Saturday, February 20, 2016

Road to the Show: Top Draft-Elgible College Catchers

Catcher offense has never been too high at the major league level, as the position is commonly associated with being the brains of the operation, doing subtle things to help win ballgames such as calling pitches and framing them. Defense is the first priority for catchers, and any hitting is a plus that is very much appreciated. Most draft classes do not offer much in the way of offensive-minded catchers anymore, but this year is a little different. As with most other years, there is not a huge abundance of high upside catchers available in the first round, but two college catchers stand out from the rest: Chris Okey and Zack Collins.

Chris Okey, Clemson University
Okey is a very special catcher as he does not possess the typical stocky build that catchers have, and he has an above average speed tool that most others don't. His athleticism could also allow him to play second base or left field, which is very valuable for all teams to have, as a catcher who can play multiple positions widens the options off the bench. While Okey does not have a big cannon of an arm, he combines a quick transfer and strong release to have a very fast pop time, helping him be well above average at throwing runners out. He also rates above average at blocking and framing, making him one of the most sound and complete defensive catchers in college baseball. His defense sets him apart from other catching prospects, but the bat is what really pulls him away from the competition. After hitting a decent but underwhelming .248/.311/.350 in his freshman year, Okey broke out last season, bashing 12 HRs and slashing .315/.389/.545 in all 61 of team games. The crouched stance at the plate and average bat speed likely limits his power, but his ceiling could be 10-15 HRs annually in the majors. He does have good bat-to-ball skills though, so he should be able to hit for a high average. Something like .280/.340/.430 is a reasonable ceiling for the durable Chris Okey, who has played in all 122 games of his college career. A big league comparison for an absolute best case scenario would be Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy, whose package of solid offense and outstanding defense make him one of the best catchers in baseball. Chris Okey should be a mid-to-late first rounder in June, but a big spring and some team in need of some catching talent in their farm system could reach for him earlier.

Zack Collins, University of Miami
Collins can straight up mash. One of the best hitters in college baseball the last two years, he posted a very strong .983 OPS in his freshman year before following it up with an even more insane 1.032 OPS in 2015. He has a very strong lower body that generates lots of power, making him a potential threat for 25-30 HRs perenially in the major leagues. He gets good loft in his swing that will produce hard flyballs, and he can really pull the ball with authority. He could use a little work with exploding his hips a little more and the swing can get long at times, but usually he can keep his hands in and drive inside pitches out to right field. Collins will definitely be a capable bat at the next level even if he strikes out a bit too much, but he is patient enough to draw some walks too so it should balance out. His issues are mostly on the defensive side, as many scouts don't think his big body will be able to stick behind the plate. He has a slow pop time and is below average at blocking and receiving, so his defensive chops will need a lot more work. If not, he should transition seamlessly to first base, and his bat will probably play there, but his offensive production would be very welcome behind the plate. Zack Collins reminds me a lot of Kyle Schwarber, and if a team falls in love with his bat the way the Cubs fell for Schwarber, he could go much higher in the draft than expected, but for right now Collins looks like a mid-to-late first rounder as well.

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