Red Sox Prospect No. 13: Mark Wagner

Editor's Note: Diehard Magazine is in the midst of its third annual countdown of the top 50 prospects in the Red Sox chain today. Subscribe to our print magazine in order to learn even more on the top 50! Today: The countdown continues with the no. 13 prospect, catcher Mark Wagner.

Wondering why Mark Wagner is suddenly the leading candidate to succeed Jason Varitek as the long-term catcher for the Red Sox despite the fact he's yet to play above Single-A? Because no other backstop in the system has earned a comparison to the Sox' captain.

Wagner is still at least a couple years away from vying for Varitek's job. But after two straight impressive seasons at Single-A Greenville, Wilmington and Lancaster, the Sox believe he could have the unique skill set needed to succeed a seemingly irreplaceable catcher.

Wagner opened last season with a 12-game hitting streak and stayed hot all season. He had just one hitless streak of three games (Apr. 30-May 3) and he complemented his career-best season at the plate by recording more walks (55) than strikeouts (46) and racking up an on-base percentage of .406.

Almost as importantly, he deftly handled a challenge even Varitek hasn't encountered by steering to respectability a JetHawks staff that once seemed destined to set all kinds of record for futility. Lancaster posted a bloated 6.10 ERA through May 31 but a 5.10 ERA thereafter. In addition, Wagner made just four errors in 82 games behind the plate and has been charged with just 10 miscues in 184 games at catcher as a professional.

Sox executives often talk about how difficult it is to measure a catcher's progress because he has so much more on his plate than a prospect at any other position. But Wagner's improvements on offense and defense since a rough professional debut at Lowell in 2004 (he hit .203 with two errors in limited duty for the Spinners after he was selected by the Sox in the ninth round of the draft out of Cal-Irvine) make him the most advanced catching prospect in the chain behind Pawtucket backstop George Kottaras.

"He's doing a good job—learning a lot, I think, for where he came in at Lowell from a leadership standpoint [and his] ability to control a pitching staff," Sox director of player development Mike Hazen said. "I think we talk a lot about a catcher's ability to catch and throw and he can definitely do that. But the separator becomes their offensive abilities, and he has that, too."

Wagner will almost certainly begin this season at Portland, where he'll get the chance to again work with some of the organization's top pitching prospects while batting in a challenging environment. Varitek doesn't appear to be going anywhere soon—he's likely to re-sign with the Sox before he reaches free agency—but Wagner has time on his side (he's only 24; Varitek was only in his second professional season at the same age) and can firmly position himself as the heir apparent with another impressive season at and behind the plate.

"He does a good job blocking and receiving, and those are key things to running a pitching staff," Hazen said. "Throwing, he has a pretty good stolen base percentage. But those other things are as important as you talk about the quality of a Jason Varitek. That's what people talk about and he has some of those things."


Previous prospects ranked No. 13:
2007: Edgar Martinez, P
2006: Edgar Martinez, P (ranked no. 13 in 2007)
2005: Beau Vaughan, P (unranked in 2006)


DIEHARD 2008 TOP 50 PROSPECTS
50.) Travis Beazley, P
49.) Beau Vaughan, P
48.) Ty Weeden, C
47.) Mike Jones, 1B
46.) Tommy Hottovy, P
45.) Chad Spann, 3B
44.) Yamaico Navarro, SS
43.) Chad Rhoades, P
42.) Mike James, P
41.) Jay Johnson, OF
40.) Jeff Natale, IF
39.) George Kottaras, C
38.) Bryce Cox, P
37.) Daniel Haigwood, P
36.) Che-Hsuan Lin, OF
35.) Edgar Martinez, P
34.) Andrew Pinckney, 3B
33.) Dusty Brown, C
32.) Jason Place, OF
31.) Jeff Corsaletti, OF
30.) Argenis Diaz, SS
29.) Daniel Bard, P
28.) Brock Huntzinger, P
27.) Adam Mills, P
26.) David Pauley, P
25.) David Mailman, OF
24.) Anthony Rizzo, 1B
23.) Chris Province, P
22.) Bubba Bell, OF
21.) Hunter Jones, P
20.) Zach Daeges, OF
19.) Jon Still, C/1B
18.) Oscar Tejeda, SS
17.) Reid Engel, OF
16.) Kris Johnson, P
15.) Chris Carter, 1B/DH
14.) Ryan Dent, SS
13.) Mark Wagner, C


Diehard managing editor Jerry Beach can be reached at diehardmag@yahoo.com. To receive a free issue of Diehard, call 888-501-5752.

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