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A good catch, either way

A good catch, either way

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Jeff Clement -- man, can he hit.

A sweet, left-handed swing that has torched Pac-10 pitching for the better part of the last three years has pro scouts drooling over the prospect of landing the University of Southern California catcher. Clement has terrific long-ball power, a trait that goes all the way back to his high school days, when he set a national prep school record for homers.

If only his skills behind the plate were as prodigious as they are when he stands next to it. The consensus is that it will be Clement's bat and not his glove that gets him to the big leagues. And that's not to say he's a bad catcher, because he's not. It's just that when you drive the ball the way he can, the focal point of what he's about is offense.

Now Taylor Teagarden -- he can catch. Man, can he catch. He calls a game like few others in the college ranks today, so well, in fact, that many believe he'll quickly be an asset to a Major League pitching staff.

But he's pretty much the exact opposite of Clement. While he's a decent-enough hitter, one would be hard-pressed to find many who would put him in Clement's class when it comes to swinging a bat. Yet both are far above the rest of the crop of catchers that are expected to be available next month during the 2005 First-Year Player Draft.

Clement has a chance to go No. 1 overall to Arizona -- though that's remote -- while Teagarden is expected to go somewhere in the first round.

"There aren't that many catchers this year," said one National League player development executive. "Some of them that are out there may wind up at first base. And if you look at Clement and Teagarden, they're completely different guys. The kid from Texas is a very good catcher and thrower and can run a game. He's an OK hitter, so there's a little question there. It might be a risk. But his forte is catching and throwing.

"The one from USC has terrific power. Clement is a guy that can hit home runs. They are the opposite in terms of what you'll get. It depends on what your flavor is. A lot depends on what your needs are."

There is a belief that Clement is one of the catching prospects in this year's draft who will wind up at first base someday. But having average catching skills to go along with a potentially devastating bat hasn't hurt other backstops in the past. Mike Piazza will head to Cooperstown someday with the label as the game's greatest hitting catcher despite lesser defensive skills.

Clement hasn't played any other position at USC, though he does have some third base in his background. He says he would like to stay behind the plate as long as possible, but understands that will be up to whatever team drafts him.

"I've had a big improvement in the eight years that I have been catching," Clement said. "I've taken a lot of time to become a much better catcher. When I came here, everyone said that's where I needed the most work. And thanks to guys like Jason Brown, who was here in the mid-90s and comes back to work with me, I've been able to get to a better level of catching than I was at in high school.

"My receiving skills have gotten a lot better. I feel that every part of my catching, whether it's blocking, throwing or receiving, I expect it to get a lot better. I want to catch unless someone thinks I'm better suited at another position. If anyone asked me to move, I'd have no problem trying another position."

Teagarden, meanwhile, won't have to worry about switching positions. He's regarded as the best defensive catcher in the draft and has drawn such high praise for his ability to call a game that he doesn't figure to spend much time in the Minor Leagues if he proves he can hit Major League pitching.

He's heard the comparisons to Clement and understands why they are made. He grew up in Dallas watching Ivan Rodriguez catch and has since come to appreciate the nuances that Mike Matheny and Brad Ausmus bring to the game. So forgive him if he isn't too worried about his bat.

"I played with Jeff last summer and he has a lot of power and he's lefty," said Teagarden, who was drafted in the 22nd round by the Cubs out of high school but chose to attend college. "Naturally, he's going to hit the ball farther than me. But scouts tell me I have an edge defensively and that it might come a little more natural to me. You like to have a catcher that can hit, that's always a plus. Buy you like to have a catcher that can handle a pitching staff and the scouts say I receive very well.

"The emphasis on catching in the big leagues seems to be on being able to handle a staff and throw out runners. You have to be able to handle a pitching staff and keep the ERA down and do little things most asked of catchers these days. I might not be a middle-of-lineup hitter in the big leagues, but if I'm able to spray balls and shoot for .300 that's OK."

One other complication for Teagarden may be the fact that Scott Boras will be his agent.

"I have absolutely no doubt as far as Scott is concerned," he said. "You hear rumors that certain teams may not like to deal with Scott Boras. But I feel my situation is different. I'm not a $5 million pitcher or a power-hitting shortstop. I'm not in a situation where I feel like people will pass me up.

"What you see is what you get from me. I don't feel as if any team would have a problem drafting me or have an issue signing me. I'm not going to fall into that kind of scenario and teams feel that way about me as well."

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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