Having had some very high draft picks in the past several years, the Pittsburgh Pirates have assembled a nucleus of some incredibly talented players on both sides of the ball that include Gregory Polanco, Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. With their second pick in the 2013 draft (14th overall), the Pirates selected Reese McGuire, a prep catcher who was universally ranked as the best player at that position in the 2013 class. McGuire joins an organization that already has three other prospects who have worked their way on to MLB.com’s Top 20 Prospects list for the Pirates, creating one of the best systems for backstops in the majors.
The lowest catcher in the Top 20, ranked at #17 by the end of the 2013 is 20-year-old Taiwanese backstop Jin-De Jhang. Jhang is a built in the mold of a Molina (at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds) but, so far, hasn’t let his weight get in the way of performing. 2013 was only his second year behind the plate but he made huge strides in Short-Season A Jamestown, throwing out 47% of base runners attempting to steal. He also contributed with a solid year at the plate, hitting .277/.338/.413 with five home runs.
Moving up the list at #12 is Wyatt Mathisen, another 20-year-old catcher who struggled in 2013 when he was given an advanced assignment in the Midwest League as a 19 year old and was injured for much of the season with a torn labrum. Despite the injury, scouts love his his arm, assuming that it bounces back from the injury, and his athleticism which he showed off in his first pro season (2012) by ripping apart the Gulf Coast League and even stealing 10 bases.
One higher on the list is Tony Sanchez at #11 who is easily the most ready for prime time. General consensus among bloggers is that Sanchez, the 2009 fourth-overall pick, is pretty much ready now, having made his major league debut with the Pirates in 2013. It’s more likely that the 25 year old will likely get another year in Triple-A under his belt with Russell Martin in the final year of his contract. Sanchez hit for more power in 2013 than ever before: despite only 313 minor league plate appearances, he hit 10 home runs and slugged .487 with an ISO over .200. Sanchez’s defense is generally thought to be strong and he has a good arm although that hasn’t ever translated into a CS% of over 33% over any given season.
Finally, the newest addition to this cadre of catchers is Reese McGuire. Touted for his outstanding defense coming out of high school, McGuire impressed with his bat, hitting .323 mostly in the Gulf Coast League. While he hasn’t shown much power to speak of yet, the left-handed hitter has a projectible body that can add some muscle to his frame and he showed a very advanced approach at the plate, walking almost as many times as he struck out. Defensively, McGuire gets raves and he backed up the hype by throwing out 44% of potential base stealers.
The biggest concern with all of these young catchers is getting them playing time. Obviously Sanchez will be in Triple-A and will be the de facto starter if anything happens to Martin. Lower down in the system things get snug. McGuire showed a lot in his professional debut and I wouldn’t put it past the Pirates to place McGuire in full-season A ball in West Virginia. But then where do you put Jhang and Mathisen? The two 20 year olds are both ready for the Midwest League and Mathisen has already had a taste of that level. Do you send McGuire to extended spring and have the two others split time in West Virginia until McGuire forces his way up? Do you send one of Jhang or Mathisen to Bradenton to open up a spot for McGuire in W.V.? While the minor league assessment staff for the Pirates some tough decisions to make, they are, no doubt, some of the best kind to have.