The Draft Philes: Catching Chips or Blocks

There has been a common denominator between all of the successful Phillies teams over the last few decades: they had a great signal caller. Bob Boone, Darren Daulton, Carlos Ruiz. (and to a much lesser extent Mike Lieberthal). The “Chooch” era is over and now the Phillies are getting by with Cameron Rupp a majority of the games and Andrew Knapp as his backup (though it should be 50-50 at this point). Lying in the the weeds in Allentown is Jorge Alfaro, the power hitting, free swinger who needs some work defensively before hitting the big club. Lastly, down in Clearwater is Deivi Grullon, who is an exceptional defensive player already. There is a possibility that the Phillies already have their catcher for the future, but it still would not hurt to add more depth in the upcoming draft.

There are two players the Phillies may consider, in what is widely known as a weak crop of backstops, and both come from the high school ranks: M.J. Melendez and Luis Campusano. Melendez has the most upside because his frame, athleticism and power. They are all attributes that scouts look for in a franchise catcher. Campusano is not as athletic nor has the same type of power, but he is just as good defensively as Melendez. The biggest concern for both of them is their inability to get hits at the next level. But even so, scouts like them as high school prospects.

Neither of these prospects are definite first round picks, but considering the weak catcher class, they most likely will not drop past the fifth round. These two should be available and considered by the Phillies for one simple reason: you can never have too many good young catchers. If the one they draft turns out to be a good prospect they have two options: make the new guy their franchise catcher, or use him as a valuable trade piece because one of the guys ahead of him works out. If I had to pick one, I would take Melendez, but Campusano in the third round would be a strong pick.

M.J. Melendez, C, Westminister Christian School (FL)

6’1″, 190 lb

Bats/Throws: L/R

Commitment: Florida International University

Rankings (as of 5/30/17): MLB.com #54, Baseball America #50, ESPN #46

Strengths

Athletic, quick feet and good lateral movement at the catcher position; his low targets are actually framed well. Above average arm strength, can throw accurately from knees; pop time topped at 1.82 seconds. Excellent bat speed, can hit the low balls well, hits to all fields. Lays off bad breaking balls. Ditches leg kick in two-strike counts to focus on contact. Above average pull power.

Weaknesses

A bit of length to his swing, elbow looks like it goes a bit too far back on the load. Will be some swing and miss in his game; high pitches and away pitches might be a problem. Did not pop up from behind the plate in any video, but appears to favor throwing from his knees a lot.

Overall Assessment

Melendez is a tremendous catcher coming out of high school, which bodes well for him to be above average at the position. Being bilingual in English and Spanish will also be a bonus in communicating with pitchers. His power could carry him to 15-20 home runs annually, but he needs to learn how to hit consistently. Pitchers are going to force him into grounders and strikeouts if he does not improve. Hitting the other way with more power would help. Melendez is at the very least a backup catcher in the big leagues, as long as he can hit .220. If he’s an average hitter, he can be a an everyday catcher for seven to ten years.

 

Luis Campusano, C, Cross Creek HS (GA)

5’11”, 200 lb

B/T: R/R

Commitment: South Carolina

Rankings: MLB.com #72, Baseball America #45, ESPN #47

 

Strengths

Strong, thick lower half. Slimmed down, more chiseled looking than in summer showcase videos. Has good barrel control, loose hands, swing stays in the zone long enough; can knock singles the other way. Above average pull power, improved his timing going from toe tap to a slight leg lift, closer to his BP swing. Good at game calling and framing, plus arm strength. Pop time topped at 1.84 seconds.

Weaknesses

Lacks opposite field power. Bit of an uppercut swing, not exceptionally great bat speed, could probably get him down and in the zone, then go outside once challenged. Not very athletic, not laterally quick behind the plate. Struggles at times with blocking balls behind the plate.

Overall Assessment

Campusano has made tremendous strides by dropping weight and becoming more precise with his timing in the batter’s box. Defensively he is not far away from being a slightly above average receiver. He clearly has the drive and work ethic to improve as a hitter. Bat speed is not exceptional, so catching up to big heat could be a problem in the future if no improvements. A backup catcher role and a power bat off the bench is probably his long term future, with the chance to start in a three to five year window hitting 12-15 HR a year depending on an organization’s catching situation.

Author: Jeff Israel

5 comments

  1. Sawyer

    The Phillies have real signal callers that get overlooked because of the Alfaros and Grullons in the system. Neither of which are the superior catcher at their current levels, but both get the majority of the press. Of all the positions, the catcher needs to know the their role (how to work with pitchers, how to place the defense, how to receive the ball, etc). The best catchers aren’t usually the “star”. They’re the player that makes the team better and helps them win even on nights where they’re 0-4 at the plate.

    • Jeff Israel

      If we are just talking about catching, then sure there are plenty of signal callers that get overlooked in the system, but they are also for the most part the backup catchers on their team or they are too old for the prospect profile. Those guys don’t have great project-ability with the bat to hit enough at the major league level to be considered a backup catcher. Grullon is the one guy I mentioned who is already a good signal caller and may just have enough of a bat to hit at the major league level as a backup (or shock everyone and turn into Chooch). I don’t disagree with your assessment of the catcher position in general though.

  2. Bryan

    I think the point is that favoring the project-ability of the bat is the wrong metric for judging a catcher. Tony LaRussa used to say of Yadi that he didn’t care if he ever got a hit. That’s not why he was there. Also, this (career batting avg)…

    Boone: .254
    Ruiz: .265
    Daulton: .245
    Lieberthal: .274

    • Jeff Israel

      You need to able to hit enough and be an average hitter, which most of those guys you listed are. Being a catcher will always be the most important thing but your not going to send a guy out there 4-5 times a week and expect him to be a starter for more than a few seasons if he’s hitting .210 and not getting on-base enough.

  3. Bryan

    For the most part, I agree with you. However, project-ability, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder. There is a lot of bias in it. For example, based on his project-ability you might have expected Alfaro to hit better than .125 upon his call up last year. I think statistics are more telling. Here are career numbers for all the org catchers (BA, OPS and their BA against top 20 prospects as determined by MLBFarm.com:

    Alfaro: .266/.756/.270
    Moore: .244/.615/.185
    Numata: .258/.660/.240
    Rickles: .244/.649/.243
    Grullon: .243/.640/.228
    Bossart: .304/.752/.299
    Cabral: .243/.649/.167
    Lartique: .232/.626/.277

    Not a lot of variation there… except for Bossart.

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