Today marks the beginning of the State of the Farm series for 2012. Each Monday I will look at one position and the state of it throughout the farm system. I will go in order of positions, starting with catcher and working around the diamond until we get to the pitchers where I will look at both starting pitching and relief pitching.
The position that was arguably the Reds strongest after 2011 may be the weakest in 2012. The Reds lost two Top 50 prospects in baseball at the position from last year with the graduation of Devin Mesoraco and the trade of Yasmani Grandal. Tucker Barnhart seems to be alone at the top of the current crop. In 2011 he was recognized by Rawlings as the best defensive catcher in all of the minor leagues and was given the Gold Glove award for minor league baseball at the catcher position. At 21 years old, he is a very good defender with a strong and accurate arm. He threw out 38% of would be base stealers in 2012, though he did have 13 passed balls, which was up from just six the year before. He split his time between Bakersfield and Pensacola. At the plate, it was a night and day difference. In Bakersfield he hit .278/.371/.409 with good plate discipline. Once in Pensacola though, his plate discipline, while still solid, took a step backward as did the rest of his offense. While it was limited to just 142 plate appearances, a .200/.262/.292 line was not a good showing. He suffered from a low BABIP that certainly held down the line, but AA pitchers seemed to figure out something as Barnhart went from a 41% groundball hitters in Bakersfield in 2012 to a 57% groundball hitter in Pensacola. Expect him to be back in Pensacola next season as the starting catcher.
As far as prospects go, there isn’t another catcher in full season ball who showed enough to give a second thought. In Arizona there were a few interesting guys though. Daniel Paula got the majority of the starts for the Reds. The bat showed well in a limited sample size, while the defense is a big question mark. Offensively, in 25 games he drew 7 walks and struck out just 8 times while hitting .342/.349/.435. For a teenager in his first year of professional baseball he showed strong plate discipline and contact ability. Defensively he threw out only 11% of opposing base stealers (though it should be noted that especially at this level, the pitchers could be entirely to blame as no one on the team of four catchers was even at 20%) and had 10 passed balls. To be fair, I don’t know much about him defensively at all, but there must be some tools there or the Reds wouldn’t have brought him to the US for his first taste of professional baseball. The Reds 17th rounder out of Puerto Rico in 2012 saw limited action after signing toward the end of the signing period, but Jose Ortiz hit well in his 49 trips to the plate with a .359/.469/.538 line to go along with 8 walks and 10 strikeouts. The 18 year old flashed some power with 6 extra base hits. He has a strong arm, but only threw out 16% of attempted base stealers. Pre-draft scouting reports noted that he needed work on his receiving skills. While it is early, he showed some early promise in his first exposure to pro ball. One guy that I forgot to mention in the original write up was 6th rounder Joe Hudson, who missed the season after breaking his wrist right before the season began. Scouting reports question his ability to hit, though they do note that he has some power potential. He is also viewed as a very good defensive catcher.
As noted in the early part of the post, the catching position may be the weakest among all positions in the system. There is one guy in the entire system who has shown thus far to have perhaps potential on both sides of the ball while also being in full season ball. That is not good. The youngsters in Arizona showed some things with the bat, but left a bunch of questions behind the plate still. Overall, I would give the current catcher situation an D-. There is no depth at the position right now. There is no star potential at the position. The position is just very rough in the system right now.