Meet the Future: U.S. and World catchers
Signal callers range from 18-year-old phenom to Triple-A backstops
In 1992, Pat Borders won the Most Valuable Player award in the World Series with the Toronto Blue Jays. Eight years later, the backstop turned in his Major League mask for an Olympic one and led the United States team to a gold medal.
With the announcement that the 2008 XM All-Star Futures Game will have a bearing on the Olympic roster that the United States will send to China, it's unlikely that any former World Series MVP will be headed to Beijing. Instead, some of the best American catching prospects in the Minors will first make a trip to Yankee Stadium, and then, potentially, across the Pacific.
The U.S. team's catching contingent is made up of three upper-level Minor Leaguers. Bryan Anderson and Taylor Teagarden are each a step away from the big leagues with his respective Triple-A club, and Lou Marson calls the signals for Double-A Reading.
The World Team, on the other hand, boasts one backstop, Jesus Montero, who just made his professional debut in the Gulf Coast League a year ago and another, Welington Castillo, who is just 21, and excelling at Double-A.
Here's a closer look at the six players that will be behind the mask at Yankee Stadium on July 13:
Bryan Anderson (U.S. Team)
Cardinals (Triple-A Memphis)
The 2005 First-Year Player Draft was a good one for the Cardinals, as scouting director Jeff Luhnow brought in a haul that helped restock a thin farm system. On the pitching side, recent call-up Mitch Boggs and star prospect Jaime Garcia were middle-round finds. On offense, the organization got its best help from a pair of sweet-swinging left-handed hitters that both find themselves in the Futures Game. Catcher Bryan Anderson, who went hitless in two at-bats in the 2007 Futures Game, will represent the team behind the plate, while Colby Rasmus will patrol center field.
Throughout his brief professional career, Anderson has been one of the most consistent contact hitters in Minor League baseball. The catcher has struck out just 31 times in 55 games this year, and never more than 77 times in a season. In only one of his five stops in the Minors has Anderson hit under .300 -- he finished at .298 in Springfield in 2007. The Cardinals re-assigned Anderson to Double-A to start the 2008 season, promoting him after he hit .388 in 18 games, which raised his lifetime average in the Texas League to .313.
The catcher has drawn praise for improving his defensive performance in the Minor Leagues, and this season has thrown out 36% of runners in 75 attempts. Of course, Anderson now finds himself behind only defensive stalwart and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina in the organization, so a bat that has produced a career .800 OPS will be his ticket to the Majors.
Lou Marson (U.S. Team)
Phillies (Double-A Reading)
In the midst of one of the most impressive breakout seasons in the Minors, Marson ranks ninth in the full-season Minor Leagues with a .442 on-base percentage. The catcher is in rare air among prospects, as his 51 walks are juxtaposed with just 46 strikeouts. With just two more walks, Marson will set a single-season career high, even though he has played 40 games fewer in 2008 than he did a year ago.
Since drafting Marson in the fourth round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, the Phillies have taken a traditional approach with him, promoting the Arizona native a level each season. In 2006, Marson made his full season debut with Lakewood, and struggled, hitting just .243/.343/.351. However, improvements in the Florida State League the next year have been followed by greater improvements this year, and Marson has a solid three-year trend of rising OPS.
Behind the plate, Marson is second among the six catchers in the Futures Game with 38.5% caught stealing rate. And you can bet Marson is happy the game will be played during the day, as the backstop has hit .380 in Reading's day games this season.
Taylor Teagarden (U.S. Team)
Rangers (Triple-A Oklahoma)
Teagarden's breakout as a prospect came in 2007, when he bashed 27 home runs and walked 75 times in 110 games, finishing the season with an OPS above 1.000. Amazingly, Teagarden was drafted by the Rangers in 2005 based on his body of work defensively at the University of Texas.
There's no questioning Teagarden's defensive acumen. He leads all Futures Game catchers with a 40% caught stealing rate this season. Offensively, he'll enter the game with the lowest OPS among that group of players. However, like Welington Castillo, his numbers were dragged down by an early-season start that cried for greener pastures. Teagarden's first 16 games came in Double-A with Frisco, where he struggled, hitting just .169. In April, the Rangers prospect struck out 38 times in 68 at-bats.
Since then, however, Teagarden was promoted to Oklahoma, where he has been significantly better. The backstop posted a .405 on-base percentage in May, and a .482 slugging percentage in June. He is showing much more of the positive side to his offensive game than he did in April, and, importantly, he's maintained the same defensive acumen he's been acclaimed for since college.
Welington Castillo (World Team)
Cubs (Double-A Tennessee)
The lone member of the Cubs organization in the Futures Game, Castillo will enter Yankee Stadium on the heels of one of the hottest streaks of his career. The Cubs promoted Castillo from the Florida State League to Tennessee at the start of June, and in the 18 games that followed, Castillo hit at a .333 clip. Suddenly, an OPS that was just .638 in A-ball blossomed to 1.029 in Double-A.
If anything, the pitcher-friendly Florida State League can be blamed for Castillo's lower numbers, as his obvious power was sapped in Daytona. Castillo hit 11 home runs in 98 games in Peoria in 2007, so it was only a matter of time before balls started clearing the fences in 2008. Sure enough, in his fourth game with the Smokies, Castillo hit a home run, and then four more in his following 18 games in the Southern League, including three in one week.
In total, since his promotion, Castillo hit safely in 15 of his first 18 games. The catcher could be especially dangerous against the two southpaws on the United States roster, as the Dominican is hitting .411 against left-handed pitchers in 2008.
Jesus Montero (World Team)
Yankees (Class A Charleston)
Expectations are always high in the Yankees organization thanks to a rabid, diehard fan base. Expectations for players given bonuses of $1.6 million, which the Yankees awarded Montero in 2006, can be even higher. So, one can bet that Yankees fans will have their magnifying glasses out when Montero arrives in the Bronx, but they are certainly happy with their return on investment thus far.
The Venezuelan made his stateside debut in 2007, playing 33 games in the Gulf Coast League, where coaches named him the league's second-best prospect. This season, his full-season debut, Montero is hitting .303 despite being one of the league's youngest players, having just turned 17 in June. Prodigious power that has drawn rave reviews from scouts has yielded a .441 slugging percentage, but scouts are still predicting that, in time, many of Montero's doubles (21 this season) will find their way over the fence.
If there's work to be done, it's on the defensive side, where the transition to professional baseball has been met with struggles. Montero has thrown out just 18 of 77 attempted base stealers in the South Atlantic League, which is a marked improvement from 2007, when Montero threw out just three in 32 attempts.
Bryan Smith is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.