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2022 Position Previews: Catcher

Baseball season starts Friday with a home series against Okie State. I will publish position previews once per day on: 1) Starting Pitching, 2) Relief Pitching, 3) Infield, 4) Outfield, and 5) Catchers.

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / Tennessean.com via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Though losing both Rocker and Leiter is no picnic, it could be argued that the biggest potential downgrade from 2021 to 2022 is at catcher. This is not to slight the catchers on our current roster; rather, quite literally no college catcher was on the same planet as C.J. “Chi Chi the Frame God” Rodriguez in terms of pitch framing wizardry, overall defense, and handling a rotation. Though the man who will likely start out the season behind the plate will be a massive upgrade on offense, there’s just no replacing The Frame God.

Beyond that, Max “Power” Romero, Jr. transferred to Miami before Chi Chi signed with the A’s. Would Corbin have stuck with Keegan behind the plate if Chi Chi had returned to school? Of course not. What about if Romero didn’t transfer? Tough to say.

Sadness aside, let’s take a look at who will put on the tools of ignorance for the Diamond Dores in 2022.

When there’s open competition for a position, some times it’s useful to see who played in the Black and Gold Series in October. This year, Dom Keegan caught both games for the Black team, and Jack Bulger caught both games for the Gold team.

Likely Starter

#12 Jr. C/1B Dominic “The Dominator” Keegan

(.354/.427/.638 with 17 2B, 3 3B, 15 HR and 57 RBI)

Simply put, getting The Dominator to return for his senior year is the reason we may well return to Omaha, rather than being a mid-pack SEC squad. No one was more improved at the plate last year than Dom, and he should be our three hole or cleanup hitter all year long. You should have no worries about the bat.

On defense? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ In short, this is the biggest question mark on the 2020 roster. Over his three years at Vanderbilt, Keegan has caught about a handful of games, if that. In my recollection, these were mid-week, low stakes games, and I did not come away with the impression that catcher was his natural position. He was a high school catcher, and certainly appears to have the arm to handle the job, but that’s about all we know for sure. Similar to Nick Maldonado, Keegan is a pre-season All-American who’s switching positions to increase his positional value in the 2022 MLB Draft.

If Keegan can be merely adequate behind the plate, his bat will more that make up for it. Think Mike Piazza. If his defense is a liability, he will move back to 1st base. Think end of career Mike Piazza. Again, the parallel is to Nick Maldonado (likely) beginning the year in the starting rotation. If it doesn’t work out, he’s still an All-American, just at a different position. Not exactly the worst problem to have.

The Top Competition (Offensively)

#16 So. UTL Jack “Whitey” Bulger

(.274/.369/.414 7 2B, 5 HR, and 28 RBI)

As I said in yesterday’s outfield preview:

I’m not going to lie... Bulger looked rough on defense when he got a shot at LF last year. However, there’s some pop in that bat, and he could compete for playing time at DH, Catcher, First base, and if he’s really worked on his defense, LF. Probably more of a backup catcher/platoon DH guy, though. I’m really not sure where to fully preview him, but the bat can play.

Like The Dominator, Bulger was a high school catcher (and an offense-first guy). Like Dom again, there was just no chance to beat out either Chi Chi or Max Power for reps at catcher last year, so I have no real way of knowing if he’s got the defensive chops to serve as any real competition for the catching job this year. It would be a pleasant surprise if he was a college average catcher this year. The scouts certainly thought highly of him coming out of high school.

The Top Competition (Defensively)

#45 So. C Alan Espinal

(.200/.200/.800 with 1 HR and 1 RBI)

To beat a dead horse, no one in the country was going to steal Chi Chi’s reps last year, and very few would have been able to unseat Max Power as his backup. As such, though Espinal got in 6 games in 2021, none were starts. He only managed 5 ABs on the season.

Small sample size aside, I liked what I saw from him behind the plate, as he looked like a natural defensive catcher. Again, it’s tough to elaborate much beyond “he looked like he could handle the position,” as he saw so few innings behind the plate in 2021. That said, I trust my gut. It would not shock me if when it’s all said and done, Espinal is the starting catcher by SEC play (or some time before postseason play begins), Dom’s at 1st, and Bulger is a platoon DH.

The Freshmen

#5 C/UTL Anthony “Napoli Blood Pudding” Migliaccio

It would appear that Corbin thinks Migliaccio is the catcher of the future, as #5 has traditionally be the number given to stud Vanderbilt catchers. Corbs himself chooses the numbers for everyone on the squad, and though we fully expect The Dominator to begin the year behind the plate, neither Keegan, Bulger, nor Espinal could have been all too happy that a freshman got the number given to Chi Chi the Frame God, Phil “The Hitman” Clarke, Jason “The Rain” Delay, and Spencer “The Gift” Navin.

Me, though? Pleased as punch.

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

Anthony Migliaccio is a 2021 C/3B, OF with a 6-1 190 lb. frame from Wyandotte, MI who attends Detroit Country Day. Strong athletic build with room to get stronger. 6.76 runner. Very athletic for a primary catcher, may end up in the outfield if his bat continues to advance, fundamentals behind the plate still developing but athleticism and arm strength stand out in the outfield. Switch hitter, has better bat speed at present from the left side, gets extended out front with good extension, shows barrel control and carry off the barrel. More rotational from the right side with a middle of the field line drive approach. Good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.

Perfect Game Rating: 10

#52 C/UTL Sam Hunt

Here’s what Perfect Game has to say about him:

Sam Hunt is a 2021 C/1B/3B with a 6-2 195 lb. frame from Minneapolis, MN who attends IMG Academy. Big and strong athletic build. 7.03 runner, has athletic actions behind the plate, comes out of his crouch quickly with energy, solid arm strength and makes accurate throws, probably athletic enough to play multiple positions around the field. Switch-hitter, hits from a wide base from both sides of the plate, base creates some length in his swing, has better raw bat speed and a better swing plane from the left side at present, flashes power potential when on time. Good student, verbal commitment to Vanderbilt.

Perfect Game Rating: 9