MLB Draft: Cubs could look to address catching shortage early

MLB Draft: Cubs could look to address catching shortage early

Co-written with Kevin Gallo, BigLeagueFutures.net and Cubs Den contributor

The importance of the MLB Draft and the Cubs rebuilding process

Evaluating draft prospects has become a year long process in the MLB and we plan on keeping up here as much as possible.  We'll combine first hand scouting evaluations, reports from professional scouts, as well as opinions from some of our favorite blogs and national media sources to give you the most, original yet well-rounded information on the Cubs draft process.  By the time the June comes around, we hope you're familiar with many of the names, if you're not already.

Despite the changes brought on by the new CBA, the Cubs emphasis on the draft is going to be a huge key in their long term rebuilding process.  The improvements at the MLB level this offseason lend some encouragement for the short term, but how well the Cubs do bringing in amateur talent will speak much louder when it comes to sustaining success over the long haul.

We've talked much about the first round pick, the 2nd overall selection, and the importance of landing an impact talent.  The second pick, which which will be in the 40s, has the value of what in recent years would've been the equivalent of a high supplemental first rounder.  The Cubs are said to highly value this pick as well and all indications are they plan to keep it.

An early forecast on upper round draft philosophy

It's hard enough to predict what the first pick will be right now --even at such a high pick as #2 overall.  There are the consensus favorites and that likely won't change a great deal by draft time, but we can be certain there will be some shuffling, perhaps even at the very top of the draft.

Complicating matters is that the first pick will likely affect what the Cubs do with the ensuing picks.  If the BPA is once again determined to be a position player, there's a strong possibility the Cubs will once again look to load up on pitchers over the next few rounds.  If they can land a college pitcher who is near-ready with the top pick, as many expect, it gives them some flexibility to look more closely at other positions as the draft unfolds.  One of those positions happens to be one in which the Cubs lack strong organizational depth: Catcher.

The current state of the Cubs catching depth

Right now, the Cubs are counting heavily on Welington Castillo.  The Cubs have some catching prospects behind him, but they are more of the contact-hitting, catch and throw types.  What they have are essentially polished, but limited ceiling players like Chadd Krist and Rafael Lopez, both of whom project as backups, but no young Cubs catcher ranks among their top 30 prospects overall.  If there is a player who can break from that pack, I believe it's the athletic Wilson Contreras, but he's much more projection than productivity at this point.  He's still in the interesting stage and certainly nobody the Cubs are counting on long term at this early stage of development.

2nd and 3rd Round Catching Prospects

At this point it should be clear that the catching position is very much on the table with an early round pick.  As it stands today, no catcher is worthy of the 2nd overall pick, so if the Cubs look to add a potential impact backstop, it's more likely they'll address it with one of their next few picks.  Adding to that probability is that while most think the 2013 draft is relatively thin, it is deep in catchers, particularly at the prep level.

Here are a few of our favorite prep catchers who we think could be available with the 2nd or 3rd round pick...

  • Chris Okey is a a great defensive catcher who is mechanically sound and can control the running can with a POP of 1.8.  He shows a line drive swing that generates above average bat speed.  He shows pull power and gap power to the opposite field.  He isn't the biggest in this group at 6'0, 175 but makes up for it with good athleticism and reportedly keeps himself in tremendous shape. Good mental makeup guy as well.  Okey hit .324 for Team USA and is committed to Clemson.
  • Nick Cuiffo show good skills behind the plate, with good hands and good blocking abilities.  He has a classic catcher's build (6'1, 200 lbs) and a LH bat with good power potential  (with the potential to hit around 25 HR).  Ciuffo also shows a solid hit tool.  He posseses a plus arm and can consistently hit around 1.8 pop, making him a great asset against the run game.  He is one of the top prospects in this very deep crop of prep catchers. Committed to South Carolina.
  •  Brian Navarreto is the most athletic catcher in the class but is also the least likely of this group to stay behind the plate because of his size and relative lack of polish defensively.  Navarreto is already 6'4,  220 and is going to get bigger, but that being said, he shows good handsbehind the plate with above average arm strength.  He sometimes shows a quick release with some times around 1.80 POP.  He has quick hands and shows above average raw power and speed.  There's a possibility he may move to the OF at the next level.
  •  Jeremy Martinez was the most heralded of the catchers early on but he has dropped off a little bit.  Defensively he is excellent behind the plate.  His POP is a little bit behind the others at around a 1.95  but the arm strength is there.  He shows power at times but has yet to live up to the potential  people saw in him his sophomore year. There are some concerns about his conditioning.  Some scouts thought he was a little soft  but the work ethic, mental makeup and intangibles are all grade as plus, so there's every expectation he can regain his old form. That potential is still there, it may just take a little more time than what was first thought. Committed to USC.

