After a 2017 MLB Draft where we didn’t see a catcher come off the board until No. 39 overall, last year was a big year for the catching position, as three backstops (Joey Bart at No. 2, Anthony Seigler at No. 23, and Bo Naylor at No. 29) were selected in the first round. This year figures to be another one that will be rewarding for catchers, as there’s a good chance that we could see two receivers (Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman and Baylor’s Shea Langeliers) selected within the top 10, marking the first time that multiple catchers would be top-10 picks in the same year since Buster Posey, Kyle Skipworth, and Jason Castro were all taken in the top 10 back in 2008.
Add to that that catchers are so hard to evaluate, and it’s even clearer why early-first-round catchers are so rare. Just five major-leaguers who have been their team’s primary starting catcher this season — Posey, Castro, Yasmani Grandal, Mike Zunino, and Josh Phegley — were first-round picks. It’s apparent that really good catchers can be found beyond the first round or through the international market, and some teams have responded to that trend by shying away from backstops early on. With that said, the catching crop, at least at the top, appears to be more reliable than usual this year, so perhaps things will play out differently than they often have in recent years.
Here are five of the top catchers in this year’s draft class, all of whom you should get to know as June 3 approaches:
Adley Rutschman, Oregon State University
Ranked 1st by both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America
The 21-year-old Rutschman — unanimously ranked as the top player in this draft class — is a standout switch-hitting catching prospect, the likes of whom we haven’t seen since Matt Wieters came out of Georgia Tech in 2007. He’s an extremely impressive hitter who led the Beavers to a College World Series victory in 2018, and he has a ridiculously advanced approach, as he boasts a 28.2% walk rate and 14.7% strikeout rate this season while hitting .427/.584/.772 with 16 homers and 55 RBI in 52 games. He’s a solidly-built catcher (6-foot-2, 216 pounds) who is somewhat reminiscent of Posey in terms of his physical makeup, his hitting stroke, and his stance and body language behind the plate. He’s considered a strong pitch framer and receiver, and he has a strong throwing arm.
There are no sure things in the MLB Draft, and it’s especially rare to see switch-hitting catchers find success in the majors, but Rutschman certainly looks like a guy who can be a transformative, upper-echelon starting catcher in the not-too-distant future. The Orioles haven’t had much success with highly-regarded catching prospects in the recent past — look no further than the aforementioned Wieters, who was solid but probably a net disappointment during his time in Baltimore. With that said, the Orioles’ new front office should feel confident that they can quickly develop Rutschman into an impact big-leaguer, and it’d be a surprise if they didn’t take him first overall next month.
Shea Langeliers, Baylor University
Ranked 10th by MLB Pipeline, 9th by Baseball America
The 21-year-old Langeliers is a decidedly different type of prospect than Rutschman, but he’s very intriguing nonetheless and has a solid chance to go within the top 10 of this year’s draft. The Baylor prospect is definitely a defense-first backstop, with a cannon arm that enabled him to throw out nearly 70 percent of runners last year, as well as above-average pitch-framing, receiving, and blocking skills. He displays confidence behind the plate, and he won the 2018 ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove as the top defensive catcher in Division I baseball.
With all that said, Langeliers is a bit more of a work in progress as a hitter, and that makes the fact that he’s regarded so highly in today’s game — with a style of play that is so offense-intensive and features more platoons and timeshares behind the plate than ever — a bit confounding. He’s hitting .311/.376/.484 this season with six homers in 38 games, but his swing — which isn’t exactly the smoothest in the world — as well as his 13.4% strikeout rate and 8.4% walk rate are concerning signs for his future development and success as a hitter. If anything, the 6-foot, 190-pounder could be a guy who develops into an all-or-nothing power hitter similar to Zunino or Austin Hedges, but obviously he’ll need to add more strength to make that happen at the big-league level. It should be interesting to see exactly how highly teams regard him when the draft comes around next week.
