About a week ago I wrote a column about the future of Jacob Stallings at the catcher position, which brought up the topic of three specific young catchers in the Pirates Farm System that I currently have my eye on; none of whom are ranked in the top prospects on any site at the present time. It is understandable that fans and media members alike to look no further than these lists to find the next player up in line at almost every position. However, not all contributors at the Major League level find themselves on these lists before they make their debuts. Yes they can be used as predictors of possible future success; it just can’t be the only way to forecast a prospects ability to contribute.
For me this is especially true when it comes to catchers; not only because of what seems to be a more limited player pool, but also due to facts that many players don’t stick at this position as they rise through the Minor Leagues or become physically unable to handle the grueling duties for the duration of their entire Major League careers. Neil Walker was drafted as a catcher and so was Kyle Schwarber. Joe Mauer eventually moved to first base, BJ Surhoff found his way out to left field and Mickey Tettleton jumped all over the place. These aren’t the exceptions and they aren’t the rules, just something to considering a team’s depth at the position.
As far as the Pirates go, they invited seven young catchers to the recent Instructional League; including my three. For those of you that are unfamiliar with their past play at the professional and amateur levels I thought I might do a little bit more of a breakdown as to how they got here and where they could go, as their futures have yet to be defined.
Planchart was signed on March 18, 2019 from Peurto La Cruz, Venezuela at the age of 17 and almost immediately was put into action as one of the primary catching options for the Pirates2 in the Dominican Summer League. Although his power left something to be desired, the approach he took at the plate was advanced for a young man his age.
In 32 games and 106 at bats Planchart slashed .368/.433/.406, while only striking out 9 times and walking 12. He also impressed behind the plate by throwing out 42% of the runners who tried to swipe a base. As the 2020 season approached the Gulf Coast League seemed to be his most likely landing spot, however, he never got the chance; and like many others had to wait and see.
For Planchart this was his second go around at Fall instructs, while preparing to show what he can do in stateside come 2021. This opportunity could likely come in the GCL as originally planned or in Greensboro as a Grasshopper. No matter his landing spot I am expecting much of the same from Planchart, with hopefully a little more muscle and a little more pop in his bat.
Wilkie was selected by the Pirates in the 12th Round of the 2019 MLB June Amateur Draft from Clemson University, home of the Tigers. During his time in the ACC, the Georgia native quickly grew to be one of the best hitters on the team. As Clemson’s everyday catcher in 2018 and 2019, Wilkie ended his career as a. 307 hitter with a .431 slugging percentage and .400 on-base percentage. As a senior he also launched 6 homers and accounted for a total of 20 extra base hits.
When his professional career began as a West Virginia Black Bear, Wilkie didn’t get off to the best start offensively. In 185 at bats he was only able to manage a .243 Average without a single home runs. He did however lead all catchers on the team with a .992 Fielding Percentage.
Honestly the struggles at Short Season A ball do not concern me that much as he had just finished up a full college season with a few playoff games. Unfortunately for now this is all we are left with as he looks toward the 2021 season, most likely in a Marauders uniform.
As the 2020 June Amateur Draft came to a close, Chapman University Catcher, Joe Jimenez, was still waiting for his call. With the draft being only five rounds, it was a tough time to be a college senior in an environment of unknowns. Fortunately for Jimenez the invitation to become a part of the Pirates organization was on its way. Signed as an Undrafted Free Agent less than a month after the drafts conclusion, he kept his training regiment going by catching bullpen sessions with fellow Chapman Baseball Alum and Pirates 3rd Round Draft Pick, Nick Garcia. As members of the 2019 team they helped lead the Panthers to a Division III National Championship, both earning All Tournament Team honors.
In his final 61 games as a Chapman Panther, Jimenez batted .325 with 4 homers, 2 of which came in a truncated senior season across only 12 games. It is also import to note that over his final 2 seasons he walked more than he struck out by a count of 28 to 23, while adding stolen bases to his repertoire.
Jimenez did experience a down year his sophomore season which was a complete anomaly if you look at his body of work. For the season he slashed .195/.317/.299 and struck out 19 times in only 87 at bats, which is more than he did in his 159 at bats the following year. This sharp decline was due to multiple swing changes that never really came together. To his credit he was able to work through it and bounced back as a junior and senior.
Due to this demonstration of hard work and perseverance on the field, his dedication off it as a member of the California Warriors and his positive outlook on the future, we are lucky as Pirates Fans to have him as a part of the organization; now and moving forward. It is my hope that he will be able to pick up where he left off at the end of his college career as a member of either the Grasshoppers or the Marauders in 2021.
I am not trying to claim that there is organizational depth at the catching position or that they don’t need to add more because the answer is already here. I just want everyone to realize that not all top prospects become Major Leaguers and not all Major Leaguers are former top prospects. And there may be some hidden gems already with the Pirates, who are waiting to break out.
Go to Bucs In The Basement to listen to a more in depth interview with UDFA Catcher and Pirates Prospect Joe Jimenez.