Drafting Catchers

I've been writing about the Rays draft prospects a lot lately. The list is coated with high school catchers. My curious side got to working and wondered how catchers drafted in the first three rounds have fared in the majors, so let's take a look.

I used the draft classes from 1998 through 2003; the last year in which a HS catcher in the top three rounds has already reached the majors. I included everyone drafted as a catcher and used FanGraphs career WAR. The list has some guys like Justin Morneau, Daric Barton, and Joey Votto who quickly moved off the position, but remember, they were drafted as backstops. If you draft Tommy Joseph at 30 and in six years he's Justin Morneau, that's a pretty fair trade.

 

So let's slice these 55 backstops up and answer some questions, shall we?

Collegiate or prep?

23 of our catchers were from college. The best of the bunch is Brandon Inge with a 14.3 career WAR, the worst? Dane Sardinha with -0.7. 11 of these players never recorded a major league at-bat, and 15 finished with less than 100. The average WAR of this group is 1.57.

Our high schoolers are lead by two of the best catchers in the land; Joe Mauer (22.4 WAR) and Brian McCann (16.3). In fact, the high schoolers have the three best overall players by WAR when you include Morneau. The average WAR amongst these 33? 2.29, but when you ignore Mauer that number drops to 1.65, almost identical to the collegiate group.

First round or later?

Our talent pool ranges from the first overall pick to the 104th. Let's chop these up by sets of 30 and see if there's something to the idea that first round catchers are always busts.

Top 30 picks: 7 qualified, average 3.4 WAR

31-60 picks: 19 qualified, average 1.98 WAR

61-90 picks: 20 qualified, average 2.03 WAR

91+ picks: 9 qualified, average 0.83 WAR

Top 30 catchers are awesome right? Well, until you take Mauer out, then they drop to 0.23 average WAR. Yeah, that certainly doesn't point towards success. The top 30 catchers of this class should send thank you cards to Eric Munson and Daric Barton for providing the only two top 30 receivers to make it to the majors as such. The Rays second round pick seems to be the proverbial hotbed for getting good catchers, but in reality Justin Morneau inflates that total by quite a bit. The same cannot be said for 61-90, which features a ton of pros like Inge, Laird, Votto, Saltalamacchia, Bowen, and Doumit.

Are teams getting better at evaluating catching talent?

Let's see how this works by year.

2003: 10 qualified, average 0.57 WAR

2002: 6 qualified, average 4.75 WAR

2001: 7 qualified, average 3.96 WAR

2000: 9 qualified, average -0.01 WAR

1999: 15 qualified, average 2.05 WAR

1998: 8 qualified, average 2.21 WAR

It's tough trying to read through the statistical noise, but it doesn't appear like that's the case, although the catching talent pool has seemingly gotten better top end returns with the additions of Mauer and McCann. You could argue that the fact that Morneau and McCann weren't top 10 picks indicates that teams clearly are still wondering how to decipher who's going to be a good catcher or not, much like every other position. Erik Manning used Rally's WAR numbers and found that first round catchers drafted from 1990-1999 averaged 0.8 WAR.  That differs from FanGraphs a bit, but if the 30th overall pick in a weak draft contributes 0.8 WAR in his major league career, it was probably an okay pick.

Conclusion

The most difficult aspect of summarizations like this is the selection bias involved. These players likely deserved to be drafted within the first three rounds as catchers. They were probably the best of the best of their draft class. This is supposedly a weak crop of talent, but it is loaded with prep catchers. Even if the Rays go another route at 30, don't be surprised if they go with a high school catcher in the second round. Let's just hope they hit on the next Chris Snyder or Brian McCann instead of Steven Lerud or Gabe Johnson.

Here's the complete table of catchers evaluated, listed alphabetically.

Player Year Pick From MLB AB WAR
Adam Donachie 2002 47 HS 0 0
Alberto Concepcion 1999 79 HS 0 0
Beau Craig 1998 82 HS 0 0
Brandon Inge 1998 57 NCAA 3429 14.3
Brian McCann 2002 64 HS 1741 16.3
Chris Snyder 2002 68 NCAA 1363 7
Colt Morton 2003 71 NCAA 16 -0.2
Dane Sardinha 2000 46 NCAA 73 -0.7
Daric Barton 2003 28 HS 518 1.3
David Parrish 2000 28 NCAA 0 0
Drew McMillan 1999 90 HS 0 0
Eli Serrano 1998 68 NCAA 0 0
Eric Munson 1999 3 NCAA 1055 0.1
Gabe Johnson 1998 78 HS 0 0
Gerald Laird 1998 45 HS 1351 3.4
Jake Fox 2003 73 NCAA 18 -0.1
James Perez 1999 55 HS 0 0
Jared Abruzzo 2000 50 HS 0 0
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 2003 36 HS 639 1.7
Javier Herrera 2003 48 NCAA 0 0
Jeff Goldbach 1998 62 HS 0 0
Jeff Mathis 2001 33 HS 585 -0.1
Jeff Wincester 1998 40 HS 0 0
Jeffery Jennings 2003 55 NCAA 0 0
Jeremy Brown 2002 35 NCAA 10 0
Joe Mauer 2001 1 HS 2158 22.4
Joey Votto 2002 44 HS 736 5.2
Jon Kessick 1999 104 NCAA 0 0
Jon Zeringue 2001 103 HS 0 0
Jonathan Devries 2001 93 HS 0 0
Jorge Soto 1999 93 NCAA 0 0
Josh Bard 1999 100 NCAA 1353 7.5
Joshua Johnson 1999 61 NCAA 0 0
Justin Morneau 1999 89 HS 2873 14.6
Kelly Shoppach 2001 48 NCAA 724 5.4
Lazaro Abreu 2001 80 HS 0 0
Louis Palmisano 2003 69 NCAA 0 0
Michael Nixon 2002 91 HS 0 0
Mike Dean 1998 98 NCAA 0 0
Mike Tonis 2000 44 NCAA 6 -0.1
Mitch Maier 2003 30 NCAA 149 0
Nick Trzesniak 1999 51 HS 0 0
Omar Falcon 2000 79 HS 0 0
Rene Rivera 2001 49 HS 150 0
Rob Bowen 1999 56 HS 378 1.4
Russ Jacobson 1999 96 NCAA 0 0
Ryan Christianson 1999 11 HS 0 0
Ryan Doumit 1999 59 HS 1108 7.2
Ryan Garko 2003 78 NCAA 1279 3
Scott Heard 2000 25 HS 0 0
Scott Walker 2000 74 NCAA 0 0
Sean Swedlow 2000 96 HS 0 0
Steven Lerud 2003 75 HS 0 0
Tommy Arko 2000 86 HS 0 0
Will Hartley 1999 74 HS 0 0

 

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