went from the second-best catching prospect in his own system, to probably the best catching prospect in the NL West period.

Grandal played college ball at the University of Miami (he was teammates with Alonso) and was drafted 12th overall by the Reds in 2010. While he doesn't sport the power or athleticism of former "colleague" Mesaroco, Grandal does possess a strong ability to hit for average, a patient eye at the plate, and some sneaky (though not plentiful) slugging potential. Furthermore, Grandal does have some strong defensive skills behind the plate, as he has a solid, six-foot, two inch frame and an average to slightly-above average arm (he threw out 34 percent of baserunners last season). The numbers did show Grandal got better defensively in his call up to Double-A, as he allowed less passed balls (5 to 14 in High-A) and threw runners out at a better clip as well (36 percent to 34 percent in High-A). So, while he may not be a Gold Glover by any means, he certainly has the defensive potential to be a mainstay at the position for a long time.

While Nick Hundley is currently manning the position in 2012, and was recently inked to an extension by Padres management, the future clearly rests in Grandal's hands. Grandal did show some contact issues last year (his contact rate in Bakersfield was 72 percent, and in Carolina it was 75 percent), but he was above average in terms of making contact in college (84 percent) and he does have an excellent eye at the plate (17 percent walk rate, 0.72 BB/K ratio in Bakersfield). To me, those things should bode well for him as he most likely makes the move to Tucson and the Pacific Coast League to begin the 2012 season (expect a big breakout from him in Triple-A this year...that place is a bandbox).

Evaluation on Grandal:

There were rumors that Grandal was upset by the Hundley extension, but I think management is clearly in Grandal's camp. He is still only 23 years old, and he comes across as a polished college catching prospect who could be an All-Star at the Major League level (Gordon of the MiLBA graded him as a 9D prospect). Grandal may not have the arm strength of Rosario, but I think his defensive skills should be good enough considering his bat. He still needs more time and development in terms of calling games (an issue for most catchers coming out of college since college coaches mostly call the games), which could be the reason why he begins and may stay a majority of the year in Tucson. For that reason, it is understandable why the Padres inked Hundley to an extension, even though Grandal may have the more upside.

Offensively, I like his plate discipline, and his ability to use the whole field as a hitter. He is also a switch hitter, which should help him out at a spacious park like PETCO (which severely limits pull-heavy lefties as evidenced by Anthony Rizzo's struggles last season), but considering his power tool set as well as the environment of San Diego's home park, I would be surprised if he tops the 15 homer mark as a Big Leaguer. That being said, scouts say that he has a balanced approach that will bode well for him to hit for high average, so even if he may not produce the home runs, he could produce 2010 Buster Posey-esque lines in the future where he is producing a lot offensively for his position despite the fact that it isn't coming in terms of eye-popping slugging or home run numbers.

Grade: B+ (Hundley is the guy for now, but at some point Grandal will get his shot and I think he'll be the full-time guy by 2013 (Hundley to me will be trade bait this year). He is a talented overall catcher who is already polished, but still has some potential both offensively and defensively. I'll be interested to see how his offense will translate to PETCO, but for now, he'll just have to settle for putting up "MLB '99" numbers in Tucson and the PCL.)

NL West Catcher Prospect Rankings:

1. Grandal, Padres
  • Grandal is the best overall catcher and most ready for the Big Leagues out of any catching prospect in the NL West. He may not have that one outstanding tool like some of the other catching prospects (specifically Rosario), but I think his tools are strong enough to the point where he could be an All-Star caliber catcher at the Major League level.
2. Rosario, Rockies
  •  Rosario's probably holds the best power and arm strength tools out of any catcher prospect in the NL West (Grandal included), but his lack of plate discipline and regression in 2011 are a huge red flag. He still is young, and the potential and ceiling could still be quite high for Rosario in the future. That being said, there needs to be major progress in his approach if he wants to become anything more than an Olivo-esque player.
3. Joseph, Giants
  • Because I did a profile on him on this blog, I didn't feel like there was much of a need to go into much detail on him in this post. (I mean, what else could I say that I didn't say before?) Joseph's may have the second best power tool set behind only Rosario, but like Rosario, his plate discipline is a Major question. Joseph did show improvements defensively in 2011, but his abilities still probably pale in comparison to the other catching prospects in the NL West, as a lot of experts are conceding the fact that he is going to make an eventual move to first base. If Joseph continues to progress from High-A to Double-A like he did from Low-A to High-A, then Joseph could be on the top of this board by next year. His age is definitely a plus in his favor (he'll be 20 years old this year).
3. Perez, Dimaondbacks
  • The more I see Perez, the more I think "Miguel Montero-esque", but it's just way too early to say that definitively on Perez. He was just selected in last year's draft and he has only 25 professional plate appearances underneath his belt. Still though, he did sport a lot of power and arm strength potential in the Arizona Rookie League, and scouts seem high on his potential and athleticism behind the plate. Much like Joseph, with a strong season in his first full year of professional ball, Perez could rocket up this board, and it could be between him and Joseph for best catching prospect in the NL West in 2013.
5. Federowicz, Dodgers
  • Erickson probably has more ceiling and don't be surprised to see Erickson on this list next year. For now though, Federowicz takes the cake as the Dodgers' best catching prospect and he is probably destined for backup or platoon status in the Major Leagues. He doesn't offer a lot of offensive upside, and while good defensively, he doesn't project as spectacular by any stretch of the imagination. Federowicz could be very valuable for the Dodgers in the future and even as soon as this year (especially with mediocre options like Ellis and Treanor ahead of him in the Bigs).

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