TCN 2016 Cards Prospect #30: Michael Ohlman

The 40-man roster catcher spent 2014 and 2015 at Double-A. When can he compete for a St. Louis job?

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

School: Lakewood Ranch, Bradenton, Florida

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
NA C 12,14,90 6-5 215 R R 2009 11(BAL)

Selected 2015 stats

Sgf 0.273 0.315 366 53 100 17 12 69 46 77 0 0.354 0.356 0.418 0.774
AFL 0.205 0.250 39 4 8 2 2 7 3 14 0 0.294 0.256 0.410 0.666

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (24): Michael Ohlman finished quite a bit higher in the community voting at #24. Bccran began voting early on for Ohlman, tabbing him at #17 in fact, over the likes of Daniel Poncedeleon and Allen Cordoba. Bccran justified his early vote by pointing out that Ohlman was the lone catcher on the Texas League Post-Season All-Star team, a worthy accomplishment for the former Orioles farmhand.

Desmetlax12 mentioned that he likes having a catcher that can hit, even if he ends up being a back-up. Desmetlax12 thought it would be nice to have some offense from the position on Yadier Molina’s off days in the future. Wileycard noted that Ohlman has the bat to progress to the majors, not to mention the physical frame to hit there. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (34): Ohlman joined the Cardinals as a waiver acquisition last spring from the Baltimore Orioles after a down offensive and defensive 2014 with their Double-A club. In 2015, the backstop rebounded nicely and landed as The Cardinal Nation's 30th prospect with a .273/.356/.418 line as the Springfield Cardinals regular catcher. He finished out his first season with his new organization by appearing the Arizona Fall League in a part-time role.

Among catchers, Ohlman not only led the Texas League but the Cardinals system as a whole with 12 dingers and 69 RBI - displaying the power potential and run-producing bat that got him a large bonus as an 11th round pick by the Orioles. At that, he hit for a solid average and made marked improvements as a thrower and receiver behind the dish. That was a blessing in disguise as scouts differed on his potential this fall.

Ohlman was placed in a perfect opportunity to learn and grow. His manager Dann Bilardello and hitting coach Erik Pappas are both former big-league catchers, and they both liked the improvements in his game since April.

"He (Ohlman) had a tremendous year at the plate, worked hard from spring training, and he has just carried it through," said Pappas. "Mike does well waiting for his pitch; he is very patient. That is the difference between him and last year when I talked about his struggles last year. Between Dann (Bilardello) and myself, he is very open to suggestions."

“He has gotten a lot better," said Bilardello in late August. "He is receiving the ball so much better now. He has put some work into it. Fortunately or unfortunately - you could ask him – he has two ex-catchers that played in the big leagues (as coaches – Bilardello and Erik Pappas). Sometimes that is a blessing or a curse. We have been hard on him at times, but it is a good hard. We want to work with Mike on his game-calling, being a leader on the field, and all those types of things need to come into play.

“I have thought his throwing so far has been one of his biggest improvements over the course of the year. When I saw him in spring training, he had a little bit of a long arm, now he has shortened it up and is throwing the ball pretty well. When you see that, plus he has been swinging the bat good, good for him, good for the organization, and we will see how far that takes him.”

From a scouting point of view, the biggest knock on him is his size. As one scout said: "Some see tall catchers with the same eyes as they see short pitchers." As a result of his 6-foot-5 height, getting down and blocking, his durability, nimbleness, and ability to make a consistent, compact throw to cut down runners are red flags. In the box, scouts don't see enough in him consistently to be regular, but more likely a good back-up with a good arm and pop. Although one scout said he can be a journeyman type at best unless he has a dynamite spring in 2016.

Brian Walton (31): Acquired for cash from Baltimore just before spring training means that this Ohlman’s first year of eligibility for his list. As noted, he compiled a nice season in his second try at Double-A, but did not impress in limited action in his second turn in the Arizona Fall League. I could continue on that line, but I won’t.

At this point, Ohlman’s skills and development in terms of his value to the Cardinals may very well be secondary to the dynamics of the team’s roster around him and his own contract status.

Though Tony Cruz was the Cardinal most immediately impacted by the club’s signing of veteran Brayan Pena to be Yadier Molina’s back up, it affects others at the position, too. Specifically, Pena’s two-year deal means that barring injury, there will not be a job in St. Louis for aspiring catchers until at least 2018. By then, it is hoped Carson Kelly will be advanced enough to be ready to step in, as Molina once did behind Mike Matheny in 2004.

Unfortunately for Ohlman, his minor league options will be long gone before 2018. That clouds his near-term chances to become a major leaguer, at least in this organization. Having been first added to Baltimore’s 40-man following the 2013 season means that 2016 will be his last of three option years, which he will likely spend at Triple-A.

Immediately ahead, the Cardinals signed veteran Eric Fryer to be the other catcher at Memphis with Ohlman in 2016 – a year that may truly make or break his chances with St. Louis.

On the positive side, not counting the Cruz-Pena change, three 40-man roster catchers ahead of him have been cut loose since the end of the season in Cody Stanley, Travis Tartamella and Ed Easley. So if there is an unplanned need behind the plate in St. Louis, Ohlman appears to be positioned as the “next man up” – assuming he continues to progress.

From his point of view, it would be far better for that opportunity to present itself in 2016, allowing him to get his feet wet in the majors before returning for more seasoning at Memphis.

In 2017, there will be no way for the Cardinals to get him back to Triple-A without him passing through waivers first. And 2018? Well, it is an eternity away.

Our 2016 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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