Filed under: MLB Draft

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  • John and Kevin, thanks for taking the time to write about this. I've been thinking about how this draft will unfold a lot lately. The baseball gods have seemingly aligned to allow the Cubs to maximize the impact of their draft position by having solid college arms to choose from in the first round and several strong prep catchers to choose from in the second or possibly third round. The Cubs have organizational holes at these two positions. I agree BPA is the way to go, but this seems like too good of a situation to ignore.

    There were some catchers that were not mentioned in your piece that I wanted to get your comments on. With someone like Reese McGuire, I can understand leaving him out because he likely won't be there in the 2nd round. Jon Denney might be gone too, but the Cubs are picking in the low 40s. He could still be there. Zack Collins will probably move off catcher, so I'm less interested in him. But can I get your comments on two California guys, Tyler Alamo and Dom Nunez? Thanks!

  • In reply to Quedub:

    McGuire was one of those guys I alluded to when I said they were not quite good enough to be the 2nd overall pick. At least not at this point. A lot to like about him with his all-around skills and lefty bat potential.

    Denney drew some buzz in the offseason and has some momentum right now. I think he may be the 2nd catcher taken. In fact, I'm not sure Okey makes it to the 2nd round either. I'm hoping they get a crack at Ciuffo. As for the other guys, we'll take a bit more in depth about them as we get closer to the date and deeper into the draft. I'm on the road for most of the day and don't have my notes with me, so maybe Kevin can fill in a bit when he gets the chance.

  • In reply to Quedub:

    Reese McGuire is a top 10 pick for me maybe a top 5. I personally would not be upset if the Cubs took him at 2. He will be an impact player.
    As for Alamo I got to see him quite a bit last year. He is a very defensive catcher but his swing is a little long and he might be better off going to college first. I wouldn't he surprised if he is pick around the 5th round or higher though.
    Nunez I have not seen behind the plate so I really can't say much about his skill set there. He has a nice line drive swing and is a very good athlete so I don't see why he couldn't move behind the plate. He has good hands and a quick release at SS which could translate nicely to catcher.

  • I'm hoping that Jon Denney drops so we we can grab him in the 2nd round. Where do you put him among the others you named?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    I like Denney a lot. My feeling when we put this together is that he wouldn't be around by the time their 2nd pick came around. He came on strong in the offseason tournaments/showcases.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Denney is the 2nd best catcher in the class period. I see him going around the 20th pick, maybe earlier.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    As a self proclaimed fantasy expert, I have learned when it comes to drafting it's all about getting good value with each of your picks. And every once in a while a player falls to you whom you can't believe he's still there. I think the key here is that this draft will be strong with catchers. I'm sure the Cubs will identify who they really like. It sounds like if a guy like Jon Denney were to fall to them in the 2nd round, they would be lucky to get him. Although that sounds as if it is unlikely. In addition, since there will always be a demand for quality catchers I'd be surprised if anyone drastically fell in the draft. I have no doubt the Cubs will go best player available with the #2 overall pick. My gut says this will be a hitter with no dominant pitcher in this year's draft and the fact that hitters are a much safer gamble that early. At that point just like last year, they will point their focus on drafting as many high upside pitchers as possible with the thought that if one of the catchers who they like fall to a round where they feel as if they are getting good value, they will grab him.

