College catching is always at a premium. And it isn't as if Miami backstop Yasmani Grandal came out of nowhere. He was a pretty highly regarded high school catching prospect three years ago. But the fact that he's had by far his best offensive season -- and one of the better ones of any college hitter (not just among catchers) -- as a junior should end up working out very well for him come June 7.
That's when the 2010 Draft begins, with live coverage on MLB.com and the MLB Network getting under way at 7 p.m. ET.
Thanks to his superb season with the Hurricanes, Grandal should hear his name called fairly early on in the process of the first round, with the buzz starting around picks four and five.
That's largely because the switch-hitter has gone from hitting .234 as a freshman and .299 (albeit with 16 homers) as a sophomore to a .428/.552/.759 line this season.
"I think it's just maturity, growing up, understanding the game more," Grandal said. "Coming into this year, I needed to step into a role. The only way for me to take over that role was to do better than I'd done.
"I said to myself, 'I'm going to try to help the team to win by doing as much as I can on the field.' That's helped a lot, being more mature at the plate, recognizing more pitches. That's helped me out the most."
In 2007, when he was coming out of high school, Grandal was thought to be one of the best defensive catchers in the class. It was more the overall package than any individual tool that led to that impression, and in many ways, that hasn't changed. He handles pitchers well and receives comfortably. His arm is average, but his release and accuracy are good.
The Red Sox took a shot back then, drafting Grandal in the 27th round and hoping to entice him away from his college commitment. They were unsuccessful, and while Grandal doesn't regret the decision, he'll honestly admit that he's wondered what his life would be like had he gone in the other direction.
"You're always going to think about it, what could've happened if you had gone the other way," Grandal said. "Seeing how it played out, it was the best decision I could've made. If I had gone with the Red Sox, maybe I would've been fine. You think about the fact you could be in the Major Leagues in a few years, but you never know how it's going to play out. Maybe in one or two years, I'll be in the Major Leagues.
"We have a bunch of pro guys that played here and some guys in the Minor Leagues who are doing well. You'll probably see them in the Major Leagues over the next couple of years. Being here helped them; hopefully it'll help me too."
In high school, the questions around Grandal, other than his signability, were about his ability to hit consistently, concerns that weren't assuaged over his first two years at Miami. That's changed this year and the team that believes this is the real Grandal is likely to be the one that takes him. But even with the improved offense, Grandal knows that his abilities behind the plate are what will really help him reach and stick in the big leagues.
"Defense has always been my strength and I'm going to keep on working at it, trying to perfect my game," Grandal said. "I'm never going to be perfect catching, but the harder you work at it, the better you'll become. If you can become a great defensive catcher, you'll make it there. That's what they're looking for in me. I always put defense ahead of hitting, so I'm always working on it, trying to improve."
Grandal isn't looking ahead just yet. Following the ACC Tournament, he's hoping to possibly finish off his college career by hosting a regional and making it to Omaha. He's planning on relishing every moment the rest of the way, knowing that this likely will be his last chance at winning a ring.
"Hopefully, by the end of the season, we'll be the last team standing," Grandal said. "You always have a winning atmosphere here, trying to go further than other teams. My first year, I got the chance to go to Omaha at Rosenblatt Stadium. Last year, we didn't have the chance to advance as much.
"I'm excited, but I'm sad at the same time. College baseball is way different from pro baseball. The atmosphere is not the same. I still have some time here and I'm trying to enjoy it."
The perfect scenario has Grandal being drafted in the first round and finishing his career with a title in Omaha. Everyone dreams about being the one to win a championship, but as a defense-first kind of guy, Grandal has a slightly different vision of how that would happen for him personally.
"Everybody says coming up with the winning hit," Grandal said. "I think a strikeout-throw-him-out double play would be a pretty good scenario."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.