Monday, February 20, 2012

OTF Top 30: No. 3, Tommy Joseph, C/1B

No. 3: Tommy Joseph, Catcher/First Base

Age: 20
Drafted: Second Round (55th overall) of the 2009 Draft
High School: Horizon High School (Arizona)
2011 Regular Season numbers: .270 average, .317 OBP, .471 slugging, .787 OPS, .340 wOBA, 95 wRC+, 80 runs scored, 22 home runs, 95 RBI (High-A)
2011 Fall/Winter Season numbers: None

Why you should know about Joseph:

After his vicious injury last year in the collision with the Marlins' Scott Cousins, Buster Posey and his future at the catcher's position is in doubt. While Posey obviously has all the tools to be a super star Major League catcher, whether or not he can handle the position physically post-injury and whether the Giants want to keep him there post-injury (remember, Posey earned the highest signing bonus for a draft pick in club history at $6.25 million in 2008) is yet to be determined. Thus, there has been a strong emphasis on the development of catching prospects in the Giants system, especially since the Giants got such meager production from the position in 2011 from Eli Whiteside and Chris Stewart.

Joseph probably has the most upside of any of the catching prospects in the Giants system. He is only 20 years old, but has played two full years of professional ball in the Sally and California League. While there will be a push from recent 2011 draft pick Andrew Susac, there will be a lot of focus on Joseph's development as he makes the move up to Double-A Richmond in 2012. Safe to say, Joseph's development as game caller and hitter in the Eastern League will have an effect on what the Giants will plan to do with Posey in 2013 and beyond.

What Are Joseph's Strengths as a Prospect?

Joseph has a few things going for him: his position, his power and his youth. Joseph broke into Single-A ball at the age of 18, right out of Horizon High School in Arizona (a school that also produced first round pitching prospect Tim Alderson, who is now in the Pirates organization). The Giants fast tracked him a little bit, and Joseph had to go through a trial by fire in his first full professional season. In fact, if you judge Joseph solely by his numbers, it doesn't look all that good. He only hit .236 with an OPS of .691 and he struggled with pitch recognition and plate patience in his debut season, as he posted a BB/K ratio of 0.22, highlighted by a 24.5 percent strikeout rate. Defensively, he struggled with injuries and getting accustomed to the position as a professional, as Mike Newman of Scouting the Sally (and now Fangraphs) remarked this about Joseph's defense after his season with the Green Jackets:

"Drafted as a catcher, I’m under the impression he is unlikely to stick there over the long haul.  With his present agility rating below average, it is likely to only become worse in time.  And while his arm was plenty strong for the position (Keith Law graded it a 60 in a recent tweet), Joseph’s mechanics on throws to second base included poor footwork and a tendency to stand straight up instead of fire out towards the base.  This not only hurts his pop times, but causes undue stress on the shoulder which could lead to injury.  Additionally, his transfer was sloppy which hampered his release.  With Joseph appearing a number of times at first base and designated hitter, the San Francisco Giants organization may already see the writing on the wall."

Despite his status as a prospect taking a hit after the 2010 season, the Giants moved Joseph up to San Jose in 211 and he performed much better there offensively and defensively. His OPS improved to .782 and he made good on the positive reports of his power when he was drafted by belting 22 home runs and 32 doubles in 560 plate appearances. Additionally, he allowed less passed balls (13 to 19 in 2010) and threw out more runners (37 to 26) in San Jose, a sign that his defense is starting to improve with more professional experience.

Joseph's calling card is his power and he has showed flashes of that power as a professional (38 home runs as a professional so far). He has a strong, smooth swing with ample pop (scouts have graded his power potential as a 60). Furthermore, though he may not be the best defensive catcher in the Giants system, his arm strength is a plus tool of his, and he was able to display that in the California League in 2011, where he was much healthier than in 2010 in the Sally, where he was battling with nagging injuries almost all season long.

While the numbers aren't of an elite prospect just yet, there is still a lot of time for Joseph to develop as a prospect, and the fact that he'll be 20 and playing in Double-A is a good sign for the Giants that he is progressing nicely. Furthermore, Joseph's power tool set seems to be for real and I think he is totally capable of transitioning that tool set (as well as his arm) to Double-A, even though the Eastern League tends to favor pitchers.

Where Might Joseph Struggle as a Prospect?

The big issue with Joseph is his plate approach which frankly, hasn't been very good. Even in a breakout 2011 with San Jose, his BB/K ratio was 0.28, not much of an improvement from 2010 (though he did decrease his strikeout percentage to 18.2). Joseph is overly aggressive at the plate and with his power, he would benefit from being more selective. The silver lining in all of this though is that he is still young and is having to balance between becoming a game caller and developing as a hitter. As he gains more experience as a catcher, he will be able to concentrate more on his plate approach, and hopefully the BB/K ratios will improve.

