If there is one position that is short on elite prospects throughout baseball, it is behind the plate. While Minnesota’s Joe Mauer was an exception, there are few catchers at the top of prospect lists.
The 2004 draft might help reverse the trend. Starting with Pittsburgh’s selection of prep star Neil Walker with the No.11 selection overall, there were several backstops taken that could be long-term solutions at the position.
And the Washington Nationals, desperately in need of catching help, found several of them. The Nationals selected Erik San Pedro of Miami in the second round and Devin Ivany from South Florida in the sixth round. A third catcher — Brian Peacock, a 39th-round pick from Manatee (Fla.) Junior College — was considered one of the top draft-and-follow prospects and signed days before this season’s draft.
“It’s definitely nice to know that there is a good chance you can move through the organization at a good pace,” Ivany said. “We’ve got some good guys back there, and it makes for good competition.”
Ivany has spent his first full professional season at Class A Savannah and has established himself as a player to watch in the Nationals system. He’s hitting .277 with nine homers and 40 RBI in 82 games. Ivany hits much better when he fields — .313 in 214 at-bats as a catcher and .184 in 76 at-bats as a designated hitter.
When it comes to catching prospects, defense matters most. Despite the decline of stolen bases in the major leagues, the majority of teams still will sacrifice offense for superior defense.
“From the people that I’ve talked to that saw [Ivany] play last year, I think he’s made vast improvements,” Savannah manager Randy Knorr said. “I honestly think he’s got a chance to catch in the bigs. He’s throwing out 40-plus percent [of potential basestealers] this year. He handles the pitching staff really well. He blocks balls. He carries himself on and off the field good.”
Knorr, who spent 11 seasons in the major leagues, is a good mentor for Ivany. Knorr said he and Ivany spend a lot of time talking about the nuances of the position.
“He knows what it takes to get [to the major leagues],” Ivany said. “He knows what it takes to stay there. He’s got two World Series rings, and it’s nice to be able to pick his brain.”
Given the college pedigree and hefty signing bonus ($650,000) for San Pedro, Ivany could have been viewed as an insurance policy. San Pedro’s progress has been disrupted by injuries. He missed the beginning of the season recovering from thumb surgery, and then his year was cut short after just seven games when he broke his leg during a collision at home plate.
“[San Pedro] is a friend of mine, and I hate to see what happened to him this year,” Ivany said. “I hope he gets back real soon so we can compete against each other.”
The pair have an interesting history, dating to high school when they starred at schools in the same district. Ivany says they got to know each other better when they were opponents in college.
“It’s definitely fun,” Ivany said. “We were actually roommates in spring training. When it comes down to it, we’re not really competing against each other. It’s really everybody else [in the organization] as well as each other.”
The Nationals certainly are happy to have the competition. Salomon Manriquez also is having a breakout season at Class A Potomac, hitting .313 with 11 homers. And the guy who catches when Ivany is the designated hitter, Luke Montz, is third in the organization with 18 home runs.