No. 23: Curt Casali, C
Curt Casali was drafted in the 10th round of the 2011 draft out of Vanderbilt (the Tigers draft a lot of Vandy guys). Dubbed as a more polished catching prospect than his draft position indicated, Casali was assigned immediately to Class A Short Season-Connecticut, where he played very well in just 10 games before being promoted to Class A-West Michigan to finish the 2011 season. While at West Michigan, Casali hit just .227 in nearly 100 plate appearances, but posted a very solid .744 OPS (small sample size, of course) due to his ability to take walks and hit for moderate extra base power. In 2012, Casali was sent back to West Michigan to begin the season, and he more or less set the world on fire, posting a .902 OPS across over 200 plate appearances, buoyed by 27 walks (vs only 18 strikeouts), as well as 8 HR's. Once the Tigers decided to promote Rob Brantly to Triple A, that meant that James McCann needed to go to Double A, which in turn sent Casali to Class Advanced A-Lakeland. While at Lakeland, Casali's numbers suffered some, but that was to be expected to a degree, and Casali still did hold his own, posting a .672 OPS. He ended the 2012 season on a high rise on prospect rankings charts across the Tigers blogosphere, which is why you find him in the top half of mine as well.
Casali stands 6'2" and weighs in at 220lbs, a very nice build for a catcher. I saw Casali a couple times in West Michigan in 2012 (prior to his promotion to Lakeland), and here's what my scouting notes said (on his defense): "Ideal catcher's body...solid athleticism...moves pretty well behind plate...love his footwork on throws to 2B...arm is plus...pop times of 1.96, 1.87, 1.91, 2.01, 1.93 on stolen base attempts I was able to record...solid framing skills, could still use some work...struggles a bit to frame arm side breaking balls..." I haven't seen Casali since then (this was May 2012), so I'm not sure how he's progressed defensively. Scouts seem to think that he can be a legit above average to plus defender with a plus arm behind the plate with the ability to shut down the running game. Offensively, Casali shows average projection with the bat as well as average power potential. When I saw him, he went 3-7 in the two games with 2 singles, a double, 2 walks, and no strikeouts. He has a very good knowledge of the strike zone and is more than willing to take a walk. He shows good pitch recognition skills as well. His swing can get long and the bat speed isn't great, but he is able to drive the ball to the pull field and up the middle occasionally. The double I saw was a frozen rope into the LCF gap on an inside fastball that he pulled his hands in nicely on, and drilled. He seems to have trouble going the opposite way, but I haven't seen enough of him to mark it as a significant flaw. Shows average power, with most of it coming to the pull field. Hit 8 home runs to begin 2012 with West Michigan, but I think that was a bit fluky. I don't see the bat speed to project him beyond 50 power, which is still a nice tool to have as a catcher. He's a below average runner, like pretty much every catcher ever.
Casali's ceiling for me is that of a fringy starter or above-average backup. He looks to be the ideal candidate to pair with Alex Avila in a couple years, as he's a good defender who can control the running game, work a pitching staff, hit right handed, and has some power. I don't think he has the bat to start regularly, but certainly looks capable of being a solid backup or even platoon guy. For 2013, seeing as the Tigers have Brayan Pena on the roster now, it looks like Bryan Holaday will begin the season at Triple A, meaning that James McCann will start back at Double A (which he needs). Ramon Cabrera (acquired for Andy Oliver) will probably split time between Double A and Triple A, meaning that Casali will most likely begin 2013 back at Class A Advanced-Lakeland, which is fine by me. As for a MLB ETA, I think Casali will be ready by 2015.