Photo of Mike Zunino by Tim Casey/U. of Florida
I’ll start live-blogging the second day of the draft in a separate thread at 9 a.m., but I was curious to see how catchers selected high in the draft had fared. I looked back 25 years and discovered that in a quarter of a century, Zunino is just the 13th catcher picked in the top 10, and the 11th picked in the top five.
Here is the complete list:
2012: Mike Zunino, Mariners, 3rd overall, Florida
2009: Tony Sanchez, Pirates, 4th overall, Boston College
2008: Buster Posey, Giants, 5th overall, Florida State; Kyle Skipworth, Marlins, 6th overall, Patriot HS, Rubidoux, CA; Jason Castro, Astros, 10th overall, Stanford
2007: Matt Wieters, Orioles, 5th overall, HS
2005: Jeff Clement, Mariners, 3rd overall, USC
2001: Joe Mauer, Twins, 1st overall, Cretin HS, St. Paul, MN
1999: Eric Munson, TIgers, 3rd overall, USC
1995: Ben Davis, Padres, 2nd overall, Malvern Prep HS, Malvern, PA
1990: Mike Lieberthal, Philllies, 3rd overall, Westlake HS, Westlake Village, CA
1989: Tyler Houston, Braves, 2nd overall, Valley HS, Las Vegas, NV; Charlies Johnson, Expos, 10th overall, Westwood HS, Fort Pierce, FL
The only catcher selected No. 1, Joe Mauer in 2001, was the biggest success story. Mauer is a three-time batting champion, a four-time All-Star, and a bonafide superstar, though recent injuries have slowed him down a bit. Now he’s mixing in some time at first base, but he’s still predominantly a catcher.
Two catchers were taken second in that span, and both fall in the “bust” category — Ben Davis by the Padres in 1995, and Tyler Houston by the Braves in 1989. Davis did play seven years in the majors, including two with the Mariners. But a switch-hitter and physical specimen, Davis was expected to be a perennial All-Star, and he wasn’t anything close to that. In fact, he eventually switched to pitching and tried to make a go of that in the minors, with little success. Houston fared about the same, playing eight years for six teams, mostly as a backup. His best year was 2000, when he hit 18 homers for the Brewers.
With the third pick, we have Mike Lieberthal of the Phillies in 1990. He had a fine career, making two All-Star teams and playing 14 years, all but the last with the Phillies. That’s a hit. Then there were two misses: Eric Munson of the Tigers in 1999, who played parts of nine seasons in the majors, but mostly as a backup, and Jeff Clement, whose career arc is very familiar to Mariners fans and doesn’t need to be re-hashed here. He’s now 26 and a first baseman in Triple-A with the Pirates, trying to make it back to the big leagues.
Tony Sanchez, taken fourth by the Pirates in 2009, has advanced to Double-A in his fourth season. He hit over .300 in each of his first two years, so there’s still hope for a breakthrough. There have been two success stories with the No. 5 pick — Buster Posey, who has come back nicely from his devastating ankle (not knee) injury, and Matt Wieters, who is developing into one of the American League’s better catchers.
Kyle Skipworth, taken sixth by the Marlins in 2008, is still at Double-A with a .220 career average, so there’s not a lot of promise there any more. Jason Castro, selected 10th out of Stanford by the Astros the same year, is now Houston’s starating catcher at age 25 and is hitting .243 with a homer and 14 RBIs.
The final top 10 catcher of the past 25 years was Charles Johnson, taken 10th by the Expos in 1989. Johnson had a long, successful career, but not with the Expos. He didn’t sign, went to the University of Miami, and signed with the Marlins, who drafted him 28th overall in 1992.
Summing up, there are some great examples of catchers picked high who became stars, and some troubling examples of catchers picked high who flamed out. That’s not unlike any other position, so my conclusion is that there is no extra risk in taking a catcher so high.
Here is a poll from seattletimes.com: