Greg Rosenstein of ESPN had an article today talking about the risk with high school catchers. Rosenstein quoted an NL West scout who said “High school catchers don’t make the big leagues.” The article went on to explain the risks with high school catchers, noting that they’re not physically mature, there are mental issues to worry about, and there’s uneven performance.
That has to be concerning for Pirates fans, especially since all signs point to the Pirates using their first pick on prep catcher Reese McGuire in tomorrow’s draft. But if the article is the only reason you’re concerned, I wouldn’t be too concerned.
For one, the article was very absolute with the “High school catchers don’t make the big leagues” approach. It noted flaws, and then made some unsubstantiated claims about the odds of catchers making it versus other positions. We actually have a pretty good idea of the odds for catchers to make the majors, as well as every other position. Baseball America did a study a few weeks ago, looking at all of the top 100 picks from 1989-2008, and giving the percent chance of those picks making the majors, and becoming impact players. Here is how it broke down.
Chance of Making the Majors
Position – Prep/College
Catcher – 32%/52%
First Base – 34%/43%
Second Base – 0%/41%
Third Base – 28%/57%
Shortstop – 33%/48%
Outfield – 28%/47%
Most of the article is based around a comparison of prep catchers to college catchers. If you’re taking that approach, then you’re going to be correct that prep catchers aren’t going to be as successful and have a smaller chance of making the majors. But that’s true of any prep player. In fact, prep catchers have the third best chance of making the majors out of any position. They fall behind first basemen (probably because of the bats) and shortstops (because that’s where the best athletes play). Catchers fall into that shortstop category for athletes, as they can move to another position. Note that the above stats count everyone drafted, regardless of whether they switched positions later.
Chance of Being an Impact Player
Position – Prep/College
Catcher – 11%/12%
First Base – 13%/18%
Second Base – 0%/14%
Third Base – 10%/21%
Shortstop – 8%/12%
Outfield – 12%/13%
Again, catchers have pretty favorable results. And actually the difference between a prep catcher becoming an impact player in the majors, and a college catcher becoming an impact player isn’t that great. When you look at the difference here, and look at the difference in the “making the majors” category, it seems that college catchers get credit for graduating a lot of players who don’t really make an impact.
Chance of Sticking at the Position
Position – Prep/College
Catcher – 22%/38%
First Base – 34%/43%
Second Base – 0%/36%
Third Base – 13%/34%
Shortstop – 8%/25%
Outfield – 27%/42%
I’m not sure that this tells us anything when comparing to other positions. 32% of prep catchers drafted made the majors. About two-thirds of those players remained catchers. So you’ve got a 22% chance of getting a future major league catcher if you take a prep catcher. Again, that’s better than shortstops or third basemen.
I wrote this in response to the Baseball America research, and I’ll write it here. It’s important to keep in mind the odds of each position. You want to keep those in mind so you don’t make a pick based solely on a player’s position. The more important thing is the individual player.
I had Jim Callis on the podcast this week discussing the draft. We discussed McGuire, and Callis said that he has what it takes to stick behind the plate, and that he could be an All-Star catcher in the majors one day. That’s the individual scouting report on McGuire. So do you trust that, or do you just go with the overall odds and pass on McGuire because the odds for prep catchers are historically low?
Here’s the flaw with the “overall odds” approach, and why the individual approach is better. The overall odds approach would be against guys like Manny Machado and Francisco Lindor. The odds for shortstop are extremely worse than the odds for catchers. Shortstops have about the same chance of making the majors, but a smaller chance at being an impact player, and a much smaller chance of sticking at short. So if you go with the overall approach, you pass on Machado and Lindor. You’re also probably passing on every prep player and only taking college players.
Here’s the problem. You’re eventually going to need a shortstop. And if you keep passing on shortstops because they’re risky, then you have a 100% chance of never landing a shortstop. So you use the scouting reports, look at the individual player, and decide if guys like Machado and Lindor are worth the risk.
It’s the same argument with catchers, and any other position. You keep in mind the odds for the individual position, but the most important thing in the individual report.
The alternative to McGuire tomorrow is probably going to be one of a group of two prep outfielders (Austin Meadows, Clint Frazier) or a prep left-handed pitcher (Trey Ball). The odds for those guys aren’t much better than McGuire. So the whole “high school catchers are risky” argument doesn’t really work. I would probably prefer Frazier or Meadows over McGuire, but ultimately that’s splitting hairs. I could definitely see an argument for McGuire, especially if you believe he can stick at the position. Frazier and Meadows might have more upside, but getting an outfielder with their upside is more common than a catcher with McGuire’s upside.
Check back in the morning for all of the updates before the draft, and be sure to check out our top 100 rankings and the draft podcast linked below.
Links and Notes
**Save $8 On The Pirates Prospects Books With the MLB Draft Sale. The sale only runs for one more week, so act quickly!
**Check out the latest episode of the Pirates Prospects Podcast: P3 Episode 7: Talking Pirates Draft With Jim Callis of Baseball America. The show features an interview with Baseball America’s Jim Callis, who breaks down the potential options for the Pirates, including Reese McGuire, Hunter Renfroe, and D.J. Peterson. Also on the show, John Dreker and I go over the Pirates Prospects 2013 Draft Top 100 Tiered Rankings.
Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.