An Early Look at the Catchers in the 2017 Draft by Eric Longenhagen August 25, 2016 We’re continuing a series of scouting reports on 2017 draft-eligible high-school players. I’ve already filed reports on left-handed pitchers, which you can find here. Today we’re discussing catchers. High-school catching is often one of the draft’s most fruitless positions and 2017 looks like an average group. M.J. Melendez, C, Saint James School (AL) Height: 6’, Weight: 160, Commitment: Florida International Melendez’s father, Mervyl, Sr., is the head baseball coach at Florida International and indeed that is where M.J. (Mervyl, Jr.) is committed to play ball in college. At this point, it’s unclear to scouts whether or not that will have any impact on Melendez’s signability. This is the best prep catcher I saw this summer but it’s hard to glean anything from a statement like that because depth at premium positions (especially among high schoolers) is very volatile, draft to draft.. Melendez has special defensive traits. He is lithe, loose and twitchy with uncommon athleticism and movement skills for a catcher, as well as an average receiver with plus raw arm strength. I had pop times as low as 1.94 to second base and 1.5 flat to third. Melendez also has some potential with the bat (which I’ll get into later) but he’s very raw offensively and is going to be drafted primarily because of his defensive ability. So where are catching prospects like this typically selected? Here’s a brief rundown of early-round high-school catchers from recent years: 2016: Cooper Johnson is the best defensive prep catcher in the class but falls due to weird signability issues. Of the 30 catchers taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft, only five of them are high schoolers and all of them (Andy Yerzy, Ben Rortvedt, Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry, Sam Huff) are bat-first prospects. 2015: Tyler Stephenson pops up during the spring and goes 11th overall but is no lock to catch — despite possessing the requisite physical ability — because he’s already 6-foot-4, 225. Chris Betts (bat first) and defensive wiz Lucas Herbert go in round two. Herbert was drafted by Atlanta one round after they selected his high-school teammate, Kolby Allard. 2014: Marlins’ third-rounder Blake Anderson is seen as a viable defender who will grow into offensive ability but is an overdraft at 36th overall. Jackson Reetz and Chase Vallot are not seen as locks to remain behind the plate. 2013: A bizarre year of polished prep defenders includes first-rounders Reese McGuire and Nick Ciuffo, as well as a Futures Game participant in Chance Sisco (who was transitioning from SS to C at the time). Even Red Sox third-rounder Jon Denney (now in the Royals organization) is seen as an advanced defender. We don’t see a bat-first catcher go off the board until the 100s, when Jacob Nottingham is selected. While Melendez doesn’t have the superlative defensive hype that McGuire (picked 14th overall) did, he has a much better chance to hit and hit with power than Herbert (54th overall). The problem is, he swings and misses a lot. Melendez’s approach is very pull-heavy, his stride is frequently ill-timed and erratic, his swing can get long and his stride-less two-strike approach is not so much a subtle tweak to his primary one as it is a a complete departure, like if David Lynch were to have followed Eraserhead with a documentary about tree bark. But he has bat speed. Exceptional bat speed, in fact. The folks at Zepp (a company which attempts to quantify things like hand and bat speed) measured Melendez’s bat speed (as they do for many showcase participants) at impact at just over 100 mph. That’s in the top 1% of players measured in this year’s high-school draft class. If that can be harnessed and Melendez can harness the natural loft and low-ball hitting ability that he flashes, he could be an excellent big leaguer. I think his market will start in the sandwich round because of the volatility of the bat. If he hits next spring I suppose he could go higher than that, but I think teams weight showcase performances heavily for hitters (because of the quality of competition) and Melendez looked erratic at times. Shane McGuire, C, Kentwood HS (WA) Height: 6’, Weight: 195, Commitment: San Diego Reese’s younger brother has some defensive promise, as well. I recorded pop times of 1.94 and 1.96 from Shane and he’s a viable receiver and feral pitch-smotherer. McGuire has made significant strides in all facets of the game since his rising junior summer, when he struggled to throw down to second base at underclass events. He has about average bat speed, showed some bat control at Area Codes and possesses the ability to take the ball the other way in BP and games. He could be an average hitter with fringe game power, which would make him an everyday catcher if the defense is average, too. He is not an exceptional athlete. Luis Campusano-Bracero, C, Cross Creek HS (GA) Height: 6’, Weight: 195, Commitment: Missouri Campusano-Bracero looks like you’d expect a catcher to look, with massive thighs, ass and torso; a body type that we don’t see anywhere other than C/1B and occasionally 3B. A decent athlete for his size, LCB’s hands and receiving are okay and he’s capable of smothering balls in the dirt as long as they’re right in front of him. His lateral movement is limited, as is his arm strength. I think there’s a non-zero chance he sticks, though the odds are a little long and I don’t think he’d ever be better than a 45 defender. Still, it’s possible. Despite simple, quiet footwork in the batter’s box, Campusano-Bracero’s swing has effort in the upper body. He’ll sell out for power and lose sight of the baseball but has shown the ability to spray contact the other way when he keeps his head on the ball — and he has solid plate coverage despite shorter arms. The body is maxed out and Campusano-Bracero only has 45 raw power, but I think we’ll see an extra half grade at maturity. He has interesting hitting tools and a chance to catch, but other than his impressive physicality there isn’t anything loud about the skillset. Other backstops of note: Phillip Clarke, C, Christ Presbyterian Academy (TN) (Video) – Clarke has natural loft in his punchy, compact swing created by slight backside collapse. His hands have an odd stop-and-start quality to them. It plays as average raw power to his pull side. He’s a decent defensive catcher, below to fringe average in most aspects but not a lost cause in any. Clarke feels like the kind of player who ends up in college and hits well for two years before while either proving or disproving that he can stay at his position. He’s committed to Vanderbilt, which is probably influencing that feeling. Hagen Danner, C, Huntington Beach HS (CA) (Video)- Danner, who is also a RHP, was one of the top names in the class last summer but his velocity was way down at NHSI and he hasn’t thrown for a while. Danner recently tweeted that he was going to be back on a mound soon, and it will be interesting to see where things are at once he is, but I was somewhat impressed by his catching ability at Area Codes. He handled Hunter Greene’s stuff quite well, blocking balls in the dirt, catching upper-90s heat and several secondary pitches cleanly. The bat speed is well below average but it might come along if Danner were to focus on hitting full-time. I think everyone would prefer him to reclaim the electricity the industry saw in his right arm early in high school, but if he can’t I think catching is a viable alternative. Calvin Greenfield, C, Jensen Beach HS (FL) (Video) – Greenfield is a stocky 6’1, 195, but is more angular and monolithic than the curvaceous Campusano-Bracero, who has similar measurables. I don’t think Greenfield can catch. He falls short with his arm, ground game and receiving as far say I’m concerned, and I don’t think there’s better than average athleticism here so I’m not banking on much improvement in any of those facets, let alone all of them. What he can do is hit. Several times during Area Codes he punished plus velocity into the gaps of Blair Field. Greenfield is quick into the zone, strong, and I think he has good timing. I just don’t know where he plays defensively. Beau Hanna, C, Winder-Barrow HS (GA) (Video) – Hanna’s profile is more extreme than others mentioned here. He has above-average raw power but can’t catch, and I’m resolute about the latter. The power, which was among the most impressive during Area Codes BP, is certainly noteworthy but he’ll almost certainly have to find somewhere else to play.