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Cal Raleigh vs. MLB Pipeline’s Top Ten Catchers

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Silent Cal lost his opportunity to make noise in 2020 the only way he knows how, and is paying the price on prospect lists because of it.

Seattle Mariners Summer Workouts Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

For all the newfound attention Seattle’s rebooted farm system gets, there’s one notable exception. While prospect writers fawn over the twin stars of Kelenic and Rodríguez, or admire the pitching corps Seattle has assembled, or dream on the talent of Noelvi Marte after he finally (briefly) appeared stateside this year, catcher Cal Raleigh attracts very little hype. Baseball America recently ranked Raleigh 8th in the Mariners’ Top 10, but left him off the Top 100 list released earlier this week, which makes sense, because during a recent chat, BA’s Mariners expert Bill Mitchell said he doesn’t see Raleigh as a candidate for the Top-100 list. Nor did Raleigh appear in Baseball Prospectus’s Top 101 list, released today. Raleigh also (again) did not make MLB Pipeline’s list of the 10 best catching prospects in baseball this year, published yesterday, which doesn’t bode well for his inclusion on the larger list when it is released. And in an industry where players curry favor with fanbases via social media, the radio silence of the reclusive Raleigh—another “Silent Cal”—has not resulted in a legion of fans clamoring for him to receive more attention in the face of all these slights.

I was curious about how Raleigh stacks up to the 10 players MLB Pipeline ranks ahead of him, so I did what one should do in these matters, and made a table.

Cal Raleigh vs. Top 10 Catching Prospects

Player Name MLB Org 2021 Age Height/Weight Drafted (round) MLB debut Seasons in minors A-/A OPS/wRC+ A+ OPS/wRC+ AA OPS/wRC+ AAA OPS/wRC+ MLB OPS/wRC+
Player Name MLB Org 2021 Age Height/Weight Drafted (round) MLB debut Seasons in minors A-/A OPS/wRC+ A+ OPS/wRC+ AA OPS/wRC+ AAA OPS/wRC+ MLB OPS/wRC+
Adley Rutschman BAL 23 6'2"/220 2019 (1st) N/A 1 .894/166 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Joey Bart SFG 24 6'3"/235 2018 (1st) 2020 2 .983/166 .793/116 .912/163 N/A .609/70
Luis Campusano SDP 22 6'0"/215 2017 (2nd) 2020 3 .710/106 .906/148 N/A N/A N/A*
Francisco Alvarez NYM 19 5'11"/220 N/A (signed 2018) N/A 1 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Keibert Ruiz LAD 22.5 6'0"/200 N/A (signed 2014) 2020 5 .725/127 .840/119 .659/88 .824/99 N/A*
Shea Langeliers ATL 23 6'0"/190 2019 (1st) N/A 1 .652/92 N/A N/A N/A N/A
Sam Huff TEX 23 6'5"/230 2016 (7th) 2020 4 .731/106 .751/117 N/A N/A N/A*
Miguel Amaya CHC 22 6'1"/185 N/A (signed 2015) N/A 4 .752/114 .753/122 N/A N/A N/A
Tyler Stephenson CIN 24 6'4"/225 2015 (1st) 2020 5 .787/126 .730/111 .782/130 N/A N/A*
Ivan Herrera STL 21 6'0"/180 N/A (signed 2016) N/A 3 .805/136 .666/102 N/A N/A N/A
Cal Raleigh SEA 24 6'3"/220 2018 (3rd) N/A 2 .902/149 .872/134 .709/96 N/A N/A

A note on the table: for levels, I left off rookie ball numbers and just took A/A- as an entry level as a better comparison for a college product like Raleigh; where prospects had incomplete seasons at a level I noted them if it was very abbreviated (like under 50 PAs abbreviated) but otherwise just took the data at the level; where prospects repeated a level I took the data from the higher number of plate appearances, and if the difference was not significant, the later year’s data. For the prospects who debuted in 2020, I was torn about including their MLB data, as most were on big-league rosters just for exposure rather than a true call-up. Luis Campusano and Keibert Ruiz each got fewer than 10 MLB plate appearances, so I left them off; Joey Bart got over 100 ABs in MLB, so I included his MLB numbers for illustration, with the understanding it is a small and goofy sample size. Partial seasons are represented at other levels for similar illustration; both Bart and Raleigh had small sample sizes at Double-A, with Bart’s time going one way and Raleigh’s another.

The Top 10 catching prospects range in experience from those who have made their major league debuts, technically if not for the long haul, to one who hasn’t yet ascended above rookie ball (Alvarez). Four are international signings, and of the remaining draftees, three are prep catchers (Campusano, Huff, Stephenson), and three (Rutschman, Bart, and Langeliers) are college catchers. The best comps for Raleigh, himself a college catcher, are those latter three; unfortunately, all three of them are remarkable in a way Raleigh is not. Rutschman, a Golden Spikes Award winner, is a first overall pick (and recipient of one of the earliest MLB tanking hashtags, #PlayBadlyForAdley); Bart, a Johnny Bench Award winner, is a second overall pick; and Langeliers has a 65/70 grade on the defensive side of the ball making up for what has so far been a lackluster showing offensively in pro ball.

