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April 15, 2020 at 7:00 AM

State of the System '20: Catchers

Part four of our State of the System series focuses on catchers acquired going back to the 2014 draft, as well as international free agents from 2013 onwards. Be sure to check out the rest of the entries in the series.

The Lineup
Notable Draftees, 2014-2019
Ben Moore – 2014 draft, 8th rd., $152,700 bonus; Released April 2017
Devon Fisher – 2014 draft, 20th rd., $300,000 bonus; Converted to pitching in 2016, Released Nov. 2019
Austin Rei – 2015 draft, 3rd rd., $742,400 bonus; 2019: AA
Andrew Noviello – 2015 draft, 25th rd., $100,000 bonus; Released March 2017
Alan Marrero – 2016 draft, 8th rd., $160,000 bonus; 2019: A
Alberto Schmidt – 2016 draft, 16th rd., $100,000 bonus; Released Nov. 2019
Nick Sciortino – 2016 draft, 17th rd., $80,000 bonus; 2019: A+
Beau Hanna – 2017 draft, 12th rd., $125,000 bonus; Retired, 2018 (playing Division II baseball)
Kole Cottam – 2018 draft, 4th rd., $375,000 bonus; 2019: A, A+
Elih Marrero – 2018 draft, 8th rd., $157,700 bonus; 2019: SS-A; A+
Jaxx Groshans – 2019 draft, 5th rd., $304,200 bonus; 2019: SS-A
Jacob Herbert – 2019 draft, 18th rd., $125,000 bonus; 2019: Rk

Notable International Signees, July 2, 2013 to present
Roldani Baldwin – November 8, 2013, $45,000 bonus; 2019: Injured, Rehab in Rk/A-
Carlos Pulido – March 6, 2015, $200,000 bonus; Released in March 2019
Keibert Petit – March 9, 2015, $200,000 bonus; Released Feb. 2020
Daniel Flores – July 2, 2017, $3,100,000 bonus; deceased
Jonathan Diaz – July 2, 2017, $7,500 bonus; 2019: SS-A
Naysbel Marcano – July 2, 2018, $350,000 bonus; 2019: DSL
Rivaldo Avila – July 2, 2019, $405,000 bonus; 2019: Tricky Lg

Trade Acquisitions 
Connor Wong - Acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers on February 10, 2020
Jhonny Pereda - Acquired from the Chicago Cubs on March 23, 2020

Position Status: Over the last few years, the Red Sox have spent a fair but not overwhelming amount of draft capital on catchers with little success. In the current SoxProspects top 60, there are only three catchers ranked, the top two of whom were acquired via trade in the past couple of months. Only Connor Wong, acquired in the Mookie Betts deal, is inside the top 50, at number 12.

The highest draft signing bonus the organization has spent on the position, by nearly double that of any other signee, went to Austin Rei in the third round in 2015, a year in which the club had no second-round pick after signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. But while his defense is solid, his hitting ability looks likely to limit him to being high-minors depth. In the last two years, the organization has drafted a pair of early Day Two college catchers in Kole Cottam and Jaxx Groshans. Cottam has struggled to show the power he displayed as a junior at Kentucky, and he may not project as a catcher long-term either. Groshans showed off above-average athleticism and some power in his pro debut with Lowell but has a ways to go defensively himself. Both are still interesting, as is Jonathan Diaz, an international signee who has shown some hitting ability but has defensive question marks. That “one side or the other” phenomenon has become a trend with Red Sox catchers, as the organization has struggled to develop a two-way contributor since Christian Vazquez (pictured, above), with the system currently filled with either bat-first players who are questionable defenders or good defenders who can’t hit at all.

Unfortunately, tragedy has also impacted the catching depth. The organization’s lone significant outlay for a catcher during the period we cover here was a $3,100,000 bonus given to July 2, 2017 signee Daniel Flores, one they essentially traded a top-20 prospect in first baseman Nick Longhi to be able to pay. The 16-year-old Venezuelan was considered one of the top international prospects in that signing period and received a bonus commiserate with his lofty talent, the third-largest the Red Sox have ever given to an international amateur. Reports on him were glowing, and all signs pointed him towards him having an extremely high ceiling. Tragically, Flores passed away just four months later from complications during treatment for an aggressive form of cancer. His death left a big hole in the system, as he was clearly regarded as a special talent.

Verdict: This is the thinnest position in the system, but the addition of Wong via trade may help buy time for one of the other players in the system with questions to figure them out, for one of the younger players to break through, or for the organization to find its catcher of the future elsewhere. With Vazquez only signed through 2022, when he will be 32, the clock may be ticking. That the two best prospects in the system have been acquired in the last couple of months signals this may be an area the front office is seeking to address.

Top prospect – Connor Wong
After being acquired as part of the return from the Dodgers for Mookie Betts and David Price, Wong immediately became the top prospect in the system at the position without question. He is coming off an excellent year in High A and Double-A in which he hit .281/.336/.541 across the two levels with 24 home runs and 11 steals. Wong has an intriguing power/speed combination and great athleticism for a catcher, having also seen time at second base and third base as a pro (and shortstop in college). At the plate, however, he still has major questions, as evinced by a 30.7 percent strikeout rate and just a 6.9 percent walk rate last year. Refining his approach and cutting down on his swing-and-miss will be key for Wong to tap into his power and reach his potential. He will begin his Red Sox tenure in Double-A Portland, whenever that happens.

