School: Louisiana State University
Selected 2014 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (36): Mason Katz was a huge question mark within the community vote. Scadder21 noted his very poor contact skills that may not translate productively as he moves up the organizational ladder. Mudville rebutted this, noting that Katz has decent power. I furthered mudville’s argument, mentioning how Katz adding catcher to his already large list of positions is impressive.
UncleDenny was not impressed. He thought Katz looked pedestrian to him and noted that Katz is too old at 24 to be deemed a prospect while playing at Class A+ Palm Beach. Believing neither to be attainable, UncleDenny also asked rhetorically whether Katz could dislodge Wong at second base or if he could thrive as a third-string catcher. - Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore: In his first year of entering into our top 40 after a spot among the "Best of the Rest" last year, Katz earned his way with a breakout 20-home run season between two levels of A-ball. The middle infielder slugged 14 with Peoria with the other six blasts at Palm Beach to finish the season. Even though he played almost 25 less games in the Florida State League, his OPS there was 42 points higher than in the Midwest League. (Ed note: Notice the BABIP difference, too.)
Last year in instructional league, Carson Kelly was the infielder to move behind the plate, but was in a whole different situation with questions about his defensive profile. Obviously if Katz is able to handle baseball’s most demanding position, his bat would play, giving him some legitimate value. But, you are asking a lot to make such a transition.
Scouts say Katz’ ceiling is a fringe hit/plus power type, meaning .250 average and 20-25 potential for home runs. He matched that projection this year but it should be noted that he put up those numbers as a 24-year-old playing a majority of his games with Low-A Peoria.
It will be interesting to watch Katz this season to see how the catching experiment plays out. If he does like we all hope, he may have a future big-league career due to his bat.
Expect Katz back at Palm Beach for the start of the season. It will take him time to find a niche behind the plate, but once he learns all the nuances, perhaps we will see him in Springfield in 2015.
Brian Walton (33): Granted, St. Louis’ system is known for its pitching prospects much more than its hitters. That is why one should take special notice of the few power bats that really stand out, even when they are 5-foot-10.
The reality of the situation in 2014 is that just four men hit more than 16 home runs in the Cardinals minors this season and two of them, Randal Grichuk and Xavier Scruggs, have already reached St. Louis.
That leaves just two down in the lower levels of the organization: Rowan Wick, still ahead in this top 40 countdown, and Katz. The latter finished the season just five home runs behind leader Grichuk (20 vs. 25) in almost the same number of plate appearances.
It wasn’t just about power, but production as well. Katz tied Grichuk for the second-most runs batted in the entire Cardinals minor league system with 71 this season.
Unfortunately, the two also have a similar penchant for strikeouts, with Grichuk whiffing at a 24.8 percent rate while at Memphis and Katz not far behind at 24 percent this season. Katz did show some improvement after reaching Palm Beach (22.1 percent) compared to Peoria (25.2 percent), but more progress is needed.
Of course, Grichuk, originally a high school draftee, is a better prospect competing at much higher levels of play, and to top it off, is 12 months younger than Katz. Still, it is worth noting that at high-A in 2012, Grichuk’s OPS was .823 while at Palm Beach in 2014, Katz came in at a respectable .782.
The question posed above about the possibility of Katz making it as a reserve catcher led me to a Tony Cruz comparison, another infielder who picked up catching in the minors. In a partial 2010 season at Palm Beach, his second shot at the level, Cruz was the same age as Katz when he logged an OPS of .746 there and had yet not registered in our top 40 rankings.
I get the age concerns with Katz, but I focus more on experience levels. Some college players are just older. In his first full-season as a professional, Katz having success at A-Advanced is not lagging at all. For example, Matt Carpenter was 24 when he left Palm Beach behind in 2010. Allen Craig played at Palm Beach at 23 years of age. Katz turned 24 in late August with one week remaining in the season.
The Cardinals’ immediate plans with Katz are unclear. With former top draftees Carson Kelly and Steve Bean both having spent the entire 2014 season at Peoria, there could be a log-jam of players competing for time behind the plate with Palm Beach in 2015.
I may be getting ahead of myself, however. It remains to be seen if Katz can become a credible professional catcher, and that exploration could slow down his progression – if the Cardinals decide to make this a full-time move. At least he has a head start, with some prior experience behind the plate.
Or, the organization could decide to let Katz’ hitting lead the way and continue building his defensive versatility as a secondary priority. At this point, my projected Springfield opening roster looks to have room for Katz’ right-handed bat.
We will have to see how this shakes out in the spring, but my bottom line is that a super-utility player who can offer some legitimate thump at the plate could be a valuable commodity, whether he can catch regularly or not.
Our 2015 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
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