The bar for being a productive catcher in the major leagues is low. It's not low in that it's still very, very hard to play baseball at that high a level, but it's lower for catchers than for lots of other positions.
Which is why you can re-calibrate expectations for catchers. A guy who profiles with average power at other positions becomes above-average for a catcher. The flip side of that is that a guy who has to move off the position can go from being a great prospect to an average one with one small switch in positions.
Why is this relevant? Because Tom Murphy could be one of the best catchers in the draft, but he's not really one of the best hitters. He's got good power, but may not be able to make great contact consistently in the majors. He's good defensively, and has a good chance at sticking with catching in the future.
Murphy provides a ton of value as long as he stays at catcher. Even if he doesn't hit for a high average in the pros, he's got a pretty good eye and figures to be an above-average to average defensive player. That means he could easily end up like John Buck or even a non-hyped Matt Wieters.
For a Houston team that's pretty thin at catcher, Murphy would make a lot of sense if he's there in the second or third round.
Projected Draft Round
Baseball America has him in the second round, though Keith Law doesn't rate him in his Top 100. I'd say beauty is in the eye of the beholder with him, meaning he could go in the first round and he could fall to the third or fourth.
Will he sign?
He is a junior and if he slips enough, there's a chance he goes back to school. With his power, there is a good chance he could get more exposure with another season under his belt. Although, the questions about his contact skills could see his stock drop instead. It's a gamble, but I bet if he goes in the sandwich round to second round, he'll sign.
Bibliography after the jump
Murphy had a breakout season as a sophomore leading the Bulls in hitting with a .384 batting average while hitting ten homers and driving in 44 runs. He spent the summer mostly in the NECBL with the Holyoke Blue Sox hitting .285 with 10 homers and 28 RBI. He also played in the NECBL All-Star game against the USA Collegiate National Team. He ended up hitting a long homer off of LSU’s Kevin Gausman. (Video below) After the game, he was added to the USA Collegiate National Team roster. He played in four games (two starts) where he did not get a basehit in eight official at-bats.
Tom Murphy, a catcher from the University at Buffalo, outdid both Freeman and Mancini. Not only did Murphy clear the Green Monster in batting practice, he hit a home run that counted.
"I was just telling my family, just joking around, ‘I’m going to put one over the Green Monster,’" Murphy said. "But you can never imagine it’s going to happen. It’s surreal."
Leading off the second inning, Murphy turned on a first-pitch fastball from USA starting pitcher Kevin Gausman, but the ball curled foul, bounding hard off a seat below the Coca-Cola sign in left field.
On the next pitch, a slider on the inside half of the plate, Murphy muscled the ball into left-center field – over the Green Monster – and into the back row of seats below the Volvo ad.
"Last night, he said he was going to hit one out in BP just to say he did it," Murphy’s mother, Helen, said.
"To hit it in a game, though," said his father, Tom Murphy Sr., "on a slider pitch, it’s just incredible."
The University of Buffalo is not known for its baseball program, but they may draw more national attention after Tom Murphy is popped next month. Murphy has quietly been moving up draft boards since last summer and while most scouts project him to go in the third round, there are some rumblings that teams could be willing to go get him in the second round to make sure they get him.
As one scout noted to me this spring, "There’s nothing he doesn’t do."
Murphy calls his own games at Buffalo, showing an advanced feel for helping his pitchers work through a lineup multiple times. He has good catch-and-throw skills, including an above-average arm that has helped generate sub-2.0 pop times with regularity.
He has a knack for hitting and he should hit for average at every stop of his career. He’s not just a one-trick pony with hitting ability being his only offensive attribute though, as he also offers the potential for average power with plenty of doubles while spraying the ball from line to line.
Murphy is a very strong right handed hitting catcher, with plus power potential. Last year for Buffalo as a sophomore, Murphy was named MAC player of the year when he hit 10 home runs and 16 doubles, with a .384 average. This year he has put up the same home run and doubles totals, but his average has fallen to .306. He has a very powerful swing and the ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact out front, but he tends to use arms more than hands. He is not an all or nothing pull happy guy, though, as he drives the ball well to both gaps. As the comparison below shows, he does not project to hit for much average at the next level, but his plus raw power, should translate to the next level, as Arencibia’s has.
Murphy, one scout said, is like O'Brien was a year ago: A strong catcher with power playing in a relatively weak conference. The power and strength are legit, though some are worried about his ability to make consistent enough contact to tap into that power on a regular basis. He's received better grades on his defense overall than O'Brien, with less concern about his ability to stay at the position. If a team thinks he can hit enough, it'll take him in the first couple of rounds as a potential everyday backstop. If not, he still could be a good right-handed power-hitting backup.
Murphy earned Mid-American Conference Player of the Year honors despite the Bulls' 3-22 conference record, after hitting .384/.446/.626 with 10 home runs and 44 RBIs as a sophomore. His spring put him on scouts' radar screens, but his summer ensured they will flock to Buffalo next year, as one talent evaluator said Murphy could go in the top three rounds of the draft. Two swings of the bat in a showcase against Team USA and Louisiana State flame-throwing righty Kevin Gausman at Fenway Park opened eyes: Murphy ripped Gausman's first-pitch fastball about 400 feet foul off the Coca-Cola sign down the left-field line, then he stayed back on Gausman's sharp slider and launched it over the Green Monster for an estimated 450 feet, showing off his compact stroke and plus raw power. A few days later, Murphy signed to play a five-game series with Team USA against Team Japan. When he returned to Holyoke, Murphy continued raking to the tune of .291/.364/.575. An athletic 6-foot-1, 210-pound backstop, Murphy ran a 6.75-second 60-yard dash at the NECBL all-star game. He is a good receiver with a solid-average arm, routinely turning out 1.9-second pop times, though his throwing needs refinement as the ball sails on him at times. Scouts and managers alike raved about Murphy's work ethic, and Holyoke general manager Kirk Fredriksson, who recruited Strasburg in 2007, called Murphy the league's best catching prospect during his 15 years.