As stated before though, how much time Joseph has as a catching prospect is hard to determine, especially with the Giants drafting Susac this past draft. Susac is far more developed defensively than Joseph and he may be a better option down the road behind the plate than Joseph, even if Joseph may have more offensive upside. Hence, a move to first base seems likely for Joseph in the future and though he does sport some good athleticism (he has a six-foot, one inch, 215 pound frame), Brandon Belt ahead of him at the Major League level certainly is a roadblock in that path. Furthermore, one has to wonder if Joseph would even fit in at the position in the Giants organization. Joseph's hitting abilities would be above-average for a catching prospect, but most likely average to below average for a first baseman.

Lastly, though the organization will have patience with him in his move to Richmond in 2012, he will have a lot of challenges ahead of him in the Eastern League. The EL definitely is a measuring stick for prospects, especially offensively, and even though the High-A numbers are nice, offensive stats in the California League are always taken with a grain of salt. If he struggles, it won't be the end of the world, but it will be interesting to see if he'll be able to handle the rigors of Double-A, continue to develop behind the plate defensively, and still display his plus tools (power and arm strength). A lot of Giants prospects have tumbled in Double-A and were unable to bounce back, even ones who were young for the league (Nick Noonan being the most prime example). I think Joseph has a shot to hold his own in Double-A, but considering the plate approach he displayed in Augusta and San Jose, the odds will be against him. One can only hope that his confidence won't be derailed at such a young age.

Grades on Joseph's Tools:

Hitting for Average/Contact Ability: 15/20 (Joseph hasn't showed signs of being a .300 hitter in the minors so far, and I highly doubt he will be as he progresses up the system. He did improve his contact rate from 73 percent in Augusta to 80 percent in San Jose, but he still only finished the year in San Jose with a .270 average. Even though he may not be a .300 hitter, it is plausible to think that Joseph can be a .260-.280 average hitter, and with his power tool set, that may be enough for him to progress to the big league level.)
Plate Approach: 14/20 (Definitely the weakest tool of Joseph's arsenal. His walk rate actually decreased almost a percent from Augusta, and his BB/K ratio has never touched the 0.30 mark, which isn't a good sign. I think he has the ability to improve his approach, and certain prospects in the Giants system have done that in the past - Brandon Crawford being the most recent example. However, if there is anything that is going to hold Joseph back as a prospect, it's going to be his over-aggressiveness at the plate.)
Power: 19/20 (I think Joseph has real power, and I think he can be a 20-plus home run hitter at the Major League level, which would be invaluable as a catcher. Even despite the poor Augusta numbers, he still posted a .165 ISO and last year he improved that ISO to .200. Furthermore, it's not just home runs that Joseph hits, as he posted extra base hit rates of 38 and 41 percent in his first two years as a professional. If his plate approach is going to hold Joseph back as a prospect, then it's his power that's going to progress him, because it's that solid a tool.)
Speed: 13/20 (He's a catcher, so he isn't going to be depended on or expected to steal bags. However, Joseph has some athleticism for a catcher, as his speed was graded a two by Rob Gordon of the Minor League Baseball Analyst. Furthermore, his doubles numbers and extra base hit percentages show that he will be able to stretch out hits and isn't just a station to station base clogger.)
Defense: 16/20 (I am a little more generous with this grade than most out there, but I think he's trending upward defensively, based on the numbers and scouting reports from his tenure in San Jose. The arm strength has always been there, but now he is practicing better technique and fundamentals behind the plate, which is only going to get better as he gets older and more professional instruction. I don't think he'll be an elite defensive prospect, but I certainly think he has the ability to be a starting catcher at the Major League level.)
Health/Makeup/Intangibles: 17/20 (He dealt with some injuries his debut year in the Sally, but those seemed to be a thing of the past in the California League, as he played in a 127 games as a 19 year old. The age definitely favors him, and his ability to improve defensively also shows that Joseph is coach-able and can adapt quickly. Also, his athleticism gives him some flexibility to play multiple positions, though he may be limited to first base and perhaps a corner infield position at the most.)

Overall Grade: B
Projection: Starting Major League catcher; perhaps a utility player that can split time between catcher and first base.

Summary: Joseph ranks in at No. 3 because of his youth and position, though he does have some good tools that make him a legitimate prospect in my mind. Best case scenario: Joseph has the potential to be a Mike Napoli-esque player (as Marc Hulet suggests in his Giants Top-15 roundup). I also think Joseph could be a Chris Iannetta-esque player offensively (low average, but good slugging and OPS numbers), though I don't think he could match Iannetta defensively. Overall, it'll be an interesting year, and there will be a lot of debate once the season starts between Giants fans about whether Joseph or Susac is the better catching prospect. I like Joseph a lot more, but Susac will definitely give Joseph a push because of his defensive prowess. That being said, if Joseph continues to flash the power he's showed before in the Sally and Cal League this year in Richmond, then I think Joseph will continue to hold off Susac at the position a little bit longer.

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