Grayson County College, ever heard of it? It might be reasonably familiar to Angels fans since the Angels seem to enjoy drafting pretty decent players out of there. Maybe you've heard the name Jordan Walden, or maybe, just maybe, John Lackey?
A name from Grayson County College that is starting to become familiar with Angels fans is a name we enjoy talking about, Abel Baker. He has everything you want in a catching prospect; a good bat, good defense behind the plate, good communication with pitchers, an explosive arm. He's the real deal package.
"Baker makes it easy on the mound. He knows what to do to calm you down and he's not a guy you can blame your mistakes on. We have a really good connection and I prefer to have him behind the plate probably more than anyone else."
Once again, a reminder we don't need, but we're going to explain anyways... the most important part of being a catcher is your communication with pitchers and ability to call a game. As one of Baker's teammates from the past few seasons told us in the quote above, Baker does a pretty good job of that.
More than a few pitchers have told us that Baker is a calming catcher, and it also helps when is defensively sound behind the plate. Balls in the dirt tend to be swallowed up well by Baker, and his only flaw is slight "laziness on pop flys," according to some scouts.
As for his arm, it's a loaded gun. Opposite of Bandy, who relies on his quick release, Baker has a rocket of an arm that he uses to his ability to throw runners out which he's done a darn good job at over his minor league career.
When it comes to Baker's offensive game, he's picked up some habits of recent that have caused him some struggles. He's started to swing a little harder, making it harder to make better contact with the ball, forcing more strikeouts. With that said though, even out of college, Baker hit the ball hard off the bat.
Something we've noticed from Baker that won't necessarily show up in a scouting report is that he has good speed for a catcher. We're not talking about "green light" on the base paths kind of speed, but he definitely has above average speed for a catcher, and has the ability to break open that speed for some extra base hits and maybe, a pair of steals each season.
Right out of the 2011 Draft where he selected in the seventh round, the Angels sent Baker right to Rookie Ball and the Orem Owlz. Baker showed that he was possibly better than what everyone expected, putting up big offensive and defensive numbers. Over 48 games, he had a .306/.406/.471 tear at the plate, which is beyond good as a catcher starting at the professional level. Baker also showed his natural talent to hit the ball hard hitting four balls out of the park. He also showed speed that no one knew about, stealing a base and hitting for a pair of triples.
Baker slowed down in 2012, when he hit Single-A ball. A .246/.305/.352 line was the ending result for the season, where he tried to add some extra pop to his swing, resulting in more strikeouts, but higher power numbers.
Baker didn't pick up much in High-A in 2013 in the hitter friendly California League, despite being in the pitcher friendly Inland Empire 66ers home ballpark for 70 games. He finished the season with a career high, 91 strikeouts, but impressed us once again with his speed, hitting four triples, an uncommon number for most catchers.
EXPECTED IN THE FUTURE:
Abel Baker had some struggles in the California League, but it shouldn't be enough to keep him from Double-A out of Spring Training in 2014. Catchers do take more time to develop, but there aren't a whole lot of flaws in Baker's game. Despite being sixth in line on the depth chart for the Angels, he should be on his way up come 2014, and bump himself even further up come 2015. At the pace he's at, Baker could be a Major Leaguer as early as 2016.
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