Next in line – Jhonny Pereda
Pereda is the most recent prospect to join the organization and already finds himself in the top 60 of the system, just ahead of Kole Cottam as the number two prospect at the position. Pereda is a no-doubt catcher, with his defense well ahead of his offense. His framing is a bit inconsistent, but he has a plus arm and does a great job controlling the running game. At the plate, he has no power potential but has a good eye and strong bat-to-ball skills. He was very good in 2018 in the Carolina League, hitting .272/.347/.363, but regressed offensively last year, hitting .241/.336/.305 in Double-A. Even though he regressed, he still showed an ability to get on-base, a skill that could translate as he moves further up the ladder. Pereda will likely begin the season in Portland, and if he shows improved offensive tools, he has the chance to quickly move up the rankings given his defensive projection.

Player whose stock could rise in 2020  – Jaxx Groshans
A 2019 fifth-round pick, Groshans’ stock could rise if he can show improved contact skills and defense. Groshans is very athletic for a catcher and showed an ability to control the running game with a 39 percent caught-stealing rate in his pro debut with Lowell. His receiving needs work, however, and he struggled at times controlling balls in the dirt in games scouted. Offensively, Groshans showed a good eye with a 13 percent walk rate and solid contact skills, striking out less than 20 percent of the time. He did struggle with breaking balls when scouted live and had a tendency to chase pitches out of the zone, getting himself out on pitchers’ pitches, but when he stayed on the ball and was using all fields, he showed some bat speed and a fluid swing. 

Sleeper – Roldani Baldwin
Signed all the way back in November 2013, it seems like Baldwin has been around forever, and he has become somewhat of a forgotten man. He was a top-30 prospect in the system as recently as June 2018, but he has really struggled to stay on the field the last two years. After spending four different stints on the injured list in 2018, including for a concussion, Baldwin spent all of 2019 on the IL due to a broken right ankle suffered during Spring Training. He returned late in the season for a rehab assignment and was a key contributor to the Spinners’ playoff run, serving as the everyday catcher and hitting a mammoth home run that showed off the power that is his best tool. Defensively, the jury is still out on him behind the plate, but he is still only 23 and has a pair of intriguing tools in his strong arm and power that could propel him up the ranks if he can stay on the field. After something of a surprise non-roster invitation to MLB camp this spring, the acquisitions of Wong and Pereda seem likely to push him back to Salem when baseball returns, unless one of those two is able to make the Triple-A club and open a spot for Baldwin in Portland. 

Others of note:
  • After being drafted in the fourth round in 2017, Kole Cottam (pictured, right) has a had a pair of subpar years at the plate, especially considering he was seen as a bat-first player coming out of Kentucky. Last year, Cottam hit .255/.363/.424 during an injury-shortened season across Low and High A with 8 home runs in 358 plate appearances. Cottam showed strong on-base skills with a 13 percent walk rate, but that came along with a 25 percent strikeout rate and limited over-the-fence power. Cottam did get better throughout the summer, hitting .278/.372/.474 from June 1 through the end of the season in 226 plate appearances to earn a late promotion to Salem for that club’s playoff run. Defensively, he still needs work with receiving and controlling the running game. His arm strength grades out as fringe-average; he caught just 19 percent of runners who attempted to steal against him. 
  • Jonathan Diaz may have received just a $7,500 bonus when he signed on July 2, 2017, and he may have been an older signee, just days away from his 18th birthday, but he has been another intriguing sleeper who the organization seems high on. It is possible the young Dominican dealt with injuries in Lowell last year, at one point going nearly a month between starts behind the plate after getting off to a hot start. He will be fighting for a spot in Greenville when minor league camp resumes and a chance to show what he can do in regular at-bats.
  • Naysbel Marcano signed for $350,000 out of Venezuela on July 2, 2018, tying for the sixth-highest bonus the Red Sox gave out during that international signing period. He had a decent offensive debut in the DSL hitting .257/.320/.366, but showed intriguing defensive tools. His offense is a work in progress, but his defensive potential alone makes him someone whose stock could rise next year after making the transition stateside.  
  • Rivaldo Avila, another Venezuelan, received the fourth-largest bonus the Red Sox gave an international amateur in the most recent signing period. Avila reportedly has a solid, projectable frame for a catcher at 6-foot-0, 175 pounds, and his offensive game is thought to be more advanced than his defensive game.
  • Along with Groshans, 18th-round pick Jacob Herbert was the only other catcher the Red Sox signed out of the 2019 draft, giving him $125,000. The Florida high school product was committed to the State College of Florida and got into 21 games after signing. In 56 at-bats, he hit .143/.250/.143 with the GCL Red Sox. He participated in the Fall Instructional League where he looked the part with a sturdy catcher’s build with minimal remaining projection and showed off some pop with his bat. 
Photo Credit: Christian Vazquez, Connor Wong, Jaxx Groshans, Roldani Baldwin, and Kole Cottam by Kelly O'Connor

Ian Cundall is Director of Scouting for SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanCundall.

Chris Hatfield is Executive Editor of SoxProspects.com. Follow him on Twitter @SPChrisHatfield.