Seeing as how catchers are widely regarded as being the most “brainy” of all position players, it’s no surprise that the first first-round picks to agree to contracts were college stalwart Taylor Ward and prep sensation Tyler Stephenson.
Ward, who went to Fresno State and was selected 26th overall, took a bit of a hometown discount and signed with the Angels for $1.67 million, or $364k less than the recommended slot.
Widely regarded as the top catcher from a weak college crop, Ward ranked 70th on Baseball America’s top 500 draft prospects, after a junior season that saw him hit .304 with 14 doubles, seven homers and 42 RBI.
Ward drew 35 walks, struck out 34 times and went a perfect 7-for-7 on stolen bases. Behind the plate, he was also an asset, throwing out 36% of attempted base-stealers. In truth, his defensive ability is what appealed most to the Angels’ front-office.
“He has a tremendous throwing arm, and we think he’s going to be a premium big league catcher,” Angels’ scouting director Ric Wilson told the L.A. Times. He also told the Times, “When it’s all said and done, I think he will be premium defender who will be able to shut down running games.”
Stephenson was the 11th-overall pick and signed with Cincinnati for the recommended slot of $3.14 million. Stephenson seemed to come on late in the draft season, but the Reds were on him early, with Chris Buckley, the team’s amateur scouting director, reporting that the team had been following him since last summer. He’s also the third catcher drafted by the organization in the first round since 2007, following in the footsteps of Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal.
To date, his bonus is the sixth-largest handed out in 2015. The right-handed hitting Stephenson turned down a commitment to Georgia Tech, after a strong season at Kennesaw Mountain High School, where he garnered plenty of attention nationally for his bat-flipping ability.
At 6-4 and 215 pounds, Stephenson has drawn plenty of comparisons to another Georgia Tech commit, current big-league Matt Wieters, as much for his bat as for his cannon arm which should be a dangerous asset behind the plate. He checked in at #15 on BA’s draft 500.
Both catchers have already been assigned to minor league squads in the rookie Pioneer League, Ward to Orem, and Stephenson to Billings.
In limited playing time, Ward is hitting .182 with one double in three games, while Stephenson is “lighting it up” in four games, hitting .417 with two doubles and four walks.