Name: Sean Murphy
Height/Weight: 6’0’’, 195
This year’s class has a few notable weaknesses. The clear areas that are lacking are college hitters, in general, as well as catchers and shortstops across all levels. I need to clarify that while there are a lot of interesting names at catcher, there is no sure first-round player at the position.
I actually like quite a few of the catchers in this class. There are four or five interesting names in the late to third round area. There is one player who I think often gets overlooked, Sean Murphy of Wright State. It is understandable why he is off the radar a bit as a small school player from the Midwest.
Wright State has produced three major league players. Joe Smith, a middle reliever drafted in 2006, should have the highest WAR of any player from that school by the time his career is done. Brian Anderson, in 1993, is the only first-round pick in school history. He went third overall. The third player was outfielder Keith Gordon, who played three games in the majors after being drafted in 1990.
I also can’t blame others for missing on Murphy, as I did the same. He did not make my top high school players in the state of Ohio list three years ago. This was a big whiff by me, in retrospect. He was an all-state performer going all the way back to high school.
The strengths with Murphy are clear. He is one of the best defensive players in this entire class, not just at catcher. He is an elite defender behind the plate both in terms of his lateral movement and his arm. His arm is his best trait and it is a 70 grade weapon behind the plate and one of the best current or future tools in the class. Murphy is very quick, by all reports handles pitchers well, and, according to some reports, has shown ability when it comes to pitch framing. He looks like a complete defensive catcher. Basically, the description for him sounds like a top-three defender and multiple Gold Glove winner. He has no holes or issues as a defender.
The questions for him rest in his bat. He didn’t have a strong offensive showing in the Cape League this year, posting a slash line of .226/.314/.366/.680 while striking out nearly three times for every walk. Despite those numbers, he still made the All-Star game because of his ability behind the plate. He has not shown a lot of power in college, but has hit well in the Horizon League, posting solid on-base percentages. Murphy has also done something I have never seen before. He managed to post the exact same double, triple, and homerun totals as a freshman and a sophomore. This is not ideal, though, as growth is expected in those areas.
Murphy is a big kid at 6’3” and 207 pounds, so one would think there should be some power potential there. His swing is not one that would preclude power, either. For all of his struggles in the Cape, he did manage to hit three home runs, which was a positive sign for him. It was a smaller sample than the season against top competition. I think the best hope is that he can be an average bat at the major league level, with a little bit of pop.
An average bat would still make him incredibly valuable, because of his defense and the overall lack of average bats at catcher at the major league level. If one were to drop the requirement to only 400 plate appearances for wRC+ (a stat used to measured total offensive production, with 100 being an average value), there would have been just 10 catchers who had a score of 90 or better in all of the majors last year. So even taking the catchers who had a lesser number of appearances and were slightly below league average, there were still just enough catchers for one third of the league. If I drop the requirements to 80 wRC+ (which is well below average) and only 300 plate appearances, there were only 20 players who qualify. I think this illustrates just how incredibly valuable an even slightly sub-average bat with plus defense can be at catcher.
If Murphy can show growth with the bat--specifically an increase in power this year, I expect to see him talked up a lot more as we near the draft.
Now time for the part you either love or hate, depending on how you feel about comps. Over the last two years, I doubt I have ever spent more time thinking of a comparison and researching than I did for Murphy. It is as hard to find a good catcher as it is to find a consistent comp for a catcher. I was looking for a right-handed bat, good arm, solid defense, and a little pop. The problem is catchers can be as volatile as middle relievers.
I finally found a comparison that worked in J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins. Realmuto is a low average bat who hit 38 extra base hits, but was one of the top 10 defensive catchers by dWAR on Baseball-Reference and by defensive runs saved on Fangraphs. He is a little smaller than Murphy, but both are catchers whose primary value is first as a defender and anything they give you with a bat is gravy.