Prospect Pulse: The Catchers

Ever since Mike Piazza, played his last game as a Met, the team has been searching for a permanent replacement at catcher. We have had a few quick fixes, but the patch just doesn’t seem to hold. Where oh where is the next Jerry Grote? The next John Stearns? The next Todd Hundley? Will the Mets ever be able to develop their own big league quality, starting catcher? Let’s turn over all the rocks in the minor league system, and see if help is on the way.

On the Rise:  

Albert Cordero – If you want to talk about one potential big league starter, with increasing value all the time, you have to start with Albert Cordero. The 21 year old RH hitter from Venezuela, was signed by the Mets as an IFA in 2008. At 5’11” and 175lbs. he was at first recognized as a good defensive catcher, with advanced receiving skills, quick footwork and an impressive throwing arm. But quickly it became clear that there is more to the player than just defense, much more. Starting out in 2008 and 2009 in the VSL, and then the DSL, Cordero made his stateside debut with Kingsport in 2010. It was there that he first began opening eyes, by hitting .277 with 8 HR’s, 32 RBI’s, and a .466 SLG, in just over 200 AB’s, while at the same time throwing out 43% of would be base stealers (23 of 53). When 2011 started, Cordero got off to a very slow start as the regular catcher at Savannah. At the end of May he was hitting only .208 with 1 HR, and his K/BB was 27/1. It was around that time that Cordero decided he had to shorten his swing, stay more in control, and be more selective at the plate. In June, the first month where he employed his new approach, his OPS was .688. He then gained some solid momentum in July getting hotter as the month wore on and finished with an OPS of .777. By August he was literally on fire, with an OPS for this month of 1.343! Video: Albert Cordero, C, New York Mets So far in 48 August AB’s, Cordero has 22 Hits, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR’s, 10 RBI’s, and is hitting .458 for the month. Keep in mind that he is still very far away from Flushing, the South Atlantic League being a far cry from the majors. But with the development and skills he has shown so far, he has already moved all the way to the head of the class.

Kai Gronauer – The 23 year old catcher from Germany, was signed by the Mets in 2008 out of the German Bundesliga amateur baseball league. As a teenager he was the starting catcher for Germany in the World Baseball Classic. As with most European baseball players, Kai is a little old for a prospect since he started playing later in childhood, when he was ten. Being a late developer, he was coming on strong as the 2010 season came to a close, hitting .291 at A level, for the season, after hitting only .243 the year before. Gronauer was always considered a very good defensive catcher, and has thrown out 38% of base stealers for his career, but once his bat started to catch up, his stock started soaring heading into 2011. The 2011 season started very slowly for the starting catcher at AA Binghamton. At the time he went down with a serious hamstring injury on May 12th, he was only hitting a little over .200. The injury caused him to miss two months of the season, and since his return at the end of July, he has hit .314. The injury couldn’t have come at a worse time for Gronauer, as it has effectively wiped out a season that was supposed to put him within reach of the 40 man roster. A strong 2012, could put him right into the conversation about “catching on” for the Mets.

Keep An Eye On:

Juan Centeno – The Mets drafted Juan Centeno in the 32nd round of the 2007 draft out of H.S. in Puerto Rico. The 5’9″ 172lb. backstop toiled in the rookie leagues and the short-season levels until 2010, when he emerged as a force at catcher for the Brooklyn Cyclones. In 89 AB’s he hit .371, while sharing time with Blake Forsythe. For some reason he has not been able to find consistent playing time this year at St Lucie, as Francisco Pena has garnered the lion’s share of catching duty. Despite being relegated to the role of back-up this year, Centeno has hit .309 in 139 AB’s, with 1 HR and 9 RBI’s. He has also thrown out 43% of base stealers this year, and is at 39% for his career. With his path seemingly blocked, Centeno must continue to make the most of his limited opportunities, while waiting for a chance to get some regular playing time.

Star is Fading:

Francisco PenaWhen the Mets signed Francisco Pena as a 16 year old IFA in July of 2006, they thought the son of a former big league catcher, Tony Pena, would be their starting big league catcher in four or five years. Six seasons later and Pena ranks as one of the biggest busts in the Mets organization. The sun is setting on his Mets career, as he slogs through another nondescript season, in 2011. After three uninspiring performances at Savannah in 2007 and 2008, and 2009 at St Lucie, Pena had his entire 2010 season wiped out by a serious foot injury. Coming back healthy in 2011, this was supposed to be a breakout season for him, a season when he would finally put it together and play solid defense behind the plate, combined with a power contribution to the line-up. Alas it has not happened, even though he has been playing regularly as the everyday catcher during his fourth consecutive season in A ball. To date, in 281 AB’s this year, Pena is batting an anemic .231, with 5 HR’s, 37 RBI’s and a slash line of .287/.327/.614. Defensively he has 6 errors, 6 Passed Balls, and has thrown out 24% of would-be base stealers, in 83 games. As long as the catching depth in the system is as spare as it is at the higher levels, Pena just might hang onto a spot next year since there is not much coming up directly behind him. Video: Francisico Pena

Blake Forsythe – The problem with Forsythe is that the Mets wasted a 3rd round pick on him in 2010, when they drafted him out of a major college program at the University of Tennessee. When drafted, it was said he would be a fast mover and that he had all the skills needed to one day be a major league catcher, but there hasn’t even been a glimmer of hope from this guy. There is nothing positive to say about him in two seasons so far. He started at Brooklyn in 2010 and in 101 AB’s hit .238 with 3 HR’s and 8 RBI’s. Beginning 2011 in a platoon at starting catcher for Savannah he never got off the ground offensively, and hasn’t show much in the field. Albert Cordero the other catcher sharing playing time with Forsythe, outplayed him in every facet of the game this year. For the year in 311 AB’s Forsythe is wallowing at the end of the batting order, with a .225 BA, 5 HR’s and 32 RBI’s while striking out 103 times. He has managed to throw out 30% of would-be base stealers this year (18 for 61). He had better start showing something soon, or he will not be around next year.

