Most don't catch on
Last year, Rajsich didn't select a catcher until the 13th round, when he picked but didn't sign Wade Wass. The Orioles took Stetson catcher Sam Kimmel in the 18th round, and he is being converted into an outfielder.
Baseball America doesn't list a catcher in the organization's top 30 prospects. The most promising are at Double-A Bowie: Brian Ward, 27, and Caleb Joseph, 26. But there are questions as to whether Ward's bat and Joseph's glove will play in the big leagues. Michael Ohlman, 22, who signed out of a Florida high school for a far-above-slot $995,000 bonus in 2009, hasn't been able to stay healthy.
History has not been kind to the Orioles when selecting true high school catchers with their top first-round picks. They've done it four times since the draft began in 1965. James West (1970) and Ken Thomas (1972) never made the majors. Jayson Werth (1997) has had a fine career as an outfielder, but he never played for the Orioles. Brandon Snyder (2005) has played in 44 big league games and only one inning at catcher, while with the Texas Rangers last year.
Wieters, a two-time Gold Glover and All-Star, is the organization's only top pick to actually catch for the Orioles — and he wasn't drafted by anyone out of high school, only partially because it was known he was going to college.
"Mentally I might have been ready out of high school, though I probably wasn't," Wieters said. "But I don't think I was ready physically. I think I needed that weightlifting program. And having to learn how to bide your time was big for me."
Wieters said it takes a special mentality — "a coach's type personality" — to become an effective catcher in the majors. All the extra preparation may chase some from the position. Additionally, organizations often want their top picks to get to the majors quickly to take advantage of their advanced skills. Potential top catchers are moved to other spots, such as former No. 1 overall pick Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals.
"He probably could have stayed at catcher, but he was ready to hit and play at the big league level at a younger age," Wieters said of Harper, now an outfielder. "It always comes down to what kind of developmental program you have."
Many top athletes never even put on the catcher's gear, which obviously limits the talent pool, Graham said.
"The best athletes on the field want to play shortstop or center field," Graham said. "If [Orioles center fielder] Adam Jones played tennis from the time he was 7 years old, he'd probably be a great tennis player. And if Adam Jones played catcher from the time he was 6 years old, he'd probably be a big league catcher. But he was a high school shortstop that moved to center field."
All things being equal, Orioles bench coach and catching instructor John Russell said he'd prefer to have a high school catcher, because often they can be more easily molded. College catchers, for instance, normally aren't allowed to call their own games, so they are three or four years behind high school catchers in developing that skill.
"If you get a really good, young, talented catcher coming out of high school, there are a lot of things he hasn't been subjected to yet that you can kind of get him onto the professional path a little bit quicker," said Russell, a first-round pick of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1982 as a college catcher. "A lot of times in college, unfortunately, they are a little more programmed."
Most in the organization agree that there needs to be an infusion of higher quality catchers. And since there's more talent at the position in this draft than in years past, the question becomes whether it's worth the risk to gamble on a catcher in the first round or two this week.
"Yeah it is, depending on who it is. There are exceptions to everything," Showalter said. "So many times in draft rooms everybody is wanting to take the easy way out. I know our guys don't. But that's the history of it. … But what about Joe Mauer? Wieters? We all know you can't win without [good catchers]. And you better have more than one."