Catchers are consistently the hardest players for MLB scouts to evaluate, and for that reason, they (1) are often treated with skepticism heading into the MLB Draft and (2) often don’t turn out as planned. Just three catchers have been selected in the top 10 since 2010, and one of them was Kyle Schwarber, who has primarily been an outfielder at the major-league level. Only three big-league catchers who have started a majority of their team’s games this season — the Mariners’ Mike Zunino, the Giants’ Buster Posey, and the Dodgers’ Yasmani Grandal — were drafted in the first round. Granted, quite a few starting catchers across the league were international signees, but it’s still not a great reflection on the reliability of drafting backstops in the first round. With that said, there looks to be a lot of catching talent this year, so maybe things will be different in 2018.
Here are five catchers in this year’s draft class that you should keep an eye on:
Joey Bart, Georgia Tech University
Bart is likely to be the first catcher taken within the top five since Kyle Schwarber in 2014, and he very well may be the top position player in this year’s class. At a listed 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, he already has an ideal catcher’s build. It’s debatable how good of a contact hitter he’ll be as a professional — after all, there aren’t even a ton of great contact hitters in the major leagues today — but Bart has great power and is already very disciplined at the plate, having posted a .471 OBP during his junior season at Georgia Tech. Bart seems to be a willing participant in the launch-angle revolution, utilizing an upper-cut swing to create maximum power.
As intriguing as Bart is at the plate, he’s perhaps equally impressive behind it. As his head coach, Danny Hall, told Baseball America’s Michael Lannana, Bart generally calls his own games —a sharp contrast from most college catchers — with Hall estimating that Bart “probably calls upwards of 95 percent of the pitches that get called in a game.” He doesn’t set up a great target, but he has a very good arm.
Bart may not have the highest ceiling in the world, as he’s only two weeks away from being 21.5 years old, but with as much skill as he already possesses it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shoot through the minors. If we’re comparing him to first-round catchers, Bart seems much more similar to Mike Zunino than he does to Buster Posey, but he’s polished both offensively and defensively and should be able to develop into a major-league starter rather quickly.
Noah Naylor, St. Joan of Arc HS, Maple, Ontario
Bart looks to be the surest thing at catcher in this draft, but Naylor may have the highest ceiling. The 18-year-old brother of Padres prospect (and former Marlins first-rounder) Josh Naylor is the ultra-coveted lefty-hitting catcher, displaying massive power potential at the plate.
Naylor has a fantastic arm, though as is the case with many high-school catchers, it remains to see whether his receiving, blocking, and framing skills will develop to the point where he’s considered a viable option to catch at the major-league level. If his catching skills don’t sufficiently progress, he could eventually be moved to a corner-infield position. He’s committed to Texas A&M, though it seems likely that he’ll be selected early enough that his college plans shouldn’t be much of an obstacle to getting him signed.
Anthony Seigler, Cartersville HS, Cartersville, Georgia
While he doesn’t have a particularly lengthy track record as a catcher, Seigler has gained quite a bit of notoriety for his work as a switch-pitcher in high school. He’s also a switch-hitter — a skill that obviously isn’t the most common for catchers — and he should be at least a decent contact hitter as a pro, even if he doesn’t display a whole lot of power.
Seigler has a good arm, but like Naylor, he’s got a ways to go in terms of defensive development, so it’ll be interesting to see if he sticks long-term as a catcher. He’s committed to Florida, which could create some signability concerns depending on where he’s taken.
Grant Koch, University of Arkansas
Koch is already 21 years old, so he may not have a ton of upside, but he’s a high-floor prospect who should be able to progress pretty quickly. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder shows off a lot of power at the plate and has shown very good on-base skills, though he has so much of an all-or-nothing swing that it’s doubtful he’ll hit for average as a pro.
Koch definitely looks like a guy that will stick behind the plate; he doesn’t have an elite arm, but he’s a good receiver and good blocker. At a position where defense is such a high-level concern, those skills are arguably more valuable than a cannon arm or tremendous hitting potential.
Will Banfield, Brookwood HS, Snellville, Georgia
Banfield (or “the vet,” as someone should nickname him if they haven’t already) has a very high ceiling, though his floor is also quite low. He’s extremely raw as a hitter, and while he’s big enough at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds that he’s got some decent right-handed power potential, there’s no guarantee — and not a lot of optimism, really — that he’ll hit consistently as a pro.
With that said, evaluators are extremely high on Banfield’s defensive upside. He’s got a very good arm, and scouts like his receiving skills. There’s not a ton of stock that can be put into defensive skills for high-school catchers, but Banfield seems to inspire more intrigue in that area than most. He’s committed to Vanderbilt, which could create signability issues if he’s not taken in the first couple rounds.