  • In reply to Ibleedcubbieblue:

    There are some good arms that could fall to the 2nd and 3rd rounds and John will be getting notes on those players soon. But they are some that might turn your head a little.

  • In reply to KGallo:

    Could one of these catchers fall to round 4?

  • HAPPY 82ND BIRTHDAY TO MISTER CUB, ERNIE BANKS !

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Happy Birthday Ernie!

  • John & Kevin, thanks for writing this! I agree, this is one position we need to address early and often for our organization.

    One thing you guys didn't mention was Navarreto's speed. This kid looks like a race car on the field when ACD is running sprints. He has impressed me each time I've seen him play, including the UA game @ Wrigley.

    I'm sure I'll be calling a few of ACD's games this year, hopefully I will be behind the plate for one or more and can provide you with some insight on the young man.

    P.S. for those don't know, Arlington Country Day (ACD) is Javy Baez's old high school.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    Kevin did mention Navaretto's speed in his notes above and I actually caught a glimpse of it myself at the UA game. One of the reasons he may wind up in the OF.

  • In reply to HoosierDaddy:

    I'm looking forward, by the way, to hearing your insight on Navaretto. Please keep us updated on that.

  • I like catchers with speed and athleticism. Quickness is underestamated when it comes to backstops as it a plus offensively as well. Of course, the most important need for a good catcher is their heads and ability to take charge of the game and work with the pitchers. I would suppose that that hard to know when drafting. It's like a calling.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    It is hard to see the baseball IQ of catcher in HS these days because it is rare to see them call their own games. That being said you really have to rely on how good a student is and how coach able they are so they can be taught.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Calling and managing a game is huge -- and it's no coincidence that Welington Castillo is working his tail off on that part of the game. He has all the tools physically, but the ability to lead his staff and be a reliable receiver is what will probably determine his fate as a long term MLB player.

  • In reply to 44slug:

    Quick hands and quick feet, something NFL scouts look for in offensive tackles(or at least should be). A pre-requisite, Id think for an MLB caliber catcher(or a 3b-the only position I remember where young prospects have sometimes been moved to catcher-including a fellow named Johnny Bench).

  • john, maybe I'm wrong but if I remember right, early mock drafts had Jeremy Martinez in the top 10. if he is available with the second round pick, that would be a great pick up for the cubs. obviously the talent is there.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    You are correct. There's some doubts now about his bat after a tough season but he's certainly worth monitoring. A good offensive season will put him right back in the picture.

    Also mentioned that some thought he looked a little soft but given his reputation as a hard worker, it may just be a case of needing to mature physically and getting stronger. Could be a steal if that's the case and you're willing to be patient.

  • In reply to Joshnk24:

    Martinez was considered the top catcher of the 2013 draft back in 2011. He has still show potential but hasn't lived up to it just yet. His body is still maturing so, its a possibility that he can become the player people thought.

  • !971 N.L. Rookie of the Year catcher Earl Williams died the other day of Leukemia....he was 64.

  • Lets put it this way-in high school I was 6'3" and 215 lbs when I graduated in 1973. Im now 6'3" and 265. hard not to gain weight once past your late 20s(Ive been at the same weight for 30 years now). The kid will only get bigger. What happened with catchers in our system, like Rosario, Contreras, Gibbs, Etc?

  • In reply to mutant beast:

    Rosario is talented but hasn't been healthy since drafted. Considering he was raw to begin with, he's really behind now. Gibbs hasn't shown he can hit. Contreras is interesting but has a lot of work to do. My favorite catching prospect right now.

  • Great info guys! Thanks a lot for this article.

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Thanks Toby!

  • Wow. BA just came out with new top 50 draft picks and Denney up to #7...overall. Passed up McGuire, who is now #14.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    I don't agree with that and I like Denney a lot.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Let's take him with the #2 pick. No way that can backfire.

  • In reply to Mike Moody:

    haha :)

  • How can someone shoot up like that without playing recently?

  • In reply to SFToby:

    Looked great at all the showcases and workouts. Tons of scouts there watching him play against best competition in the country.

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    John, any chance the catching shortage gets addressed in a trade?

  • In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Yes and I'm assuming you mean at the prospect level. That's always a possibility. Catching is a rare commodity, so teams don't like to give them up but we've seen top prospects like Montero and D'Arnaud traded recently.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Yes, I was referring to prospects.

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    In reply to Michael Caldwell:

    Not John lol but young, impact catchers are at a premium right now. No team in their right mind will trade a top catching prospect or impact catcher unless they are already tremendously deep at the position like the Blue Jays when they traded D'nuad(sp) and it'll cost you big if you do get one... Most/if not all the young top catchers in the league are homegrown as well so we'll probably need to do the same. Don't see a trade happening.

  • Other stuff from BA list: Appel still #1, Manaea #2 but Stanek down to #5. Meadows, Frazier sandwiched in betwen Manaea and Stanek.

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    In reply to John Arguello:

    Wow. I think it's a bit early to put Manaea over Stanek but his body alone probably has him in the top 5. LHP with upper 90's gas on a starters body is so rare. Man so many options for us at the top.

    I feel like it's essential to hit gold on this pick so if you had to sacrifice a small bit of upside for a little more certainty would you do it?

  • In reply to Marcel Jenkins:

    I think we desperately need a number one, so I would take the safest bet to be a #1, which at this point I believe is Appel. I think with Manaea, people are thinking he could be a David Price, and he could be, but he could also be a big miss. Much more likely than Appel to be a miss. Also, Manaea doesn't play the same caliber of schedule as Appel.

  • could one of you guys explain what POP is and what good numbers for POP are, I dont think ive ever seen that acronym before.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Pop is the time the ball hit the catcher's glove to when it hit the 2nd baseman. Anything below 1.9 is excellent.

  • In reply to Andrew:

    Meant to say it's just slang, not an acronym. Pop is time from catcher to 2B. My editing goof for leaving it capitalized :)

  • Thanks for this article, Kevin and John.
    Since development is as important as good draft picks, who coaches and develops the Cubs' catching prospects? I mean the catching, defense, and game-calling aspects, not hitting/baserunning/et al.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    John might know better then me. He is the Cubs expert the me I am a draft and prospects guy.

  • In reply to StillMissKennyHubbs:

    Mark Johnson, the Boise manager, did a lot of work with top catching prospect Wilson Contreras and it's no coincidence both will move up to Kane Cty together.

    It's a team effort. They'll have lots of coaches, development guys close by. Les Strode and Jamie Quirk will be on hand too.

  • Im worried about this draft, not because i dont think the cubs wont get high impact talent, but because i think that they wont get the pitching that they were hoping for.

    if the cubs arent sold on a college pitcher with the #2 pick, it is extremely likely that they pick austin meadows, the left handed hitting outfielder from georgia. then in the 2nd round if one of the catchers we're targeting falls to them (mcguire, denney, okey, cuiffo), i'd really hope that they pick him. the problem with this is that then the cubs would be waiting until the 3rd round to pick their first pitcher.

  • In reply to jshmoran:

    It could work out that way, which would set the Cubs back a little in terms of stocking on pitching -- but if they think those are the best guys available at their respective picks, then I think they should do it. Main goal is to get impact talent and let the rest take care of itself.

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    John, given who the Cubs minor league pitching coordinator is, could you see the Cubs having an interest in Vanderbilt's Kevin Ziomeck in the second or third round?

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