Raise your hand if you know who Matt Wieters is. I hope a lot of you out there have your virtual hand up. Now raise your hand if you know who John Jaso is. Ryan Hanigan? Carlos Ruiz? Now, there is probably a lot fewer of you with hands up.
Minor League hype is a fickle beast. For every Jason Heyward, there are five Brandon Woods. Many regarded Wieters as the savior of the Baltimore Orioles on his way through the minors. His numbers certainly supported that belief, but they have yet to show up where it counts. This isn’t writing Matt Wieters off as a future Major League star. He just turned 24 so he has plenty of time to adjust to the bigs and begin posting the numbers people dreamed out of him. While we wait to see if that will occur, some catchers that got nowhere near the hype of Wieters have nonetheless turned in some valuable seasons for their big league clubs.
Ryan Hanigan isn’t a sexy prospect but he does one thing particularly well and that’s draw walks. His 31 walks in just 293 plate appearances helped him to a .361 OBP with the Reds. Hanigan, whom the Reds signed as an undrafted free agent back in 2002, has had an even bigger success story this year with a .338/.449/.486 triple slash line while splitting time with Ramon Hernandez. It is a small sample, but Hanigan’s .409 wOBA has made him the seventh most valuable hitting catcher in the majors, despite being a part-time player. Hanigan is almost certainly not going to maintain numbers that lofty, but ZiPS projects him to post a .334 wOBA going forward, which almost exactly matches ZiPS’ .336 wOBA projection for Wieters. Maybe someone should start a Ryan Hanigan Facts website.
John Jaso also flew under the hype radar when he failed to show much power in the minors. What he did show though was good plate discipline and low strikeout rates, which helped to maintain a high average and impressive OBP. Getting an extended look in Tampa due to an injury to Dioner Navarro, Jaso has made his case for keeping the starting job with a .324/.449/.493 line.Jaso’s 8.5 percent strikeout rate is just behind Hanigan’s 8.1 percent and, among catchers with at least 50 trips to plate this year, they rank second and third respectively, with only A.J. Pierzynski bettering the unheralded pair.
Hype of minor league players is generally well founded. It comes from quality scouting reports and/or fabulous numbers. Hype doesn’t always equate to Major League results though, and certainly does not guarantee instant success. Sometimes it takes awhile and sometimes, solid Major League catchers appear out of seemingly nowhere.
Matthew Carruth is a writer for FanGraphs.