Jury Is Still Out:

Nelfi Zapata  – was drafted in the 19th round of the 2009 draft out of H.S. in Massachesetts.  He played in 35 games in 2009 for the GCL Mets, hitting .261. In 2010 he played for Kingsport, hitting .247 in 53 games. This year he is again being used sparingly, playing for Brooklyn, and appearing in only 19 games so far while hitting .258 with 1 HR and 12 RBI’s. Defensively, for his career, he has thrown out 30% of base stealers. Video: Nelfi Zapata Nelfi is known as an offensive catcher, and he has yet to see regular playing time at any level, which makes him a rather intriguing mystery, and one that should be given an opportunity next year to see what he can do. He will be battling in spring training for one of the three spots at Savannah against Carrillo, Maron and Glenn, amongst others.

Xorge Carrillo – The first catcher drafted by the new Mets regime, was 2011 14th round pick out of Arizona State named Xorge Carrillo, a 21 year old RH hitting catcher from Mexico. His first name is pronounced Jorge. Like Zapata he has only appeared in 19 games for Brooklyn so far this year, and over 64 AB’s he is hitting .203. Early reports are that he won’t hit for a lot of power, but his K/BB ratio should be very solid as he has a good eye at the plate and doesn’t strikeout a lot. ASU C Xorge Carrillo He has strong catching and throwing skills, but needs to improve on his CS’s, which is at 24% this year since starting his pro career. But it is his hitting, that could carry him a ways through this farm system. He will be competing for a long season league next year but a trip back to Brooklyn is more likely. It will be sometime next year before we start to know what we have in Carrillo.

Long Term Projects:

Jeffrey Glenn – One guy I identified in an earlier post as a lower level talent that, given some time, may someday emerge as a legit catching prospect, his name is Jeffrey Glenn. At 6’3 and 185, the 19 year old, 2009 9th rounder from Winter Haven Florida, is very athletic behind the dish, and shows some promise, however one defensive area he is weak at, is throwing out runners, having caught only 18% this season. His bat also needs to develop, and these things should improve as he physically matures, and puts on some muscle, to add to his endurance. He seems to be wearing down as this season goes on, as over his last ten games he is batting only .182, with 1 RBI. For the season he is hitting .238 in 130 AB’s with 3 HR’s and 15 RBI’s. His 37/13 K/BB ratio indicates a need to cut down on the strikeouts. Hopefully Glenn will wind up in Savannah next year but he is going to have to start hitting if he wants to separate himself from the pack.

Camden Maron – The 6’1″ 175 lbs. LH hitting catcher who was the 2009 34th round draft pick out of Hicksville (NY) H.S., has been sharing the catching duties at Kingsport with Jeff Glenn. Maron is another player I recently discussed in the Kingsport Mets Team Report this past week, and one that has a fairly high ceiling as a hitter. Where Glenn is a stronger defensive catcher at this time, Maron is an offensive catcher. Honing his receiving skills, footwork and game calling, behind the plate, will determine how quickly Maron rises through the system, and where he will top out. So far this season he has thrown out 25% of attempted base stealers, but has shown a rather drastic reduction in passed balls from the two previous years. His hitting has not been suspect, with a lifetime minor league BA, in 248 total AB’s, of .302 covering three seasons (2009 – 2011), two at GCL Mets, and this year at Kingsport. Maron can flat out rake, and his lifetime K/BB ratio is a very solid 44/42. This shows an excellent eye at the plate, combined with the ability to make contact, and avoid the strikeout. If Maron can take the necessary steps to shore up his defensive game, the sky is the limit and he could move up this list quickly.

Baby Brigade:

Don’t tell Alex, but if these kids ever do make it to the bigs, we will be lucky if it happens before 2017. I found them toiling in the DSL, for the DSL Mets II, and they have some freakish early stat profiles.

The first one has only been up to bat 61 times, in 28 games, and is hitting only .148. His name is Natanael Ramos, 18 years old from Venezuela. The only reason I mention him is because of his arm. 42 times players have tried to steal off him , and he has thrown out 21 of them (50%). Should we be trying this kid on the mound?

Manuel Hilario is a 19 year old RH hitting catcher out of the Dominican Republic. In 163 DSL AB’s this year, he is hitting .227, but his OBP is .407! How on earth can he be doing that you may very well ask? I will tell you, in 216 plate appearances, Hilario has 37 Hits (9 2B’s, 4 3B’s, 2 HR’s, 26 RBI’s) 36 walks, and has been hit by a pitch 15 times! What is this, the second coming of Ron Hunt? And 36 walks? Are you kidding me? He has struck out only 34 times and, oh I almost forgot, he has swiped 22 SB’s already, as a catcher. This guy’s eye at the plate is like Ted Williams or something, too bad he doesn’t hit like the Splendid Splinter, and it seems he runs like Mookie Wilson. With peripherals like that he may be worth keeping an eye on. Just to see his HBP totals will be fun. I mean how do you get hit with 15 pitches in 200 PA’s anyway?

Final Thoughts:

I don’t know about you, but our catching position seems very weak to me. The only guy remotely close to the bigs is Gronauer,and he may still be two years away, if he ever does make it. The only one with a high ceiling is Cordero, and he’s in low A ball, and far from a sure thing. And the rest of these guys are more suspect than prospect. SA and company certainly needs to make this position an organizational priority a.s.a.p. Unless he plans on trading for another Gary Carter, the Mets need to find help at catcher, beyond what’s on the farm.