Tall catchers don't exactly grow on trees. Their height puts them at a disadvantage defensively, and can limit them offensively when matched up against premium velocity. Those that are able to overcome a potentially long swing and become good hitters are often moved to first base, where their size becomes an advantage. Most big league catchers stand 6'3" or shorter, with a handful making the cut at 6'4". But at 6'5" and above? That's some rarefied air.
Only 10 players standing six feet, five inches tall have suited up as a catcher in an MLB game. Nine of them have come since the expansion era, while three have made their MLB debuts within the last 11 seasons. There has never been an MLB catcher taller than 6'5". Tigers catching prospect Grayson Greiner stands six feet, six inches tall, and has a decent chance of making history.
Greiner is a bit of an oddity, as he was not drafted out of high school. The 22 year old catcher attended the University of South Carolina, where he was named to the SEC All-Freshman team and Freshman All-America in his first season. He was a second-team All-SEC catcher during his sophomore season, then finished as a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award in his junior year. The Tigers drafted Greiner in the third round of last season's amateur draft and signed him at his slot bonus level (just over $500,000). He began his professional career at Single-A West Michigan, where he hit .322/.394/.444 in 104 plate appearances. Greiner's season ended prematurely due to a left hand injury. He had surgery after the season to repair a broken hamate bone, but has received an invite to spring training with the Tigers in 2015.
The impressive debut earned Greiner a lot of brownie points with the prospect community, pushing him near everyone's organizational top 10. TigsTown ranked Greiner 12th on their list, while MLB.com put him 13th. He cracked the top 10 at Baseball Prospectus, coming in at #8. John Sickels of Minor League Ball was also high on Greiner, ranking him ninth. Here's what Sickels had to say.
Age 22, drafted this year from South Carolina, third round, hit .322/.394/.444 in debut in Midwest League. 6-6 frame makes it hard for him to control running game due to slow release but his glove is otherwise highly-regarded, strong receiver and leader. Bat has improved over the last two years and his debut in full-season ball was impressive.
As mentioned above, Greiner's size is a rarity, and can be a disadvantage as a catcher. Taller catchers often have difficulty moving around behind the plate to block pitches in the dirt. Their long limbs lengthen the time it takes to make quick throws down to second base. They can even have difficulty getting borderline strike calls because umpires have difficulty seeing around them. The first two problem areas are not a worry with Greiner (and no one is quite sure on the third). A talented athlete, Greiner's defense will be his claim to fame. Scouts have praised his receiving abilities and strong arm. Bleacher Report's Adam Wells noted that Greiner's release can be a little long on throws, but several reports have praised how accurate he is. Many believe he will be able to stick as a catcher moving through the farm system.
While there are issues with Greiner's bat, power is not one of them. Size does have its advantages, and Greiner puts his to good use with a solid amount of pop. He hit 18 home runs in 611 plate appearances in college -- metal bat caveats apply -- and knocked seven extra base hits in 104 plate appearances with the Whitecaps last year. He has the raw power to hit 20-15 home runs at the major league level, but his hit tool will never progress to the point where that happens. Even as a starter, 10-15 homers would probably be Greiner's ceiling. In addition to the raw power comes a decent handle of the strike zone. Greiner walked 11 times in 104 plate appearances in his professional debut and another 83 times in 611 collegiate plate appearances, a 13.6 percent rate.
As with many tall, raw talents, Greiner's swing can get long. Reports indicate that he struggles with premium velocity, a frequent issue for most taller players. He struck out nearly 19 percent of the time in college and will probably sit around the 20 percent level in professional ball, especially as he moves up the ranks. He will have trouble making hard contact at times as well, and will probably hit a snag at some point in his minor league career if his swing doesn't quicken some.
The only weaknesses in Greiner's defensive game appear to be related to his size, and have already been mentioned. His long arms can result in a long release when throwing to bases, and as such, Greiner may have difficulty slowing down faster baserunners. There were concerns about his ability to stick at catcher when he was drafted -- John Sickels still seems a bit skeptical -- but an extended look at his abilities in 26 minor league games has quieted most of his critics.
Greiner's speed is nonexistent, but he's a catcher. It's not really a "weakness," per se, but running like a catcher definitely isn't a strength. Expect him to get thrown out by an infuriating distance at some point if he makes it to the major leagues.
Projected team: Lakeland Flying Tigers
An invite to spring training doesn't mean much for a catching prospect -- the team needs extra catchers to handle all the pitchers in camp -- but there are a few indications that the Tigers really like Greiner. He was one of only four catchers invited to spring training, and 2014 fifth round pick Shane Zeile was not one of the others. Greiner's aggressive placement and early success also caught some eyes, though in only 104 plate appearances. With an advanced feel for the game on the defensive side of the ball, expect the Tigers to promote Greiner aggressively. He might not hit enough to be a full-time starter at the MLB level, but he should make a big league roster in the next few seasons if his glove progresses as expected.
New addition: Anthony Castro, right-handed pitcher
Castro is a Venezuelan flamethrower who impressed scouts in his stateside debut in 2014 after making opponents look foolish as a teenager in the Venezuelan Summer League. Castro's numbers in the Gulf Coast League weren't great -- he allowed a 4.10 ERA and had a 1.67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 59 1/3 innings -- but he can already throw 95 miles per hour as a 19 year old. He also has a couple of decent offspeed pitches in his changeup and slider, the latter of which will wreak havoc on right-handed hitters at some level. Jordan Gorosh labeled Castro a potential #4 starter last July, and later blew him up as the #1 "prospect on the rise" in the Tigers system earlier this month.