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Drafting catchers an inexact science

Drafting catchers an inexact science

Trying to evaluate backstops come draft time is a definite Catch-22 (pun intended). Everyone wants them, but no one knows how to pick them correctly.

"It's the hardest position to find, with the most differing opinions of players," an American League scouting director said. "More mistakes have been made on catchers than on anyone."

There are so many different things to evaluate with catchers, so many variables, that it's difficult to get a consensus on any given player. This year is no different.

It is generally agreed that Georgia Tech's Matt Wieters is the top guy at this position in this year's First-Year Player Draft class. Take a poll about him, though, and it's easy to wonder if the scouts have seen the same player.

"With Wieters, some think he's the best player in the draft, some think he can't play," the scouting director said. "To hear him compared to Joe Mauer -- as he's been -- to those people [who think he can't play], is a crime."

Like him or the other catchers or not, catching will once again be a hot commodity on draft day. Here is a sampling of backstops likely to hear their name called early on June 7:

J.P. Arencibia, Tennessee
Read his Draft Report

Heading into the season, Arencibia was probably just a small step behind Wieters when it came time to rank catching prospects. But a back problem has hampered him and he hasn't had the kind of season he, or scouts, hoped.

The Team USA standout still has some definite skills. He's more of an offensive-minded backstop, has terrific power potential when healthy and has an advanced approach at the plate. If a team is convinced the back problem won't linger, he could be a special bat.

While his glove is behind, he still has an above-average arm and is fairly athletic, so he should be able to stay behind the plate. But make no mistake about it, whoever drafts him will be taking him for the offensive potential.

Mitch Canham, Oregon State
Read his Draft Report

Catchers who hit from the left side are always hot commodities, and Canham is no exception. The only question is whether he'll be a catcher long-term.

Many think he will. He's only been behind the plate for three years, so he's a little behind some of the other college backstops in terms of defensive skills. He does have a skill set -- athleticism, agility, natural leadership and hints of a strong arm -- that make it seem like he should improve at the position over time.

Even if he doesn't, his bat should play somewhere. He has the chance to hit for average and power from the left side of the plate, a commodity that's very draftable at any position.

Travis d'Arnaud, Lakewood HS, Calif.
Read his Draft Report

While the question with many catching prospects centers around whether their defense will improve enough to keep the bat at the position, the opposite is true with d'Arnaud.

He's shown some offensive ability, with some extra-base power and perhaps the ability to be a 15-homer guy once he matures. But he's been inconsistent with that facet of his game, leaving some unsure how much he'll hit as a pro.

There aren't those concerns about his glove. He's one of the more polished catchers in the draft class and is above-average across the board with his hands, his agility, his arm strength and accuracy. His brother plays at Pepperdine and he's committed to go there, but if he goes high enough, he's a good bet to sign.

Josh Donaldson, Auburn
Read his Draft Report

This was the first year that Donaldson was a full-time catcher for Auburn, having played third base as well in previous years. That speaks to his athletic ability, but hasn't necessarily helped his catching skills.

With more time as a full-time catcher, it's certainly possible his defensive tools will sharpen. He does have good hands and his athleticism helps him move well behind the plate. His arm isn't as strong as others in this group, so he'll never really be seen as a top catch-and-throw guy.

Offensively, he has shown the ability to hit and with a little pop from time to time. There are holes in his swing; if he can close some of them, there's enough there to make him a decent hitter. Whether that's as a catcher remains to be seen, with some thinking he could make a switch back to the infield because of his athleticism.

Edward Easley, Mississippi State
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Like Donaldson, Easley has spent time in college playing third and catching. He's definitely a bat-first backstop. He's improved every year at the plate and has put up some good numbers during this season. He's shown some power this year, but that's not a tool that's expected to stand out when he's hitting with wood full-time. He's more of a doubles hitter in the future.

While he is an offensive-minded catcher, he has made strides behind the plate. He receives the ball well and moves pretty well behind the plate. At times, he's shown a pretty good arm. He's not a premier catcher, but could at the very least develop into a very dependable backup.

Yasmani Grandal, Miami Springs HS, Fla.
Read his Draft Report

Think d'Arnaud, East Coast. Grandal's best skills are defensive ones. An extremely quick release makes his good arm seem even better, he is extremely accurate and stops any running game. He moves his feet well and has very good hands. He pretty much can do it all while wearing the tools of ignorance.

He doesn't do as well with the bat, at least not now. There is some potential offensively, and he's a switch-hitter, but there'll be a lot of work to be done for the team that drafts him.

Jon Lucroy, University of Louisiana-Lafayette
Read his Draft Report

Lucroy is a college backstop who has kind of flown under the radar compared to some of his contemporaries. But some of his skills do match up favorably.

He's got a line-drive stroke and makes consistent contact. He's got very strong hands and could develop pretty good power down the road. How much pop he grows into could help determine just how good he is at the next level.

Defensively, he's very solid. He's got an above-average arm, receives the ball well and is fairly agile. None of his skills may jump out at you, but he is one of the more well-rounded backstops in the class.

Devin Mesoraco, Punxsatawney HS, Pa.
Read his Draft Report

Mesoraco's stock has risen more than any backstop in the draft class. One scout went so far as to say he was the best catcher available. As much as any of the catchers discussed here, Mesoraco is a complete package of offense and defense.

At the plate, he has the chance to hit for average and power. His upside for both is considerable and he has an excellent approach at the plate. He even runs pretty well, a bonus for a catcher.

Behind the plate, he's got outstanding hands, is exceptionally quick and has a plus arm that he doesn't hesitate to use. He missed most of 2006 because of Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, but there have been absolutely no ill effects. Scouts were flocking to groundhog land to see Mesoraco, and as draft day approached, his name was being mentioned frequently in first-round talk.

Austin Romine, El Toro HS, Calif.
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The bloodlines are definitely there. Austin is the younger brother of Arizona State shortstop Andrew Romine and the son of former big leaguer Kevin Romine. But he's not just a name.

He makes hard, consistent contact at the plate and has shown power to all fields. Earlier in his career, he'd change his approach at the plate too often, but had settled in during his senior year with positive results. He has the chance to hit for average and power.

His defensive game isn't as enticing. He does have one plus tool, an outstanding throwing arm. Otherwise, he's a little inconsistent. At times, he's shown good hands and some agility. At other times, he looks like he'll have to find a new defensive home. In the end, though, where he goes may come down to how signable he is. His brother's strong commitment to ASU forced him to drop three years ago and Austin also has a commitment to the school.

Matt Wieters, Georgia Tech
Read his Draft Report

Far and away the best backstop in the class, Wieters is a big (6-foot-5, 230 pounds) switch-hitting backstop who entered the season as the top college bat in the draft class. He still holds that title, but there did appear like there were some chinks in his armor earlier this season.

Wieters had a hard time getting the bat going for the first half or so of his junior season, though he seemed to be getting locked in at the right time -- postseason play in college and as scouting directors came in to get last looks. He was once again showing the ability to hit for power and average from both sides of the plate that made him a possible top pick when the season began.

Defensively, there is concern about someone that size being able to stay behind the plate. Mauer heard the same worries. Skills-wise, Wieters is fine, with a plus arm that's always right on the money. Where he'll land depends on how much scouts feel his early-season "funk" was an aberration and how much they want to match his asking price (he's advised by Scott Boras).

Jonathan Mayo 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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