The 2016 season was equal parts memorable and frustrating for Stockton Ports’ catcher Sean Murphy. On the plus side, Murphy fulfilled a life dream when he was selected 83rd overall (third round) in the 2016 MLB Draft. On the down side, Murphy fought through two serious injuries that limited his production both in his final season at Wright State and in his pro debut campaign. Now healthy, Murphy is ready to begin his climb through the Oakland A’s organization.
Coming into the 2016 college season, Murphy was on the radar as a potential top-two round selection after two strong seasons at Wright State and a stint in the Cape Cod League where he impressed with his glove. He got off to a fast start to his junior season both at the plate and behind it when he was hit in the wrist by an errant pitch. That hit-by-pitch broke his hamate bone. Hamate injuries can often cost players more than half of a season, but Murphy worked to get back in the line-up as soon as possible. Although he wasn’t 100%, Murphy returned after just 22 games missed.
“Coming back potentially could have hurt me for the draft, but I wanted to play for Wright State,” Murphy said. “I didn’t want to sit out and be perceived as milking an injury. Wright State gave a lot to me. They gave me an opportunity to play. I wanted to give back and get back as quickly as possible even though I wasn’t 100%. I didn’t want to miss that last year.”
Murphy did end up slipping out of the first two rounds of the draft, but he didn’t last long into day two, going to the A’s early in the third round. After Murphy signed, he played one game in Arizona before heading east to suit up with the Vermont Lake Monsters. A month into his pro career, bad luck struck Murphy again. He took a foul ball off of his leg and wound-up developing a staph infection. Murphy would miss six weeks fighting off the infection, returning to the field for the final weekend of the season.
At the time of the staph infection, Murphy was hitting just .209 for the Lake Monsters. He admits that his wrist never got back to 100% last season thanks to the hamate injury. The time he spent fighting the infection also served as a chance for Murphy to rebuild the strength in his wrist. He went 4-for-9 with a homer during the final weekend of the season and went on to have a strong fall Instructional League camp a few weeks later.
Although Murphy had an 871 OPS in three seasons at Wright State, it was his glove, and not his bat, that generated the most pre-draft buzz. Several scouts rated his throwing arm a 70 on the 20-80 scale. Murphy’s arm has certainly lived up to the hype since he turned pro. Twenty-seven runners have attempted to steal off of Murphy in pro ball and only 15 have succeeded (44%). Stockton Ports’ manager Rick Magnante has been impressed with Murphy’s throwing arm in the early going.
“Not only does he throw with arm strength, but he really has good accuracy,” Magnante said. “He’s on the button most of the time.”
Murphy got an opportunity to show off that arm strength in front of the A’s major league coaching staff this spring as a non-roster invitee to spring training. He spent half of the spring with the A’s big league team and appeared in 11 games. He says he spent the spring getting to know the A’s older players and learning from how they prepare for each game.
One of the players Murphy took inspiration from was Bruce Maxwell. Like Maxwell, Murphy is tall for a catcher (6’3’’). Tall catchers can sometimes struggle to get down on balls in the dirt, something that Maxwell spent a lot of time working on early in his career. Murphy says he took the opportunity to pick Maxwell’s brain about his catching mechanics this spring.
Despite being an All-State player in Ohio in high school, Murphy wasn’t able to generate much interest from colleges. Undersized for most of high school, Murphy grew from being 5’6’’ as a junior in high school to 6’3’’ by his junior year in college. Most catchers are around 5’10’’-6’0’’ because it can be difficult for taller catchers to get down on the ball. Murphy never wavered from his desire to stay behind the plate, even as he grew.
“I’ve always had good flexibility,” Murphy said. “I’ve been a catcher for a long time and, even as I got taller, it was just what I wanted to do.”
Murphy is currently the primary catcher for a Stockton pitching staff that includes several of the A’s top pitching prospects. He has dedicated the early part of this season to getting to know his staff.
“In the minor leagues, a lot of guys kind of follow the same outline to prepare, but some guys do things completely differently,” Murphy said. “You just have to know your guys and prepare the way that they want to.”
Like all catchers, Murphy has to balance time dedicated to working with his pitchers with his own development as a hitter. Magnante sees big league potential in Murphy’s bat. The right-handed hitter has always had a strong approach at the plate and he walked more than he struck-out his junior season. Murphy has also shown flashes of power, and he put that power on display on Monday in Stockton, when he homered twice.
Murphy acknowledges that he has work to do at the plate.
“I’m working on it. I wouldn’t say that I’m there. It’s a work-in-progress,” Murphy said. “I’m working with Tommy [Everidge, Stockton hitting coach] everyday and am trying to figure some things out. I know it is a process and it’s not going to click overnight. I am aware of what it is going to take, but I think I’m getting better.”