Down on the Farm: Top Catching Prospect
Opening day is just days away, and with that also means that minor league baseball is close to getting under way as well. In an attempt to become more familiar with whom the Astros are developing in their system I am going to review who I think is the top prospect at each position. The first position to be reviewed is starting catcher.
Ben Heath: Drafted – 5th round in 2010, Age as of start of 2011 season – 22
The 6-2 / 220 pound Ben Heath was taken in the 5th round of last years draft from Penn State University and immediately emerged as one of the top catching prospects within the organization. The Astros wasted little time signing Heath by reaching a contract agreement on 06/15/10 and sending him to low-A ball. There he hit .248 with 6 home runs in 129 at-bats. He was then promoted to high-A ball where his season took off and he produced a stat line of .290/.405/.551 with 4 home runs in 69 at-bats. He even enjoyed a brief stint at double-AA Corpus Christi at the end of the year and produced a stat line of .500/.538/.583 in only 12 at-bats.
In college Heath had a monster season at Penn State in 2010 where he hit for a .369 average, 19 home runs, 57 RBI’s, a .747 slugging percentage, and a .451 on-base percentage. Some of the awards and accolades Heath received for this performance was being named to the Ping Second Team ALL-American, Louisville Slugger Second Team ALL-American, first team ALL-Big Ten, 2010 Dick Howser Trophy Semifinalist, and 2010 Johnny Bench Award Semifinalist. Heath’s 3 year stat line at Penn State reads .327/.404/.609 with a total of 22 home runs in 312 at-bats. What may be more promising than his overall college statistics is the fact that his best year was by far his last year which seemed to carry over into the start of his professional year. This could mean that Heath had no problem transitioning from college competition to professional competition. The biggest drawback is that 2010 was the first full season Heath started as the everyday catcher and because of that his defense behind isn’t as polished as his bat.
Ben Heath’s ceiling would be that of an everyday catcher that can hit for a high average while also providing upwards of 30 home runs a season all the while playing above average defense. It has been a long time since the Astros have had a catcher in their system with the power potential that Heath possesses, but with that the high upside also comes a low ceiling. Heath’s defense lags behind his offense so far, and may stunt his quick ascent through the organization. If he is unable to stick at the catchers spot then he may have to move positions with first base being the likely destination. While he could still be an above average 1st baseman, his overage value would take a hit due to the fact that offensive oriented catchers are a rare commodity. It will be interesting to see where Ben Heath starts this season. His most likely destinations are either Corpus Christi where he ended last year, or Lancaster. A strong case could be made for either place as a starting point for Heath in his first full season of professional ball.
The following are a couple of links on Ben Heath:
Ben Heath Penn State University Player Profile
Astros Draftee Profile: Ben Heath
Other catching prospects that deserved to be mentioned as well include Rene Garcia, Jonathon Fixler, Federico Hernandez, and Chris Wallace. These players will be reviewed at a later date.