Name: Mitch Canham
DOB: September 25, 1984
Drafted in the supplemental first-round out of Oregon State, Canham burst onto the scene near home – playing with the Eugene Emeralds of the Northwest League.
In 28 games, the Washington native hit .293 with seven extra base hits, 20 runs scored and 18 RBI. He also drew 11 walks but fanned in 30 percent of his at-bats.
Canham got a quick taste of the California League, going 0-for-7 across two games with a sacrifice fly RBI.
With the Padres aggressively pushing their top talent, Canham was back in Lake Elsinore to begin the 2008 season.
Playing in 113 games – most at the catcher position – Canham hit .285 with 41 extra base hits, including eight homers. He scored 65 times and notched 81 RBIs. The backstop also drew 66 walks compared to 73 strikeouts for a .382 on-base percentage – showing much better discipline from the year before.
Canham hit .311 with runners in scoring position and hit better off left-handed pitching (.318) than right (.277).
The left-handed hitter placed sixth in the California League in on-base percentage, was eighth in the circuit with a .362 wOBA (weighted On Base Average), 10th in wRAA (weighted Runs Above Average based off wOBA) at 11.9, and 11th in wRC (weighted Runs Created based off wOBA) with 77.7. The 24-year-old disappointed with his home run total and extra base hit production but promises to do more damage as he gains a comfort level with his swing.
Canham spent the last year working on a flaw in his swing that has him leaking forward – thus sapping strength from his swing. He has a triple-tap of his foot that has his weight moving forward before the spring of his swing can follow. The meaning is that his hands have to do most of the work and his torso and the torque created to drive through the ball is lessened.
Working on keeping his foot and trigger in balance has been a challenge. Incredibly strong wrists still give Canham gap power and sometimes more. Being able to combine his hands with his torso would allow two to meet, giving him the ability to consistently drive the ball and do more damage than he has shown. He has the power and will unleash it with more consistency in his swing.
The expectation is the power numbers will continue to increase, as he learns to put his whole body into a swing.
The backstop also has some speed and can take advantage of his catching skills to steal bases. He won't be a burner but is good for a handful of stolen bases each season. Canham swiped 13 in 14 attempts this past season.
On the defensive side, Canham had the third most passed balls credited to him with 21 while also on the hook for nine errors – all throwing gaffes.
"I've tried to change his footwork a little bit, and his stance when he receives the ball," Padres roving catching coordinator Duffy Dyer said. "He gets very low; he catches balls almost on the ground. He does it without turning his glove over and he's very flexible. He actually gets down too low and it hinders his throwing a little bit. So, I'm trying to get him to catch a little bit higher and still give a low target; bend over a little bit more from the back instead of squatting down so low at the legs. He's responding. He hasn't caught that much.
"This is his first full year in professional ball and he's only caught a couple of years at Oregon State I think. So, he's really learning in an under the gun type situation. So, he needs to catch a lot of games and, again, I think I've seen a lot of improvement in him defensively, and he's swinging the bat real good right now also."
Early in the year, Canham had trouble getting down to block balls. His positioning with keeping balls in front of him needed work – an area that progressed throughout the year. He was able to quicken his read on balls in the dirt and slide out so the ball hit him in the chest protector – keeping it close and cutting down on the passed balls accumulated.
"He's a good athlete behind the plate," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He did a great job blocking balls. He needs some work on his throwing. He knows it; we all know it, on his mechanics and his throwing. A little bit on receiving and throwing. He went to instructional league and I know he worked a lot on that."
No catcher was run on more than Canham. Thirty-seven more attempts came against him than any other California League catcher. He was 30-for-161 - 18.6 percent – in catching thieves.
The biggest drawbacks have been arm strength and footwork. He doesn't have a quality pop time out of his stance and his throws to second base have had too high a trajectory. Lack of arm strength in the throws creates the arc heading to second base, pushing his times to second base upwards. His footwork has improved but he still struggles getting out of the crouch in a timely fashion.
"I give him and Duffy a lot of credit for working on technique and actions the whole year," Padres vice president of scouting and player development Grady Fuson said. "He's improved quite a bit, but he still misses some balls that he should catch. We are working on improving his throwing techniques, and he grinded through some pretty tough drills."
Conclusion: Canham has a potentially potent bat but there are defensive concerns that put limits on his ceiling. If he can shore up the defensive side, Canham is a stud – particularly at the catching position. If he needs to move from behind the plate, his prospect status is diminished.
Given the Padres weakness in throwing out runners in recent years, Canham must improve in that area. He has made strides but still has a lot of work to do. Strengthening the arm and improving his footwork must be priorities. Canham has the game-calling and is improved at blocking balls – throwing out runners would make him more complete.
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