Despite the fact that it’s extremely risky to take a catcher in the first round (amateur backstops generally build their prospect value through their offense, but catchers almost always reach the majors due to their defense), there’s been a run on backstops in the first round in each of the past two years. Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart went second overall to the Giants in 2018, followed by high school catchers Anthony Siegler to the Yankees at No. 23 and Bo Naylor to the Indians at No. 29. Then Oregon State’s Adley Rutschman went first overall to the Orioles last June, with Baylor’s Shea Langeliers going to the Braves at No. 9 overall and Cal’s Korey Lee being taken by the Astros at No. 32.
We almost certainly won’t see a catcher taken within the top two picks like Bart and Rutschman have been over the last couple years — and maybe not even in the top 10, for that matter — but this is still a strong catching class, and we could see the number of catchers taken in the first round increase beyond three.
Here are five catchers you should be keeping an eye on heading into the draft:
Patrick Bailey, NC State
The 21-year-old Bailey is unanimously regarded by the experts as the top catcher in this draft class and certainly has a chance to be taken within the top 10 picks. The switch-hitter (a trait extremely rare among big-league catchers but somewhat common among those taken high in the first round) posted a .302/.411/.568 slash line over two-plus seasons at NC State. He flashed tremendous power as he hit 29 career home runs, including double-digit homers in both of his full collegiate seasons.
As good as he was as a hitter at NC State, his greatest skill may be his defense. He has a strong arm and good movement skills, and his ability behind the plate figures to get him to the big leagues even if his offense doesn’t translate to the professional game. First-round catchers, even more than the average first-round pick in the MLB Draft, carry inherent risk, but Bailey actually seems to be a pretty safe pick who can have an Austin Hedges-like impact with plus power and defense at the bare minimum.
Tyler Soderstrom, Turlock High School (CA)
Soderstrom, a lefty-hitting catcher who is the son of former big-league pitcher Steve Soderstrom, is the top prep catching prospect in this draft class, but like many high school backstops who get drafted early, his odds of sticking behind the plate as a pro are questionable at best. While he has a cannon of an arm, his receiving and game-calling skills are raw, and at such an early stage in his development, it’s a mystery as to how good they’ll turn out to be.
Soderstrom’s bat figures to be his biggest asset, anyway, so he may be better utilized at a spot like third base or a corner outfield spot where his strong arm can be utilized without his body breaking down because he’s in the squat every day. He’s a surprisingly polished contact hitter with good on-base skills, though the 6-foot-2, 200-pounder still has yet to fully realize his power potential. It should be interesting to see what the team that drafts Soderstrom wants to do with him, and if his bat is enough to earn him a selection in the top half of the first round even if the team that takes him isn’t exceptionally optimistic about his chances of catching in the big leagues.
Dillon Dingler, Ohio State
The right-handed hitting Dingler, who is just an unnecessary L away from having one of the greatest last names in the history of baseball, isn’t much of a hitter, and if the Ohio State backstop gets taken in the first round it will be because of his defense. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has an elite arm that should keep runners at bay, and he’s a well-regarded receiver with strong movement skills behind the plate.
Dingler has gotten better as a hitter with each college season, but the shortened 2020 campaign (he hit .340/.404/.760 with five homers in 13 games) was the only season where he was really dominant at the plate. He’ll presumably finish his Buckeyes career with a .276/.367/.442 slash line with 12 homers and 10 steals (eight of which came during the 2019 campaign), though some scouts expect him to take another step forward offensively at the professional level. With so much emphasis being placed on game-calling and pitch-frmaing skills these days, Dingler has a chance to be a successful big-league starter even if he isn’t a good hitter as a pro.
Drew Romo, The Woodlands High School (TX)
Romo, another switch-hitting catcher, may have the most upside of any backstop in this class, and if teams believe they can buy him out of his commitment to LSU, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him go in the first round. The 6-foot-1, 205-pounder is the rare top-tier prep catching prospect who is more highly-regarded for his defense than his offense, possessing elite receiving skills and a cannon of an arm. He hasn’t unlocked much of his power potential yet, but with such an athletic build, it’s certainly possible that he’ll do so as a pro, and he has solid contact-hitting and on-base skills. If he can polish those offensive skills at the next level and take advantage of his switch-hitting profile, he really has the potential to be the full package and turn into a real steal if he’s taken at the back end of the first round.
Kevin Parada, Loyola High School of Los Angeles (CA)
Like Soderstrom, Parada is a prep catcher whose ability to stay behind the plate long-term is questionable, but his odds of remaining a catcher seem a bit better than those of his fellow Californian. A right-handed batter who stands 6-foot and 200 pounds, Parada is more of a contact hitter than anything at this stage, but scouts believe he’ll become a plus power hitter as he ages. He has a plus arm and should be given the opportunity to polish his receiving and blocking skills at the professional level, but those defensive skills aren’t necessarily up to par right now. Parada arguably has more development ahead of him than any of the other catchers on this list, but he has the potential to be solid in all areas and could one day be a decent big-league starter.