InsidePitchMagazine.com continues its predictions for the upcoming season, looking at what marks…
Analyzing the Catchers
Francisco Pena: The 19-year-old backstop struggled with consistency during his second season with Savannah, but his measurable growth on both sides of the ball have coaches believing it is just a matter of time before it all comes together. He took important steps last season as he raised his batting average and showed a greater ability to hit to all fields with extra-base power, though he still becomes pull happy at times. Plate discipline and pitch recognition remain priorities considering his wide strikeout-to-walk ratio and propensity to not work deep into counts, but the offensive improvements made in his sophomore campaign confirmed belief in his ability. Scouts have given Pena some rope considering he did not spend one day in rookie ball.
Pena's size and physique were of concern during his first season, but 2008 saw him more fit and quick behind the plate which led to enhanced footwork and release. As he continued to improve his mobility, combined with his strong arm, he developed the tools expected out of a big league catcher. While his bat at room to grow, his defensive mechanics are strong enough to give him the highest ceiling.
Closest to the Majors:
Josh Thole: Thole's performance with St. Lucie last season was one of the biggest surprises at any level of the system. The 22-year-old seemingly appeared out of anonymity considering he hit .267 with zero home runs and only 36 RBI in 117 games sharing time at first base and catcher with Savannah in 2007, only to become a .300 hitter with solid extra base power in 2008.
His performance in the Florida State League earned him a trip to the Arizona Fall League where he hit .319 with two home runs and drove in 17 runs which followed with a non-roster invitation to big league camp. Concerns about his mobility and limited arm strength do not give him the full scope of tools on both sides of the ball like Pena, but his age and lack of favorable catching prospects ahead of him give Thole frontrunner status towards a big league debut.
Needs to Make a Move:
Sean McCraw: The 22-year-old's drop-off in 2008 was quite surprising after his success in Savannah the previous season. McCraw has never been one to post big numbers, but he showed valuable progress before heading to St. Lucie last season where his offense was non-existent. McCraw possesses the best defensive tools of any catching prospect, which includes very quick feet and the strongest throwing arm among catching prospects, but he needs to start hitting if he is too reclaim the positioning he had prior to the season.
Josh Thole's ascension, which coincided with the taking of his job, really puts McCraw behind the eight ball. McCraw's stock fell has hard anyone ranked in last season's Top 50, and now he needs a big season to regain belief that he can be a player at the highest level.
Jordan Abruzzo: The big, switch-hitting catcher missed nearly his entire rookie season in 2007, but demonstrated the skills to handle the long-seasons despite returning to Brooklyn for the majority of the New York-Penn League season. Before that, Abruzzo hit .300 in 54 games with Savannah and .303 in 19 games with St. Lucie. He can hit the long ball from both sides (though stronger from the left) and has very good plate awareness, but his age (25 in August) means he can no longer afford to spend any more time at the lower levels.
Abruzzo's late start, combined with injury, requires he make a lasting impression in 2009 and see time in Binghamton—to some success—if he is to stay in the running as a big league option. If not, the Mets should have a reliable organizational catcher who can provide offense and sound tools behind the plate.
Jury is Still Out:
Dock Doyle: Doyle showed a number of promising tools during his rookie season in Kingsport, including a very sharp eye at the plate and the ability to make consistent contact. His .308 average and .390 on-base percentage speak to that, but his power production was limited and the hope is the numbers will come once he adds strength to a rather lean frame. His left-handed bat gives a little bump to his stock as a hitter.
Defensively, Doyle has the arm to throw out a high percentage of base runners and moves well behind the dish, but scouts want to see him improve his framing, transferring of pitches and his communication with the pitching staff. A big positive for Doyle is his excellent makeup. He is a natural leader who does not shy away from making his voice heard in the dugout.
Salomon Manriquez: Manriquez' name did not come up much during his first year in the Mets' system, but he did a more than adequate job providing stability behind the plate in Binghamton. In 94 games, Manriquez hit .271 with four home runs and 28 RBI, coming off an average of .274/14/55 over his previous three seasons in High-A ball and Double-A in the Nationals and Rangers system. At 6-foot-1 and 200-pounds, he has deceptive pop and knows how to hit the other way. Defensively, he boasts an above-average arm and good lateral movement. The move from the Texas League to the Eastern League certainly comes with its adjustment period, so how he fares in his second tour will spell out possible future contributions.
Michael Moras: Moras appeared in only 20 games with Kingsport last summer, but made the most of his opportunities at the plate as he hit .338 with one home run and nine RBI. He continues to work on his timing and balance of his swing. Defensively, mobility is his focus as he improves his lateral movement, blocking and receiving of pitches. What Moras needs more than anything is playing time having only tallied 68 at-bats in his first season. He should be in position to backup in Savannah this season.
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