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2018 MLB draft profile: C Joey Bart is gaining No. 1 pick momentum

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An excellent two-way catcher, Bart was recently projected as Detroit’s pick at No. 1 overall.

There might not be a better position to nail in the MLB draft than catcher. Sure, grabbing an All-Star at any position is a huge boost to a team, but picking up a true franchise catcher can set up a team well for a decade or more. Former No. 1 overall pick Joe Mauer helped the Minnesota Twins win six division titles during his prime years, and is still going strong at age 35 (even if injuries have moved him off the position). Buster Posey, a No. 5 overall pick in 2008, has led the San Francisco Giants to three championships.

Even mentioning Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart among those two — a pair of deserving Hall of Famers, in my opinion — is extremely lofty territory. However, if there’s any player in this draft that could reach those heights behind the plate, it’s Bart. The 21-year-old backstop is far and away the best catching prospect in this year’s class, and a safe bet to be the highest catcher drafted since Schwarber went No. 4 overall back in 2014.

And if the Detroit Tigers come calling first? Bart would be the first catcher taken with the No. 1 pick since Mauer, way back in 2001. ESPN’s Keith Law projected Bart as a surprise No. 1 pick in his latest mock draft, which would be a huge surprise in the final hours leading up to the MLB draft.

Profile

Position: C
School: Georgia Tech
Draft day age: 21
MLB Pipeline prospect rank: 9
Previously drafted: 27th round, 2015

MLB Pipeline Scouting Grades: C Joey Bart

Hit Power Run Arm Field Overall
Hit Power Run Arm Field Overall
50 55 30 60 55 55

Strengths

Coming out of high school, Bart was viewed as a solid prospect who could go in the top five rounds thanks to his power potential. He has since tapped into that power at Georgia Tech, and is making stadiums around the ACC look tiny. He is currently hitting .351/.460/.609 in his junior season, with nine doubles and 12 home runs in 44 games played. He has plus raw power, according to MLB Pipeline, and an average hit tool.

2080 Baseball’s Adam McInturff wasn’t quite as enamored with Bart’s potential to hit for average earlier this year, but echoed the widespread praise for Bart’s power.

He hits from a square base, standing upright with medium height to his handset. A small, quiet leg-lift trigger starts the swing, though a propensity to drift too far to his front side contributes to iffy pitch recognition. He whips the bat through the zone with strength and plus natural leverage, generating plus raw power that plays to all fields in game situations. Scouts feel that Bart’s power is for real and will play at the next level, even if it is always accompanied with lower batting averages. A free swinger, he will often chase off-speed pitches and pull off soft stuff on the outer-third of the plate.

This report was published back in late February, however, so Bart’s strong junior season could be changing some scouts’ minds on how well he will hit for average and get on base at the next level. He has 42 strikeouts to 30 walks this year, a massive improvement from the 50 strikeouts to 16 walks he produced in 2017. Royals Farm Report notes that Bart also had a strong showing in the Cape Cod League, a nice litmus test for college hitters before they become draft eligible.

Baseball America made note of the improvements Bart has made at the plate so far this season.

In addition to his progress behind the plate, Bart has made tweaks to his batting stance and has shown an overall improvement in his approach at the plate. As a freshman, Bart’s stance was more spread out. He had a hard time catching up to velocity on the inner half and was susceptible to breaking balls away. He now has a far more upright posture at the plate, standing taller and looser, allowing him to tap into his plus raw power more often in games. Hall noted that Bart is chasing fewer breaking balls, and his improved strikeout rate would seem to support that.

One of the bigger questions about Bart’s profile over the past couple years has been his ability to stick behind the plate. At 6’3 and weighing 225 pounds, he’s a little big for a catcher. His frame warranted comparisons to current White Sox prospect Zack Collins, a college catcher who will almost certainly not play there long-term (though he has in the minors so far). Bart, however, is athletic enough to stay in front of balls in the dirt, and has improved his receiving since arriving at Georgia Tech. He also has a plus arm that helped him throw out 40 percent of base stealers in his first two years with the Yellow Jackets.

Weaknesses

If we’re looking at scouting grades alone, Bart’s speed is his most glaring deficiency. However, as a catcher, he isn’t exactly expected to tear up the basepaths. The 30 grade put on his wheels by MLB Pipeline is par for the course for most backstops, and isn’t a knock against Bart’s athleticism or potential as a player. But it’s certainly not a strength, so it goes in this section.

As hinted at above, Bart’s hit tool might be a bit of a question mark. He has improved his in-game plate discipline this season, but has been a free-swinger in the past with a very aggressive approach. He is on pace to strike out more times this season than last, and scouts have noted that his swing can get a bit long at times. He will face better pitchers with more velocity at the pro level, where the flaws in his swing may be exposed. Bart may also be asked to take on a greater amount of responsibility with game planning and pitch sequencing at the pro level — coaches often help shoulder this load in college — which could take time and focus away from his offensive development. His work ethic has drawn high praise from coaches, though.

Draft position: top 10, and probably higher

Bart was considered one of the better prep prospects prior to the 2015 draft, and only dropped because of a strong commitment to Georgia Tech. Three years later, he has only improved his draft stock with further refinement of his well-rounded game. Even this year, he has gone from being ranked in the 20s and 30s on some early season lists to squarely in the top 10 on most draft boards. He will almost surely go in the first 10 picks after another monster season for the Yellow Jackets, and was recently projected by Baseball America to be selected by the San Francisco Giants with the No. 2 overall pick. FanGraphs also noted that Bart might not make it out of the top five, and “his floor appears to be the Pirates” at No. 10.

There is even speculation that the Tigers could even go after Bart at No. 1 in hopes of saving some slot money, though nothing concrete (which would be shocking with over a month to go until the draft). Though all signs still point towards the Tigers taking Auburn righthander Casey Mize first overall, it’s possible things change over the next month and they make Bart their guy. If not, he won’t be around for long after that.

Video

h/t Baseball America, 2080 Baseball for the videos