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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Random Prospect Sunday - Tanner Murphy

The Braves have a catching problem and that's pretty new.

Since the mid-90's, they could count on Javy Lopez or Brian McCann behind the plate with only Johnny Estrada separating the two. But once McCann left for the Bronx after the 2013 season, the Braves tried Evan Gattis for a year and found his ability to be a catcher nearly non-existent. Next, they handed the job to Christian Bethancourt, but the young catcher struggled with the bat, which wasn't all that unexpected. Reports of work ethic issues was thoroughly disappointing, though. And if you buy into the rumors, the Braves are at least showing interest in finding a long-term option behind the plate from outside the organization.

Elsa | Getty Images Sport
Atlanta has a couple of interesting catching prospects, though neither have set the world on fire this year. Jose Briceno was picked up with Chris O'Dowd in the David Hale trade with the Rockies. He was expected to build on a .812 OPS with Asheville in the South Atlantic League last year, but has slumped to a sub-.600 OPS with Carolina. Braves are still hopeful, but he's six years into his career and age-appropriate for the level. Another catcher and today's Random Prospect, Tanner Murphy, is the other prospect. A right-handed hitter out of Malden High School in Missouri, Murphy is the only other catcher that we even refer to as a prospect in the Braves system who has made his full season debut. Sadly, his OPS is slightly worse than Briceno.

Born on February 27, 1995, Murphy's parents was born as the strike forced replacement players to join the Braves spring training camp. Anyone else remember old Cubs catcher H├ęctor Villanueva playing for the Braves as a scab? Anyway, Murphy became a rising prospect ahead of the 2013 draft. He was on his way to Southern Illinois before the Braves picked him in the 4th round. He became the second catcher the Braves picked that year behind Victor Caratini. Murphy hit a cool .600 with 10 homers his senor year and was good on the mound with a fastball capable of hitting the low 90's, but he was considered a much nicer catching prospect. By the way, the 2013 draft has yet to produce a major leaguer and Murpny and Alec Grosser might be the best - and only - prospects. Ugly year for Frank Wren's scouting department.

Murphy would sign for $250,000 and join the Gulf Coast League as an 18 year-old. He didn't homer in 32 games, nor hit that well, but he did do a good job of getting on base and swiped five bases. But with minor league catchers, it's just as important for them to hold up behind the plate and show you something. He cut down 42% of basestealers in 2013.  With Danville the following year, the average didn't come up much, but the plate discipline improved and he finished the season with an OBP of .361. He also flashed some pop throughout the season, picking up eight doubles and five homeruns in 50 games. While the caught stealing rate tumbled, he handled his second year as a professional catcher.

The Braves rewarded Murphy with an invitation to spring training. Now, most catchers get invited to spring training - there are a lot of pitchers and without catchers, they are just throwing to the screen. But, Murphy was just 20 years-old and yet to play in his 100th professional game so that made the invite a little notable. Former Braves catcher and current bullpen coach Eddie Perez immediately highlighted Murphy as a guy to watch. About Murphy, he said, "you know something good is going to happen." Murphy would go on to receive just one at-bat during spring training before being reassigned.

A lot was hoped for Murphy this season, but Murphy managed just two singles in his first 36 at-bats. Since this, he's only been moderately better, though he opened July by ending a homerless draught. In his favor is that of his 193 at-bats this season, only 13 have come against pitchers that were younger than Murphy. That gives us some perspective that he might be struggling to adjust against pitchers more advanced than him. Not every prospect hits the South Atlantic League at a .331 rate as an 18 year-old like Ozhaino Albies. Some prospects need time.

Atlanta would love nothing more for Murphy to finish strong. It would allow them to progress Murphy to Carolina to open 2016. Without a strong finish, Murphy looks like a good bet to repeat Rome next year. Murphy's not really being pushed by rising talent from Danville. The next catching prospect, Lucas Herbert, just suffered a torn meniscus three games into his professional career so chances are that Herbert won't be nipping at Murphy's heels just yet. Still, it would be good for Murphy to get going and finish better than he has played so far this year. I'm sure Murphy would also like that. You can follow Murphy on Twitter and also learn more about him at his own website.

Recent Random Prospects
Britt Robertshaw
Ozhaino Albies
Jorge Zavala

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