Two-way catchers nabbed early in Draft

Two-way catchers nabbed early

The catcher who could be a first-class defensive player and also an impact hitter, is a truly rare and precious commodity. No surprise then that Major League teams were wasting no draft time on Thursday going after catchers who might fit into this special category.

In the First-Year Player Draft, the San Francisco Giants took Buster Posey, a catcher from Florida State, with the fifth pick overall. With the very next selection, the Marlins took Kyle Skipworth, a high school catcher from California.

And not far behind them, the Houston Astros selected Jason Castro, a catcher from Stanford with the 10th overall selection. While Castro was rated by most reports as a probable pick later in the first round, he still is a solid hitting/catching prospect. The selection of three catchers in the first 10 picks indicates just how prized these sorts of prospects are.

The search for catchers who could hit went on. With the 16th pick, the Milwaukee Brewers took Brett Lawrie, a Canadian high school player, who is a tremendous hitting prospect. He has been a catcher, but some scouts believe that he will wind up playing elsewhere. Still, the best-case scenario for the Brewers would be if his hitting potential can be packaged with his athletic ability and he becomes a genuine hitting/catching catcher.

Why is this drafting spree of catchers such a big deal? Posey and Skipworth are genuine prospects both offensively and defensively, and Castro is just a tick behind them. The record will show that, even at the Major League level, that simultaneous skill set is not often found.

"When you're talking about catchers who are really solid defensively and are also very good hitters, you're basically talking about Joe Mauer, Brian McCann and Russell Martin," one Major League manager said.

So the Twins, the Braves and the Dodgers, respectively, have this category covered. But that's three out of 30, just 10 percent of the clubs. There are other candidates. For instance, the Cubs' Geovany Soto has obvious pop, and if his defense develops he could move into this group. The gold standard in this area for many years was Ivan Rodriguez, a likely Hall of Famer based on the body of his work and one of the best defensive catchers in the history of the game. But in recent seasons, his offense has diminished.

Top 10 overall picks
Pick
POS
Name
School
1. TBSSTim BeckhamGriffin HS (Ga.)
2. PIT3BPedro AlvarezVanderbilt U
3. KC1BEric HosmerAm. Heritage Sch. (Fla.)
4. BALLHPBrian MatuszU of San Diego
5. SFCGerald PoseyFlorida State U
6. FLACKyle SkipworthPatriot HS (Calif.)
7. CIN1BYonder AlonsoU of Miami
8. CWSSSGordon BeckhamU of Georgia
9. WASRHPAaron CrowU Missouri Columbia
10. HOUCJason CastroStanford U
Complete Draft results >

So what we're looking at is a situation where the supply is vastly exceeded by the demand. A lot of teams would like to have catchers who are both productive hitters and Gold Glove defenders. But very few teams actually have these catchers. And that is where Posey, Skipworth and Castro come in.

Posey, a converted shortstop, has the combination of hitting ability, a strong arm and athleticism that give him the potential to be a Gold Glove catcher who can hit. As a college player, he is not only an impressive pick, but a safe pick.

Skipworth is the leading prep catching prospect in the country, and in fact has been touted as the best high school catching prospect since Mauer was the first overall pick in 2001. Like Mauer, he hits left-handed. He is an improving receiver, and potentially an impact hitter.

That 2001 Draft was a life lesson in the wisdom of selecting a first-class catching prospect. The two top Draft choices that year were Mauer and pitcher Mark Prior, a can't-miss prospect out of USC, thought to be Major League-ready the moment he was drafted.

The Twins, picking first, took Mauer, while Prior went to the Cubs with the second pick. The Twins were criticized in some quarters for taking the player who would be much less expensive, and it was alleged that they were merely pandering to local fans by selecting a St. Paul resident. But the Twins were right about Mauer, who went on to become not only a top-shelf catcher, but the first American League catcher to win a batting title. In fact, they would have been right about picking Mauer, even if Prior's career had not subsequently been derailed by injuries. The outstanding catcher with the ability to hit can not be the wrong pick.

Castro, a left-handed hitter, is rated behind Posey and Skipworth largely because his arm strength is not rated as highly as theirs. But he is a genuine prospect, who, in another year without top-flight talent emerging at catcher, could be top on the board at this crucial position.

Lawrie, as a hitting prospect, has been mentioned in the same breath as fellow Canadian Justin Morneau, who became an AL MVP. If Lawrie is the real deal with the bat, he will obviously help the Brewers. But what would help them even more is he is a hitter who can also be a real catcher.

For the 2008 Draft, this was a theme at the top of the show: If the chance to find that rare two-way catcher exists, don't waste either time or picks; take the catcher and the opportunity.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.