Welcome to the Top 10 of LL’s Top 50 Prospects of 2019! To date, we’ve covered prospects 50-11 in the system (you can catch up here) which has broken down as nine infielders, 22 pitchers, eight outfielders, and just one catcher. Today, we bump that catcher total to two with the introduction of the highest-ranked (per Prospect Pipeline) catcher the Mariners system has seen since Tyler Marlette checked in at number 15—in a notably worse farm system, mind you—back in 2015.
After making Mike Zunino the third overall selection in the 2012 draft, the Mariners went four years before selecting another catcher within the first 10 rounds of any draft. When they finally did—they grabbed University of Illinois backstop Jason Goldstein in the ninth round in 2016—he lasted just seven months in the organization before he was shipped off to Oakland in exchange for failed project Dillon Overton. The following June, the M’s drafted David Banuelos out of Long Beach State with their fifth round pick but again, this time just under six months post-draft day, traded away the apparent heir to the catching position.
The Mariners dipped back into the catcher pool in the 2018 draft, selecting Florida State’s Cal Raleigh with their third-round selection, making him the organization’s highest-drafted catcher since taking Zunino six years prior. Unlike Zunino, who was coming off a season in which he was named the Wilson Defensive Catcher of the Year, Raleigh doesn’t receive the highest of marks for his defense as concern remains in some scouting circles about the big-bodied receiver’s lack of athleticism. In a fairly limited sample size of 33 stolen base attempts, Raleigh gunned down 24.2% of would-be base-stealers, shaking out just a bit shy of the major league league average mark of 27.9%.
While he has his defensive uncertainties, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a catching prospect with a much better offensive profile as he made a habit of walking more often than he was set down on strikes throughout his collegiate career while also showing off noteworthy pop from both batter’s boxes. The North Carolina native squashed any concerns regarding if his offensive skills would translate as he was faced with wooden bats and professional pitching as he led the Everett AquaSox in home runs despite a late start to the season, slashing .288/.367/.534 and posting a 149 wRC+ through 38 games. After averaging a home run every 22.6 at-bats throughout his three-year NCAA career, he hit one out every 18.3 at-bats on average through his 38-game stint with Everett last summer. No small part of his ability to drive the ball out of the park was the alarming rate at which his batted balls were hit into the air. He posted a 50.4% FB%, a number that would have ranked second among all qualified major leaguers. In fact, only three qualified major leaguers even posted a FB% higher than 45.0% while striking out less than 20.0% of the time in 2018: Jose Ramirez, Mike Moustakas, and Max Kepler. While Kepler’s inclusion there is a little bit of a head-scratcher, the skill set is definitely something to look forward to from a traditionally light-hitting position.
If indeed he does make the eventual move off the catching position, his advanced feel for the strike zone and ability to drive the ball out of any part of the ballpark would profile well elsewhere, something that can’t be said for many prospects who start their careers off behind the plate.
Don’t let his keen batting eye fool you into thinking he’s afraid to swing the bat. He’s definitely willing to open up his zone if he sees something he likes.
And another view in case you were thinking “Was that pitch seriously at his nose?!”
It’s hard to get real significant sample sizes from anybody whose professional experience is limited to short-season ball, but through 167 plate appearances in 2018, Raleigh showed no signs of weakness from either side of the plate, although three of his eight longballs came from the right side despite digging in on that side just 27 times.
With 27-year-old Omar Narvaez inheriting the catching position for the foreseeable future and under team control through 2023, Raleigh should have plenty of time to continue working on the defensive aspect of his game under the tutelage of Dan Wilson & Co. as he’s groomed to be the club’s backstop of the future. However, if his bat continues to progress more rapidly than his defense, the organization may look to shoehorn his offensive contributions into the lineup elsewhere as they enter the 2021 season.
We should have the opportunity to get a good look at Raleigh in the coming weeks as he joins the major league squad for spring training, where he’ll have the opportunity to begin developing rapport with a young pitching staff that will hopefully prove valuable in the coming years.