Ethan Hearn, Mobile Christian School, Mobile, AL
Ranked 67th by MLB Pipeline, 65th by Baseball America
The 18-year-old Hearn is the consensus top high school catching prospect in this year’s draft class. A Mississippi State commit, the left-handed-hitting Hearn is another guy that probably fits into the Zunino/Hedges type category as a catcher whose power and defense are going to get him to the majors (and ultimately, maybe that’s a good thing — or at least not a negative — because in today’s shift-oriented game, it’s an extreme rarity for lefty contact hitters to find tremendous success anyway).
In news that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone familiar with high-school position-player prospects, Hearn is a guy who teams can dream on but who is far from polished right now. He’s got a ton of power, but he’s not really much of a contact hitter yet. For now, Hearn is relying on a cannon of an arm to carry his defensive value, as there have been questions about his receiving ability and mental makeup in terms of being able to call a game and handle a staff. Hearn is going to require plenty of development and patience (and maybe this whole discussion will go for naught anyway if he decides to go to college), but he’s definitely a guy who has plenty of upside if he ends up with the right opportunity.
Kyle McCann, Georgia Tech University
Ranked 88th by MLB Pipeline, 136th by Baseball America
McCann’s an interesting case, as he’s ranked as a top-100 player by MLB Pipeline and isn’t even really near there on Baseball America’s list. Perhaps that’s just because he didn’t get much of an opportunity prior to this year — he spent his first two college seasons backing up Joey Bart, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft. The 21-year-old profiles as an offense-first catcher; he’s a left-handed hitter, but much like Bart, he has a bit of an uppercut swing that he uses to fully take advantage of his tremendous power. As we just discussed with Hearn, left-handed line-drive hitters aren’t really en vogue in today’s game, so McCann is performing like an ideal lefty hitter should in 2019, posting a .296/.462/.699 slash line with 22 homers in 52 games. He appears to have a mature and disciplined (if somewhat aggressive) approach, especially for a guy in his first season as a college starter: he’s posted a 21.7% walk rate, compared to a 25.3% strikeout rate, in 2019.
He’s relatively raw behind the plate — definitely not as polished as previous Yellow Jackets backstops such as Wieters and Bart were at this point — but with an athletic build (6-foot-2, 217 pounds) and an above-average arm, he has a decent chance to end up being a passable defender at the big-league level. One current major-league catcher he could compare favorably to is Stephen Vogt: a lefty-hitting catcher whose defense has always been a tick below average, but has stuck around and carved out a solid career thanks to his strong all-around offensive approach and game-changing power.
Carter Bins, Fresno State University
Ranked 134th by MLB Pipeline, 93rd by Baseball America
Bins is the reverse of McCann in terms of getting love from national publications: He made it into the back end of Baseball America’s top 100 but didn’t even come close to cracking MLB Pipeline’s top 100 list. The 6-foot, 200-pound 21-year-old is a defense-first catcher with some solid power, and he perhaps has a chance to be the same type of player that Langeliers is projected to be, but at a much better value, as he’ll almost certainly be available on the draft’s second day. He’s extraordinarily highly regarded for his blocking ability, and he has also drawn praise for his receiving skills, athleticism, and polished baseball IQ, which should make him a great leader of a pitching staff at the professional level.
His season has been a disappointment, plain and simple, from an offensive standpoint: He’s hitting .258/.366/.393, the worst numbers of his college career in each of the three slash line categories, while hitting five homers (to this point a career low) in 47 games. On the bright side, he has shown more patience at the plate than ever before, posting a career-high 12.5% walk rate and a career-low 18.1% strikeout rate. He’ll need to be better offensively if he expects to be an impactful big-leaguer, but with as polished as his defense already is and the knowledge that guys like Jeff Mathis, Sandy León, and Martín Maldonado have carved out long careers just by being fantastic defenders, Bins seems like a high-floor prospect who has a really good chance to make it to the majors, even if it’s just as a glove-first backup or timeshare partner.