Projecting Banfield is interesting study

Projecting Banfield is interesting study


Former MLB catcher J.P. Arencibia offers insights into how to evaluate Marlins catching prospect Will Banfield

By Joe Frisaro/Man On Second Baseball

JUPITER, Fla. – What to make of Will Banfield is one of the more interesting topics for the Marlins’ fan base.

The 21-year-old catching prospect is so advanced defensively, he would certainly have Gold Glove potential if he develops into an everyday player. But that isn’t a sure bet because of questions, and they’re fair, as to whether he will hit enough to be a regular.

To me, at worst, Banfield promises to have a lengthy big league career based solely on his catching abilities, and defensive skills that are truly elite.

For that reason, I argue that Banfield being ranked as Miami’s No. 30 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, is at least 10 spots too low. Granted, the Marlins have a deep system, and Banfield hasn’t exactly lit it up thus far since being a Competitive Balance Round B selection out of Brookwood (Ga.) High School in 2018.

Banfield signed with the Marlins, turning down a collegiate opportunity at Vanderbilt University, where he would have been a college teammate of JJ Bleday, Miami’s No. 2 prospect, and ranked 20th on Pipeline’s Top 100 list.

Foremost, let me state, that I have great respect for the prospect rankings, and those who do them. They do an amazing job forming their lists, and often make correct calls. These ratings create buzz, and publicity for players who have yet to make their mark in the big leagues. But rankings, it should be reminded, are not an exact science, and catching tends be an underrated position in the eyes of the sport. That’s because of the weight placed on offensive ability.

Currently on Pipeline’s Top 100 list are nine catchers, including Adley Rutschman, No. 2 overall, and Joey Bart, No. 23. Those two had the benefit of collegiate development.

Banfield was straight out of high school, and he turned 21 in November. Rutschman, the first overall pick in 2019, is 23, and Bart, taken second overall in 2018, turned 24 in December.

To get an expert opinion on Banfield’s development, Man On Second Baseball interviewed former big league catcher, J.P. Arencibia, who will be part of Marlins radio and TV broadcasts this season.

“I heard about Banfield, even when I was at the University of Tennessee, volunteering,” Arencibia said. “They had told that this guy was the best catcher they had seen in a long, long time.

“They were like, dude, this guy can throw rockets. He catches unbelievably well. They were saying, this guy defensively is unbelievable, and his bat is a little behind. But defensively, this guy was one of the best defenders.”

Arencibia, a Miami native, was a first-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2007, and he was in the big leagues from 2010-15 with the Blue Jays, Rangers and Rays.

Arencibia gives a really in-depth, detailed breakdown on what makes Banfield stand out defensively.

“You can have flexibility, but unless you cut the dude’s hip flexors off, you might not be as flexible,” Arencibia said. “So that’s where Banfield makes a difference, because the guy is obviously really, really good. He already comes with an insanely good skill set of receiving balls, blocking balls, throwing the ball. Now, it’s learning the [other things].

“It’s almost like, he doesn’t have as much to learn on the defensive side, so he can learn the mental side of approaching the game as a catcher, and getting the experience of: this pitcher is doing this; this pitcher is doing that, and this hitter is doing this.”

As an industry, catching is a really difficult position to measure, because the demands of the position on defense, and handling pitchers. Many organizations put a higher premium on those aspects, and there are so many time demands, that hitting tends to be secondary.

Without a Minor League season in 2020, Banfield’s first full season of professional ball came in 2019, and he hit .199/.252/.310 with nine home runs and 55 RBIs in 101 games. In 140 total pro games, his slash line is .209/.266/.328 with 12 homers, 73 RBIs in 527 at-bats. Banfield did continue his development in 2020, being part of the workouts at the alternate training site in Jupiter.

The Marlins feel there is power potential for Banfield at the plate, but how his overall numbers look remains to be seen.

For a prospect like Banfield it’s important not to rush him. So his ETA to the big leagues probably is no earlier than 2022, minimally.

Banfield has yet to play as far as High A ball.

The fact that he is so elite fielding his position should help his advancement.

“You can teach guys to try to be better catchers, and you can teach guys to try to have softer hands,” Arencibia said. “And you can teach guys to try to get more flexible, and get into certain positions. Obviously, this guy is a super flexible catcher. He can get low, and all these different things. You can try to teach that, but there’s a chance it’s not going to make a difference, because X Catcher might have tough hands. As much as you want to soften his hands up, he can only improve so much.”

With catchers, you never know when they may take that next step.

Arencibia reminds Yan Gomes, now with the Nationals, once was the backup to Atlanta’s Travis d’Arnaud at Double-A in the Blue Jays’ system.

The year was 2011, and the two played for New Hampshire in the Eastern League.  

“Literally, Gomes was d’Arnaud’s backup for the Blue Jays,” Arencibia said. “He was a down the list prospect. Anyone that played with him knew that this guy was a really good player. But he wasn’t as highly rated as Travis d’Arnaud. He was his backup. If you’re a backup usually in Double-A, you’re really not that great. But look where Yan is now.”

MLB catcher batting averages in 2019

Luke Maile is an example of an effective big league backup who was a standout defensive catcher.

“Luke Maile was with the Rays for a while,” Arencibia said. “He barely hit with the Rays, and he’s gone on to have quite a few years in the big leagues. I’m sure he wasn’t even ranked on the prospect lists. The guy hit a buck 70, but in the big leagues, he learned how to bat a little bit, and be serviceable. What he does behind the plate, he’s a wizard back there. He’s a great game caller. He catches like an absolute rock star.”

On prospect lists, projectability is being taken into account. Yet, for all the hitting prospects who rake in the Minor Leagues, still a majority don’t pan out as big league regulars. Many don’t make it at all. And yet, catchers who have struggled to hit .200, at times enjoy five to 10 year big league careers.

Also remember, J.T. Realmuto was never a Top 100 prospect. Many felt his ceiling was being a serviceable regular.  

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