Thoughts on drafting and developing catchers

For Tuesday's paper, I wrote a piece about the upcoming amateur draft and the fact there is an unusual abundance of high school catchers available this year.

And I wrote about whether the Orioles would consider grabbing one in the first round even though the high school catcher is considered perhaps the riskiest of all draft commodities.


As is usual with me and these types of stories, I got more stuff than I could fit into the piece. And I didn't want it to go to waste. So consider this the bonus track or the outtakes file of Tuesday's story.

Orioles catcher Matt Wieters on why his father, a former minor league pitcher, had him try catcher at a young age: "I think one of the reasons my dad put the catcher's mitt in my hand in the first place is if you are able to be a catcher and are able to stay healthy, you are going to be able to have a long big league career and be able to stay around. All of us here are baseball players first and you want to be able to do whatever you can to have the best career you can have. And I feel catching is one of the best ways to get to the big leagues and to stay in the big leagues."

Wieters on why he was focused on going to Georgia Tech as a high schooler: "I always wanted to play college baseball. It was always exciting to me and was something I always wanted to do. And on top of that education in my family was always first. And I wanted to be able to experience the next level both educationally and baseball-wise. There's always different situations for everybody, but for me it was something I wanted to experience in my life. And if (baseball) doesn't work out in college, at least you have that education to fall back on."

Wieters on what to look for in drafting a catcher: "The thing with drafting a catcher is more about knowing the mentality than even the ability. It takes a different kind of mentality, where you'll have to learn scouting reports, you have to learn your pitchers, and it takes a different kind of dedication. You can't just be an athlete and put somebody behind the plate and say, 'OK, figure out how to call a game.'"

Orioles bench coach and catching instructor John Russell on why – with the exception of rare polished cases like Wieters – he'd rather have good high school catchers to develop in the minors than college catchers: "With the (Minnesota) Twins, we had college catchers in the minor leagues and their game-calling and how they handled a staff, it was a challenge because they weren't used to it. They had certain things they were used to, certain things programmed into their heads that took a while to get it out. A high school kid, you can start that path a little bit better. Because catching, to me anymore, is you want to have the skills like Matt does and you want to be able to swing the bat. But the main thing we look for in catchers is to be able to handle the position. If you hit, it's a bonus. If you hit really well, you are going to be an everyday guy. That part of it, I think if you get a high school kid, you can develop those aspects a little bit quicker because you have a little more time with him. He hasn't been exposed to (game-calling before). And to me it helps because that game-calling, working with a starting rotation, working with a pitching coach, working with a bullpen and going through all that is huge at this level. If you can't call a game, you don't have that relationship, you'll struggle here. And to me, with a high school guy, you have a little more opportunity to instill that in them."

Russell on why someone who can't be a starting catcher can still be valuable to a team: "When you see a guy that catches, you're like, 'If this guy can be a catcher, that's the avenue. Let's go with that first.' When I was with Pittsburgh, Neil Walker, we signed him as a catcher. It doesn't play and you don't see what you need to see for him to be that every day catcher. But you know there is talent. But where can we best use that talent? Jayson Werth, it was moving to the outfield; Neil Walker it was moving to third and then second. (Brandon) Snyder, you put him in the infield and outfield. It wasn't what you wanted (to start) behind the plate, but it might be better than a backup role behind the plate."

Russell on the previous dearth of catching and why it might be resurgent: "Young players nowadays, they want to be more of the power outfielder or power pitcher. Catching doesn't seem to be the flavor of the month like it used to be. When I came up, I got to see Johnny Bench and Carlton Fisk and it was, maybe, more sexy back then. Now I think it is coming back with the Matt Wieters of the world and Buster Poseys and the Molinas and (Brian) McCann, and the phenom guy in Atlanta (Evan Gattis). I think it is starting to get a little of the flavor back and we are starting to see it this year in the draft. You have good high school catchers coming out, and we haven't seen that in a long time."

Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich on analyzing catchers' talents, high school or college, and why he doesn't like to envision what they could become: "There are certain things in a catcher -- a receiver -- that you like to see. I definitely have my things that I like to see in catching. They have to have 'now' tools for me. I can't project a catcher, that if he doesn't have a (good) throw arm, I can't project him to have one. If he is not a good receiver, I can't project him to be a good receiver. They have got to do it now. They have to have now tools or abilities. I'm not talking about experience-wise. Of course, they are going to need to be professional and get used to the professional routine of playing every day. They are going to have to get their at-bats and learn how to call games and handle a staff. All those things, they need it all. They have to be professional at it. But I'm not going to project a catcher to have a such and such arm if I don't see it."

Orioles player development director Brian Graham on finding sound catchers and teaching them to hit:  "Catching takes a special mentality and a special physicality. You have to be able to do a lot of things physically that most bodies can't do. Certainly, if you have a guy that can catch and block and throw and can call a good game and works well with pitchers, you will try to develop the bat. It's probably easier to go that direction than a guy that can really hit and try to teach them to catch."

Graham on the differences between high school and college catchers: "To project a high school catcher as a bona fide definite big leaguer is a difficult task because, first of all, when you are 18 you are a long way from the big leagues, especially at a premium position. You just don't know how a young player is going to develop physically, how he is going to mature. Secondly, it is such a tough job catching in big leagues, that it is easier to look at a guy that's gone through three years of college or four years of college and see where they are at and how they handle themselves and you know what they are going to be physically So you can project their arm and their release and their accuracy and it's just easier to project an older catcher than it is a younger catcher. … I agree with the fact that you can develop a high school catcher exactly how you want it. But they are a long ways from the big leagues when you get them."

Manager Buck Showalter on the difficulty of scouting and on doing research on prospective players: "You better know what program they are coming from. You better know what conference, what instruction they've had. You better know what's the involvement of the parents is, and whether it is good involvement or bad involvement. There's a lot of things. I think it is one of the hardest jobs in an organization, amateur scout or scouting director. Yet it's also one of – and maybe in our case -- the most important. Of who we are and what we're trying to do."


Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis on the rise in quality catchers this year: "I think it is just cyclical, to be honest with you. I think if you would see it three years in a row, then maybe it's a trend. But I think it is just cyclical. There were not a lot of (top quality) high school catchers necessarily in last year's draft. I just think that's what we got this year."

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