Draft: Catching Always in Demand

As a former catcher in the Cubs' farm system, Lukas McKnight knows a thing or two about the position. Now a scout for the organization, he also knows what to look for and what the most important trait is in the person behind the plate.

"Makeup -- that's the biggest thing," McKnight said with no uncertainty.

A former catcher in the Cubs minor leagues, McKnight made it as far up the organizational ladder as Double-A before finishing his five-year playing career. He now spends his time as an area scout for the Cubs, primarily in the Ohio Valley and Western Pennsylvania regions. He has even made the occasional trip to eastern Canada.

"This is going to be the guy who's going to work with pitchers in the organization all throughout his career," McKnight continued. "He's going to interact with these guys and at some level, he's going to help them have some success. He's got to be a smart guy, someone with great makeup who's going to work well with coaches and other players."

McKnight officially retired in Spring Training of 2005 to focus on a career in scouting. He says the opportunity presented itself at just the right time, as he knew the possibility of him becoming a major league catcher was dim at best. The Cubs then made him an offer he couldn't pass up.

Now in his second full year as a scout, scouting catchers (and pitchers) is a perfect role for the now 26-year-old McKnight.

"Being a former catcher myself, I'm always looking for things in catchers and pitchers because that's what I know," McKnight said. "I think it's no coincidence that a lot of big league managers over the years were former catchers. I'd venture a lot of pretty good scouts were catchers at some point in their lives as well. It's a position where you learn to spot certain things."

In last year's draft, the Cubs selected only two catchers in the first 20 rounds. They signed both Jake Muyco from North Carolina State of the ACC and Yusuf Carter, the son of former major leaguer Joe Carter.

The pickings are slim again this year and McKnight is the first to admit it.

"There are never a lot of catchers out there," McKnight said. "Let's face it. You have to make due with what you have. There's probably more pitching out there than anything, but somebody's still got to catch."

It goes without saying that neither McKnight nor any other Cub scouts would tip their hand as to which players the organization are currently leaning toward, or those who have been consistently scouted by the club. Phone calls to first-year Scouting Director Tim Wilken's office were not returned.

But if it's catching the Cubs are looking for in the first round of the draft, Hank Conger of Huntington Beach High School in California appears to be the safest bet for early-round consideration.

Said Jason Avery of the Scout.com network's TigsTown.com, the Detroit Tigers' equivalent to Inside The Ivy:

"Conger has made great strides this spring behind the plate defensively, and he will need a lot of work there, but his bat and power from both sides of the plate will play anywhere on the diamond."

"Catching is always in demand because it's so limited," McKnight continued to stress. "It's always thin and I don't think any organization will tell you they don't want more depth back there."

When the morning of Draft Day arrives, McKnight and several other area scouts are in the same boat as fans and media when selections are announced.

"You post up in front of your computer and watch it shake out," McKnight said. "You've done all of your work to this point."

And despite repeatedly being careful not to tip his hand on any of the potential names on the Cubs' radar screen, McKnight did say the state of Ohio was one of the most heavily scouted areas in the country this past year.

McKnight hinted for us not to be caught off-guard if the Cubs land some players from his region.

"It's been a really strong state this year," McKnight said. "We're hoping to get some good players from this region. You never know how the draft is going to shake out, but you try to line everything up and hope you get the best players you can.

"You want as many talented players as you can find. That's our goal as scouts."


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