MIAMI, FL- It was an ideal setting to scout a catcher.
On Friday night (May 1st, 2009), I went to watch Ferguson High catcher Steve Baron (PGX #148) play at Christopher Columbus High School. He was facing a strong Columbus club that had a pitcher throwing low-90s with good movement (junior righty Javier Perez-Lobo). He also had the opportunity to block at least 15 balls in the dirt. The only thing I didn’t get was to see someone try to steal a base against him.
Ferguson lost 9-0 in this district championship game. They’ll advance in the state playoffs, but Columbus will have the better seed.
Baron is one of a host of strong high school catching prospects in Florida. At least five have a chance to go inside the first three rounds.
Baron may not have been considered that high coming into the spring, but he’s since emerged on scout pref lists.
His calling card is athleticism and defense. Baron is by a good margin the most athletic catcher I’ve seen in this draft. His hands are lightning quick, the quickest I’ve ever seen on a prep catcher. He has very good feet, both to launch throws and to block balls.
On pure arm-strength, I’d grade Baron out at 60 (on the 20-80 scale). After factoring his feet and his short release, I’d give him a 70+.
I’d mentioned in a previous blog that Jacksonville Eagle’s View Academy catcher Austin Maddox had the best arm-strength I’d ever seen on a prep catcher. I stand by that, but I believe that Baron is a better thrower. His game-time pops are generally a 0.10-0.15 seconds quicker than Maddox’s.
The one hole I’d punch in Baron’s defense is his crouch. He has a tendency to sit way down, with his haunches going below his ankles and almost touching the ground. It makes for a good low target, but it makes him unable to react to high balls when they’re thrown at big league velocities. It’s also hard to shift left and right when you’re down that low.
At this point, Baron’s hands are so quick, he does just fine with that crouch. And high school pitchers aren’t throwing hard enough up in the zone to expose this flaw. Baron did a great job in Friday’s game, successfully blocking all but two of the balls that were thrown in the dirt.
But in the long run, he’ll need to settle into a more square and upright crouch to become the plus major league receiver he’s capable of becoming.
Nobody ran on Baron, but he did pick a runner off of second base on a pop-time of 1.97 seconds. It was slightly delayed and still in the average MLB range.
The righthanded hitting Baron came to the plate three times and went 0-3 against Perez-Lobo.
In his first at-bat, Baron struck out on three pitches. He took one, swung and missed at a high fastball, and then swung and missed, fooled on a low-and-away curveball, for strike three. Both swings were aggressive and all-out.
During at-bat #2, Baron took two strikes and worked a full 3-2 count before grounding out to the second baseman. He’s slowed his swing down a little bit to make contact and ran to first in 4.35 seconds.
In his last at-bat, Baron took the first pitch for a ball and then hit a high fastball to left field for a fly out.
The question with Baron among scouts is definitely the bat. Many scouts believe that if he hits .250 with 10 homeruns, he’s a good starting catcher. Hitting .220 would still make him a backup at the big league level if his defense progresses the way I see it.
It’s not a sure thing he hits to either of those levels.
Baron has a square stance with a slight bend in his knees. There’s just a little bit of load and a light stride. Baron generates 40 bat-speed which I project to average, with a medium-length stroke to the ball. His raw power grades out for me at 35/50 with 40/50 line-drive power.
Physically, I eye-balled Baron at 5-11, 180 lbs. He has a medium frame and is fairly thick in his lower-half; it’s not sculpted, but solid and strong. There’s moderate width to his hips (good for a catcher) and a lanky, immature torso which is where his future strength increases will go.
I think he’ll be 5-11 and 200 when he’s mature.
The athleticism is there for him to play any position. I honestly think he’d be a good infielder and probably a good outfielder, too. Baron is an average runner right now, though I’d project him to slow down with the continued rigors of catching in the future.
And truthfully, I don’t see anyone moving him off of catcher unless it’s at a point where his team wants him to become a utility type.
Baron has signed a National Letter of Intent with Duke. There is clearly early round interest in him, however, and it remains to be seen if he ends up in Durham.
OTHER FERGUSON-COLUMBUS NOTES: Christopher Columbus High is one of the great baseball schools in the country, year after year. Though they don’t have any potential high drafts for 2009, they have some good younger players among whom junior righty Javier Perez-Lobo stands out. The 6-0, 190 Perez-Lobo threw a seven-inning complete game shutout, yielding only three hits to Ferguson. He threw 90-94 MPH early and seemed to get his fastball to do anything he wanted; run, ride, tail, or sink. Perez-Lobo also showed a change-up and curveball that have major league potential. The trouble spot is his delivery; Perez-Lobo is high-effort. Despite a quick arm, Perez-Lobo doesn’t get much use out of his core or lower-half and has an upright finish. I wonder what he’d be like out of the bullpen in pro ball. Perez-Lobo’s three-quarter release and funky delivery gives him good deception. He is unconventional, but very much one to watch for the 2010 draft.