Today marks the start of the annual “State of the Farm” series where I will look at each position on the field, one position each Monday and go in depth with how each position is looking currently within the Cincinnati Reds farm system.
Just two years ago the Reds may have had the best catching depth of any team in all of minor league baseball with the trio of Devin Mesoraco, Yasmani Grandal and Tucker Barnhart. With Mesoraco graduating to the Majors and Grandal being traded the Reds have had the position see itself weaken over the years. Tucker Barnhart finds himsef at the top of the depth chart in terms of prospect value at the position among all catchers in full season ball. Barnhart has strong defensive tools behind the plate, allowed just 3 passed balls this season and threw out 37% of opposing base runners trying to steal against him. At the plate he has good plate discipline and rebounded well to hit .260 in Pensacola after struggling to hit there after a promotion in 2012. He has struggled to hit right handed pitching for his career and 2013 was no exception, though that is really the only blemish you can put on his game.
Joe Hudson was the only other catcher to get 300 plate appearances in the system during the 2013 season. He struggled with the bat at times as he hit .247/.328/.332 on the season, though he did hit better once June rolled around. Hudson, like the other catchers in full season ball for the Reds didn’t show much pop in his bat, but he did show good plate discipline. Defensively he was solid at times with his receiving, though he did struggle with passed balls at times during the year. He has an average to slightly-above average arm and threw out 37% of attempted base stealers.
Yovan Gonzalez, Chris Berset and Brandon Dailey all saw action behind the plate at the full season levels with varying degrees of success at the plate. Gonzalez hit .261 in 288 plate appearances but despite spending almost his entire season in the California League was only able to slug .310. Berset hit just .229 but showed good plate discipline and a bit of pop to post an OBP and .320 and slug .359 in 221 plate appearances between Bakersfield and Pensacola. Dailey made the transition to catcher from middle infield and played mostly in the second half, splitting time with Joe Hudson for the Dayton Dragons. He struggled with the bat as he hit just .185/.257/.290. All three players had strong caught stealing rates over 30%.
At the rookie levels there were two guys that stood out. Jose Ortiz teased last season with big offensive numbers in limited action after being drafted and this year he flashed off some big tools for the Billings Mustangs as he hit .262/.321/.494 with 22 extra-base hits in 184 plate appearances. Behind the plate he allowed just 3 passed balls and threw out 23% of opposing base stealers. Despite the lower caught stealing rate, Ortiz does have an above-average arm and offensively he has the highest ceiling of any catcher in the system with the bat. Shedric Long was just 17 this season after being drafted by the Reds in June. In limited action he hit .256/.333/.321, though he hit quite well after an initial slump to begin his season. He really struggled with passed balls in his first professional experience, though he did throw out 28% of opposing base stealers.
There is a wild card to the catching position as the Reds are apparently going to be trying out Seth Mejias-Brean at the position in instructional league. His bat would be very welcomed at the position, but catcher is a position where defense is very important. While he does give the position a boost, it is only a very small one given that the transition may not even see the light of day in a game that matters next season.
The position is in better shape than it was at this point last season, the position is still one of the weaker ones in the farm system. Tucker Barnhart was the only catcher in the full season leagues who saw a true majority of the playing time where the rest of the catchers wound up splitting their time. Jose Ortiz really separated himself at the rookie level from the rest of that group with his bat, though he does seem plenty good enough defensively to remain at the position as well. The Reds catching crew on the farm seems to be well stocked with solid or better defenders and with offense generally being the last thing to develop with catchers there could be a breakout waiting to happen somewhere in the future, but at this point there seems to be two guys who have separated themselves from the pack as potential starting caliber players.
For more articles in this series, click here.