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Today kicks off one of my favorite series of the year. Each Thursday for the foreseeable future we will have a State of the Farm article that looks at each position (C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, OF, SP, RP) and just how it stacks up.

We will start out at the catcher position. At the big league level the Cincinnati Reds seem to be in good shape. Devin Mesoraco, despite coming off of a hip injury, should be fine to continue catching according to every doctor that’s been asked about it (despite what non-doctors on talk radio, message boards and twitter seem to think). When he’s healthy, he’s an All-Star caliber catcher. His back up is likely to be Tucker Barnhart, who has been solid in his time with the big league club in 2015. With those two players seemingly in line for their jobs for the next few years, it gives the players in the minor leagues time to develop further.

At the top of the chain in the minors, and now with the big club, is Ramon Cabrera. He was a free agent signing prior to the season at the minor league level. The 25-year-old was solid at the plate with the Louisville Bats, hitting .290/.343/.353 on the season with 27 walks and 44 strikeouts. His performance earned him a September call up with the big league club where he’s hit .375/.375/.542 in 24 plate appearances. His offensive game is built around putting the bat on the ball and he’s done a good job of that. Defensively his arm isn’t overly strong, but it’s solid in strength. Where he struggles is in the accuracy of his throws.

At the Double-A level the Pensacola Blue Wahoos saw a majority of their catching time go to Kyle Skipworth. The 2008 Draft’s 6th overall pick joined the Reds organization prior to the season as a free agent signing. He spent most of his year in Pensacola, but also saw time in nine games with Louisville and spent several days in the big leagues, but didn’t appear in a game. Skipworth hit for plenty of power, smacking 26 extra-base hits in just 276 plate appearances, but he really struggled offensively outside of that. He hit .199/.285/.402 on the season and struck out in 42% of his plate appearances. Defensively he showed off a good arm, throwing out 43% of attempted base stealers on the season. He did struggle with passed balls at times though, posting the second worst rate in the system among the five full season catchers. The tools that got him drafted so highly in 2008 are still there. Big arm, huge power – but the rest of his game, particularly on the offensive side, needs a ton of improvement. You simply can’t strike out that often and find success at the plate.

Daytona saw a tandem split time at the catching position throughout 2015. Joe Hudson saw a larger share of that time, starting 78 games behind the plate. He shined defensively, throwing out 50% of attempted base stealers. He hit .214/.303/.342 with the Daytona Tortugas, which on the surface looks quite poor, but his .645 OPS was league average (.650 was the league average OPS). He stepped forward with some power in 2015 that he hadn’t shown in the past and he’s got solid plate discipline.

Hudson’s tandem partner was Chad Wallach. He came over in the offseason as a part of the Mat Latos trade. His first season in the Reds organization was spent splitting time at first and catcher. He hit .246/.327/.351 in the pitching friendly league. Wallach showed off solid plate discipline, walking in 9.3% of his plate appearances and striking out in 18.3%. Defensively it was a bit of a mixed bag. He had the lowest rate of passed balls in the organization, but he also threw out just 22% of opposing base runners that tried to steal. He’s still rather new to the position, and the tools are there, but he’s still got a lot of work to do moving forward behind the plate.

Dayton saw several catchers throughout the season, but Garrett Boulware saw the majority of the time, especially once Jose Ortiz was released. After getting out to a hot start to the season at the plate he cooled down in the final three months, hitting .245/.330/.314 on the season. Behind the plate he struggled with passed balls, posting the highest rate among the full season Reds catchers. He also struggled to throw out attempted base runners, posting a 17% caught stealing rate on the season.

The top catching prospect in the organization wasn’t in the organization to begin the year, but the Reds used the 11th overall pick of the 2015 draft on high school catcher Tyler Stephenson. The 18-year-old was sent to Billings where he played in 46 games behind the plate (and another eight as the DH), hitting .268/.352/.361 over 219 plate appearances. He showed off good plate discipline, walking 10% of the time and striking out 19% of the time. Defensively he struggled with passed balls, allowing 13 in 46 games. He threw out 27% of attempted base stealers.

In Arizona another teenage catcher more than held his own. Australian catcher Jake Turnbull hit .291/.395/.373 with the AZL Reds in 129 plate appearances. He walked in 13.2% of his plate appearances, but he also struck out in 24% of his plate appearances. He was one of eight 17-year-olds in the league to garner more than 100 plate appearances and he had the best OPS of that group by 80 points. Behind the plate he showed a mixed bag. He allowed 12 passed balls in just 21 games behind the plate, easily the highest rate among the catchers listed in the article. He did throw out 41% of opposing base stealers, which was the 3rd best in the league for players with at least 25 attempts. The two players that were higher than he was were 21 and 22-years-old.

There is also Chad Tromp, who didn’t see much time this season on the field, but has performed well when he has been on the field. In 25 games he hit .302/.355/.407 for the Dayton Dragons (and one game for the Louisville Bats). The 20-year-old threw out 48% of opposing base stealers (10 of 21) and allowed two passed balls in 22 games behind the plate.

Overall Thoughts

Long staple of the catching depth in the organization Tucker Barnhart graduated to the big leagues in 2015, but he was replaced by newcomer and top pick in the draft Tyler Stephenson. The additions of Ramon Cabrera and Chad Wallach to go with a good breakout performance from Jake Turnbull certainly helps boost the position. There are a few defensive first catchers in the organization and a few guys with some offensive upside as well. Outside of Ramon Cabrera though, the catchers in the system all have things they need to work on before they can be viewed as a real part of the big league future in any manner. With Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart at the big league level though, there’s time to allow them to do just that.

Grade: B-

Top Catcher Tools

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I was able to get pop times on all but two catchers that were mentioned in this article and for most of the guys I have more than a few times, but here is where I will list the best pop time that I was able to get on each guy during the 2015 season. Please note that this may not be their best time, or even their average time, but simply the best one that I was personally able to get. The Major League average is considered to be 2.0 seconds.

Player Level Age Pop Time
Chad Tromp DAY/LOU 20 1.83
Chad Wallach DAT 23 N/A
Garrett Boulware DAY 22 1.99
Jake Turnbull AZL 17 N/A
Joe Hudson DAT 24 1.79
Kyle Skipworth PEN/LOU 25 1.83
Ramon Cabrera LOU 25 1.97
Tyler Stephenson BIL 18 1.82

Other Top Tools

These are for future grades, not necessarily present grades

Tool Top Player
Framing Joe Hudson
Blocking Joe Hudson
Hitting Tyler Stephenson
Power Tyler Stephenson

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About The Author

Doug Gray is the owner and operator of this website and has been running it since 2006 in one variation or another. You can follow him on twitter @dougdirt24, or follow the site on Facebook. and Youtube.

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