2016 Cardinals Draft Preview: Catchers

Scott Schook looks at potential catching draft candidates for the St. Louis Cardinals this June.

As the ink dried on the contract, the signature said “Ian Desmond”. And with it, not only did the Texas Rangers add a right-handed hitter to their outfield, the 2016 MLB Draft Order was finalized. As the final player attached to draft pick compensation, Desmond’s agreement with the Rangers established the selection sequence for June’s Draft.

The St. Louis Cardinals will pick at #23, #33, #34, #70, and #106 in the first three rounds of the Draft this year. While not official, Baseball America has projected the Cardinals to go into the draft with a bonus pool of $9,143,300, nearly $2 million more than their 2015 allotment.

MLB teams rarely draft for need, but as June draws nearer, the Cardinals must face a particular reality that sits not too far in the future: life without Yadier Molina behind the plate. The stalwart of the tools of ignorance for the last decade in St. Louis, Molina is entering his age-33 season, and he has dealt with thumb injuries each of the last two years. As he enters 2016, Molina is recovering from a second surgery to his left thumb and may miss Opening Day.

Since Molina took over for his now-manager Mike Matheny following the 2004 season, the Cardinals have cycled through various backups and marginal call-ups who have handled their limited duties admirably without showing the potential to take over for the multiple-time Gold Glover. While no one may truly be able to replace Molina, the Cardinals do have two intriguing options on opposite sides of the spectrum in their system: Michael Ohlman and Carson Kelly.

Ohlman, an acquisition from the Baltimore Orioles’ organization for cash considerations prior to last season, has impressed with the bat. In his first year in Springfield, the 25-year-old backstop hit .273/.356/.418 for a 118 wRC+ with 12 home runs and 69 RBI. Because of his huge frame at 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, Ohlman has always been slower than average behind the plate, although he has reportedly improved his defense in the Cardinals’ system. On the other end, Kelly won the minor league Gold Glove Award as the best defensive catcher in all of minor league baseball. Despite a late-season surge of .300/.329/.464 in his final 40 games in the Florida State League, Kelly’s overall line for 2015 was a paltry .219/.263/.332.

When the Cardinals walk to the podium in June, an heir apparent to Molina could certainly be at the top of their list. Here are three young men, one of whom could be following the potential Hall of Famer behind the plate at Busch Stadium.

Chris Okey
5’11”, 195 lbs.
Bats: Right
Throws: Right
DOB: 12/29/1994

Okey is widely regarded for his athleticism as a catcher. In fact, some scouts compare him to Craig Biggio: a catcher with the ability to move to other defensive positions and handle them well due to his athletic ability. He has all of the tools to stick behind the plate including an exceptional arm, but he hasn’t fully translated these tools into game action. Last year at Clemson, Okey threw out just 20% of would-be basestealers. Despite that, he has the foot speed, the athleticism, and the arm to round into a strong defender behind the plate.

After an underwhelming freshman season, Okey broke out offensively for Clemson to the tune of a .315/.389/.545 slash line with 12 home runs and 57 RBI in 235 at-bats. In just seven games of the young 2016 season, Okey already has two home runs and a .961 OPS. Many scouts believe he should turn into at least an average MLB hitter with average power (10-15 homers) with a great defensive game behind the plate. He has the tools to turn into a guy that performs like Derek Norris did this past year: a .250 hitter with 14 homers and 2.4 fWAR. If that doesn’t sound like much value, keep in mind that Molina himself averaged 1.7 fWAR through his first six full seasons.

Okey videos

Matt Thaiss
5’11”, 197 lbs.
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
DOB: 5/6/1995

If you asked scouts and talent evaluators to describe Thaiss in one word, that word would most often be “solid.” Going into the 2015 college season, Thaiss leaned up, shedding some body fat to build a more solid and strong frame, and that resulted in improved strength in the batter’s box. Thaiss went on to hit .323/.413/.512 in 254 at-bats for Virginia with 10 home runs and 64 RBI. Perhaps most importantly, Thaiss walked 33 times and struck out just 26 times. Unfortunately, he had an incredibly poor Cape Cod League in 2015, hitting just .149/.197/.254 in 67 at-bats. There’s a lot of movement in his setup, so that may have contributed to his Cape Cod League struggles. Simplifying his approach should improve his path to the ball and, subsequently, his contact. Scouts do see him developing above-average power with 15-20 home runs a year, though, with a good batting eye.

His arm is just average, but his athleticism, footwork, and catching skill creates an all-around solid package behind the plate. It’s doubtful he’ll ever win a Gold Glove, but he should be good enough to stick behind the plate for a few years. He doesn’t have great speed, though, so if he does have to move from behind the plate, his defensive options are limited.

Going into the 2013 Draft, Baseball America compared Thaiss to Brian McCann, and I believe that comparison is still quite valid. Today, McCann is a .250 hitter who walks in about 10% of his plate appearances with above-average power and solid defense. With work on his throwing mechanics and continued development of his raw power, Thaiss could reach that as well.

Thaiss videos

Herbert Iser
Osceola High School (Florida)
6’3”, 207 lbs.
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
DOB: 12/14/1997
University of Miami commitment

Iser is a player who could shoot up the Day 1 Draft boards. He’s arguably the best defender in the entire Draft this year with a cannon arm and impressive catching skills. He should develop into a Major League Baseball player based just on his glove alone. He’s a bit large for a big league catcher, so there is a possibility that he could shift to third base down the road, but all signs point to him being an impressive receiver behind the plate.

Offensively, he’s most likely an average hitter. While he does generate some good exit velocity (94.5 mph), his swing is a tad long, which may lend to some contact issues as he begins facing more and better offspeed pitches. Still, his frame should develop into at least average power with the potential to even become above-average.

Iser’s path to the major leagues could actually mirror Molina’s. His glove should carry him up the ranks, but his offense is going to take longer to develop. Still, he could become a regular contributor to a club while they wait for his offense to catch up, similar to how Molina took over for Matheny before his offense even hit league average.

Iser videos

Next: Check back at The Cardinal Nation for Scott Schook’s next article in his series of previews leading up to the 2016 First-Year Player Draft, all exclusively for TCN members! Prep pitchers will be under the microscope.

Related article for TCN members: 2016 Cardinals Draft Preview: College RHP

Follow Scott Schook on Twitter @scottschook.

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