Dodgers Prospect Preview: Catchers

10 years ago, the Dodgers selected a Canadian third baseman from Chipola JC in Florida in the 17th round of the draft and converted him to catcher. 5 years ago he looked like a cornerstone of the franchise, hitting .293 with 19 homers and 21 stolen bases. Today, Russell Martin is a Yankee. Can the Dodgers develop another promising backstop?

Triple A - Albuquerque Isotopes

Let's start at the top. Tim Federowicz is the first name on the list, coming off of a fantastic minor league debut with the Dodgers. He batted .325/.431/.627 in 25 games with the Isotopes before earning a September callup. The 24 year old Pennsylvania native is lauded for his defense and ability to handle a pitching staff. But how much offense should Dodger fans expect out of Tim?

Outside of those 25 games last year in Albuquerque, Federowicz had just one stretch of games where he looked like a contributor with the bat. In 2009, as a 20 year old in Low A ball, he batted .345/.393/.562 with Greenville. Outside of those 55 games, he hadn't produced a season with an OPS of over .745 until last year with the Topes. Prior to the trade, he was hitting a respectable .277/.338/.407 with Portland in the Double A Eastern League, though his OPS jumped more than .300 points after the trade that brought him into LA's system.

So what can explain the boost in production? Well, his BABIP did rise from .316 to .345, but that could be explained by his line drive rate jumping from 14.8% to 21.9%. He hit the ball in the air more and homered on every 5th outfield fly ball when with Albuquerque. While a change in approach could explain more flyballs, the homer rate is unsustainable. He also posted severe home/road splits, with a difference in OPS of nearly .300 points. So he definitely benefited from playing in Albuquerque.

Unfortunately, the shine wore off before the year was out. Fedex played 15 games in the Dominican Winter League, hitting just .196/.241/.275 with 22 strikeouts compared to 3 walks and 2 extra base hits. That's not to mention his brief callup, though he got inconsistent at bats at best which can't be used to judge his production.

Overall, it appears that Tim's offensive outburst with the Topes was a mirage. The majority of his career has seen him put up modest numbers at the plate and the safe bet is to take the under on even average offensive projections. To me, he looks like a backup.

Double A - Chattanooga Lookouts

Another top catching prospect for the Dodgers is one Gorman Erickson, drafted in the 15th round of the 2006 draft and finally coming into his own in 2009. He struggled in 2010, batting just .215 with 2 homers but found himself on friendly grounds in the California League in 2011, batting .305 with 6 homers in 63 games. He then, shockingly, hit 7 more homers with Chattanooga in 41 contests.

For a guy with such impressive size (6'4 220), Griff has never hit for power. From 2007-2010, he hit 9 homers. Last year, he hit 13. Change in swing mechanics? Possibly, but his home run rate jumped to 18.4% in Chattanooga. This was in spite of the fact that 40% of his balls in play were on the ground. If I had a line of 10 homers as his max in the bigs, I'd probably take the under.

The power got to his head when he hit Double A last season, as his walk rate was less than half of what it was in High A. That's been Erickson's biggest offensive selling point over the years: his ability to draw a lot of walks. Hopefully he won't sacrifice his plate discipline in the hope of hitting for more power.

Defensively, he's better than you'd expect for such a big guy. He threw out 30% of attempted basestealers last season. While he moves fairly well, he's not a threat on the bases.

As a 24 year old in Double A, Gorman will have to prove that last year's offensive output was repeatable. He'll need to walk more, especially if the power doesn't stick. On the organizational depth chart, I'd put him ahead of Federowicz as the Dodgers' next option behind A.J. Ellis.

Another player to keep an eye on is J.T. Wise. You'd think a guy who hit .266/.364/.503 as a catcher would get more attention. However, there's a very specific reason he's overlooked: his age.

Wise will turn 26 in June. In prospect years, he's dead. There's an outside chance that he could be a late-bloomer, but the odds are against him. If he hits in Double A, it'll be hard to ignore, regardless of his age.

High A - Rancho Cucamonga Quakes

The Dodgers drafted three catchers in the first 20 rounds of the draft last year: Pratt Maynard (3rd), Tyler Ogle (9th) and Chris O'Brien(18th). The organization will have to find room for them in A ball. This is less a projection of where I believe they'll be a more a convenience for the article's sake.

If any of the catchers start the year at High A it will likely be either Pratt Maynard or Tyler Ogle. My guess would be Ogle, even though he's the youngest and had the least reps in rookie ball last season, but he's the most advanced defensively.

Ogle may not profile as a great defender but his bat could carry him. His debut was unimpressive but as a junior at Oklahoma he hit .343/.464/.552 in 60 games. He has a good eye and solid power.

There's no need to rush him since he's only 21 but I expect him to open the season in full season ball. Getting all three steady playing time will require a little bit of maneuvering. While I wouldn't be shocked if none started at High A, I'd think it would just be easier to put one in Rancho to ease the logjam.

Low A - Great Lakes Loons

Pratt Maynard and Chris O'Brien, while less polished defensively than Ogle, have at least as much offensive prowess, if not more. They're older, both turning 23 this year, so the Dodgers could move them quickly if they have early success.

Both Maynard and O'Brien profile as bat-first catchers, if they can stick behind the plate. Neither have overwhelming physical tools on defense, though O'Brien received good marks for his ability to call a game and work with a pitching staff. Maynard has the least catching experience of the three and will require the most work.

They also share the same type of offensive profile. They're about the same size, both can draw a walk and have line drive power with some home run potential. While Maynard is a lefty, O'Brien is a switch-hitter who fared better from the left side in his debut.

Questions about their ultimate ability to stay behind the plate affect their status as prospects. While I believe they'll hit, I'm not sure if it would be enough if they had to move to first base. Hopefully some of those concerns will be laid to rest during the 2012 season.

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