Scouting Mets' Prospect #43: Joe Hietpas

Hietpas Is A Tremendous Defensive Catcher

The New York Mets selected catcher Joseph Hietpas with their 16th round draft choice in the 2001 draft out of Northwestern University and has earned a reputation in the Mets' farm system as one of the best defensive catchers in professional baseball. It's his defensive prowess behind the dish that has ranked Hietpas #43 among the Top 50 Mets' prospects.

Vital Statistics:
Name: Joseph Hietpas
Position: Catcher
DOB: May 1, 1979
Height: 6'3"
Weight: 220
Bats: Right
Throws: Right

As perhaps the top defensive catching prospect in the Mets farm system, Joe Hietpas knows his catch-and-throw abilities are the key to eventually re-open the door to the major leagues.

After getting into one game as a member of the 2004 Mets, catching the final inning of the season's last game, Hietpas split the summer of 2005 between Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Norfolk.

The experience started out well enough, with Hietpas contributing his usual skills behind the dish and some limited offense, but Hietpas' numbers hit the skids as Norfolk's season drew to a close. The 26-year-old's first taste of the International League concluded with Hietpas hitting just .194.

"It was another good learning experience," Hietpas said. "I think every year in the minor leagues, you try to come away with something. I had my struggles this year, but I was able to make some adjustments.

"I was doing pretty good, and then I darn near didn't get a hit for the last 25 or 30 at-bats up there. It was very frustrating, especially coming at the end of what was a fun campaign. … But I felt like I was comfortable playing at the Triple-A level."

A personal favorite of numerous pitching prospects in New York's system, the fact that Hietpas' defense far outshines his offense is no new revelation.

A career .218 hitter over five minor league seasons, Hietpas acknowledges it is his glovework and throwing that keep him employed as a professional. The Northwestern University product takes pitchers' affinity for him as a credit to the grind work and repertoire study that helps keep his career running.

"I work hard at establishing a rapport with pitchers, to make sure we're on the same page," Hietpas said. "I try to get to the point where I'm calling the pitches they want called.

"I think that comes from talking to the pitchers and finding out what they like to do in situations. I need to do well defensively to continue to have a job."

Hietpas said his exposure to the Triple-A level, particularly to veteran backstop Mike DiFelice, could prove valuable in the upcoming campaign. Hietpas figures to start the year back at Norfolk, and with the Mets' catching situation somewhat unsettled, an opening for a backup catcher could surface before September.

"[DiFelice] is a veteran guy everybody respects, and when he says something, people listen," Hietpas said. "It was really good to be around him and see the way he went about his work."

A strong showing at Norfolk could help Hietpas get to the major leagues in 2006 in the event Ramon Castro or the Mets' everyday catcher suffers an injury. Hietpas believes he is ready for the challenge.

"It was a big step for me to finally play at Triple-A," Hietpas said. "I feel like I can be successful at that level. If you can be successful there, you can probably be successful in the big leagues."

Year

Team

AVG.

AB

Hits

HR

RBI

R

SB

BB

K

OBP

SLG

2005

Norfolk

.194

72

14

0

6

5

0

8

15

.298

.194

2005

Binghamton

.216

204

44

5

24

18

1

26

56

.331

.328

2004

Binghamton

.230

139

32

3

19

13

0

19

41

.335

.367

2004

St. Lucie

.251

191

48

2

27

23

1

18

51

.329

.372

2003

Binghamton

.100

10

1

0

0

1

0

0

2

.100

.200

2003

St. Lucie

.159

195

31

1

19

12

3

14

60

.220

.226

2002

Capital City

.248

105

26

1

16

9

0

14

23

.336

.352

2002

Brooklyn

.256

117

30

1

13

11

0

8

31

.313

.325

2001

Binghamton

.000

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

.000

.000

2001

Kingsport

.185

27

5

0

1

3

0

6

11

.353

.222



Batting and Power. Hietpas seemingly was always a better hitter than his numbers suggested, but after posting a .218 career average in five seasons in the Mets' farm system, he simply doesn't hit consistently enough. He's a big, strong guy with decent power. If he could ever hit with enough consistency to stay in the lineup long enough to collect 400-500 at-bats over the course of a full season, he could put up some decent power numbers. He has a good eye at the plate, but can't make consistent contact. His bat is the only thing holding him back from a big league starting job.

Base Running and Speed. Hietpas is a non-factor on the base paths, which isn't too surprising for a catcher. He won't run a team out of innings with base running mistakes, but he's not apt to help a team in that capacity either.

Defense. Defense is the name of Hietpas' game. He's an excellent receiver and does all the little things to improve communication between he and his pitchers. He is a tireless worker in this area, always catching pitchers on the side and in bullpen sessions to establish a good working rapport. Countless pitchers have said that he's one of the best catchers to throw to and that only helps a pitcher's confidence. He has an incredibly quick release on throws to second base and pick off moves to first base, while boasting an above average arm. He blocks everything thrown in the dirt and makes the impossible plays look routine.

Projection. Hietpas only needs to hit .250 to be a valuable player for the Mets. But five minor league seasons is a large enough sample size to suggest that he may never reach that level. As it stands right now, Hietpas projects to be an excellent backup catcher at the Major League level, particularly as the team's defensive backstop. Until he can prove he can hit with regularity, Hietpas doesn't project to be more than a backup with the Mets. With his defensive ability however, that could still mean a long Major League career.

ETA. 2006. Depending on what the Mets' needs are at the catcher's spot in New York next season, Hietpas could find his way back to Shea Stadium at some point in 2006. Defensively, there is nothing else for him to prove at the minor league level and offensively, Hietpas' development has apparently reached its pinnacle.

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