Even with that lofty company, though, Raleigh trails his crème de la catching crème compatriots only slightly in short season ball, and actually out-hit Joey Bart—who lost significant time to injury, it must be noted—when they were both in the California League (Bart would return the favor when they both were promoted to Double-A, easily topping Cal’s meager production). Campusano was also in the Cal League at the same time and at that time on his third level of professional baseball, so a comparison there is fair, although the two are still offensively very different players: Campusano’s value comes from his ability to make contact all over the plate to all fields without striking out, while Raleigh strikes out more but also puts the ball deep into gaps and over the fence. In the offensively-charged Cal League, Campusano had an ISO of .185; Raleigh, .274.

In fact, Raleigh led all catchers in slugging at the High-A level across baseball, and was second in slugging in all of High-A behind fellow Cal Leaguer Luis Castro, who plays in the Rockies’ launching pad park of Lancaster. Raleigh ranked third among all catchers in wRC at High-A, and second in the Cal League behind Campusano. By OPS, he ranked fourth in all of High-A, behind Castro, Campusano, and Heliot Ramos, and ahead of Jeter Downs and Nolan Jones. All, except Castro and Raleigh, are Top-100 prospects. The difference is that Castro is 25 and began his professional baseball career in 2013; Raleigh was drafted in 2018.

As for the prep catchers, Raleigh compares favorably, even accounting for the differences in development. Huff of the Rangers has scraped average grades on his defense but he’s 6’5”, enormous for a catcher, and has shown an ability to hit enough, and for plus power, that he doesn’t have to stay behind the plate, especially if Texas values his knees. Stephenson, who is 6’4” himself, has wound his way slowly and patiently through the minors since the Reds drafted him out of Kennesaw Mountain High School in Georgia in 2015 without coming close to matching Raleigh’s offensive numbers, although he’s closer to an extended MLB look than Huff.

The international signings are less of a straightforward comparison, as their developmental tracks are an even more extreme version of those of prep catchers. Amaya was signed a month after an undrafted Cal Raleigh graduated high school and headed to Florida Sate, so his developmental track lines up relatively well with Raleigh’s. Amaya has a hit grade of 50 to Raleigh’s 45 and a slight edge defensively in scouting grades, while Raleigh has the clear edge in power, but so far Raleigh has both outslugged and outhit Amaya as a pro, and done so while playing solid defense behind the plate.

Like Campusano, LA’s Keibert Ruíz is a contact-oriented hitter; he was in the Cal League two seasons before Raleigh and, like Campusano, hit for average and got on base more than Raleigh, but was similarly shelled by Raleigh’s power numbers; he hit six home runs at Rancho Cucamonga, and eight across the season, to Raleigh’s 22. The Dodgers promoted Ruíz somewhat aggressively to Double-A the season after, where his production dipped some and he had to repeat the level, actually performing worse his second time through; in 39 Double-A games, Raleigh hit almost half as many home runs (7) as Ruíz did total (16) over two full years combined at the level.

So far, looking at the numbers, it feels like Cal Raleigh has done everything he could do to be considered one of the top talents at the position, and yet he is not. His loudest tool, his power, is currently being edged out by the 1-2 punch of two potential generational talents at the position, along with Huff. His glovework isn’t viewed as strong enough to land him on the list for his defense like Langeliers, and his hit tool isn’t viewed as consistent enough to edge out Campusano or Ruíz, even as he brings significantly more thump to the plate.

It’s not that Raleigh does any of these things poorly, but more that he doesn’t fit neatly in a niche: not a high-upside international signing to dream on, not a first-round college catcher, not the slickest glove, not the loudest bat (although still a very, very loud bat). And with his radio silence on social media—not, it must be said, a bad idea, and in fact probably a very, very good one—there’s no Cal Raleigh Hype Machine churning out clips and interacting with fans and in turn driving questions to prospect writers like where is Cal Raleigh on your list and why isn’t Cal Raleigh on your list, which might seem silly if you hadn’t borne witness to the hype machine meticulously crafted by Julio Rodríguez over the past two-plus years humming along and cutting a swath to T-Mobile Park. That’s especially tricky in a year where no one outside of the organization got to see Raleigh play regularly outside of a handful of team-types at Tacoma and in Peoria. Not that the Mariners, bless their hearts, haven’t tried to stoke the fires on their own Raleigh Rally Machine:

Maybe tuning out all social media is the way Raleigh keeps himself from getting too caught up in things he can’t control, like prospect lists, but it’s hard to imagine it doesn’t rankle, to show up and perform consistently and be just as consistently overlooked. But Raleigh can console himself with the knowledge that a list never hit a ball so hard it made onlookers whistle; a list never caught the last out of a playoff game; a list ain’t played no one. Raleigh has, and has won, and will continue to do so, whether he tells us about it or not.