Stats current as of 4/10
Kyle Teel’s MLB.com Scouting grades:
Hit: 50 | Power: 45 | Run: 50 | Arm: 65 | Field: 50 | Overall: 50
University of Virginia catcher Kyle Teel is the most pro-ready player at the position in college baseball. According to MLB Pipeline’s ranking of 2023 Draft prospects, Davidson’s Michael Carico (ranked 61st) is the only other pure collegiate catcher in the Top 100. Teel is ranked 28th; only prep prospect Blake Mitchell ranks higher (13th).
The Mahwah, New Jersey native has received accolades throughout his collegiate career. After back-to-back seasons on the USA Baseball Collegiate National Team, he collected 2023 Preseason All-American honors as well as a spot on the 2023 Buster Posey Award (given to the nation’s best catcher) watch list prior to the start of his junior year.
Now halfway through that third season in Charlottesville, those superlatives are proving to have been well-conceived. Coming into his most recent April 11 game against the Richmond Spiders, Teel was slashing .445/.510/.672 with six homers, 33 RBI and three more walks (16) than strikeouts (13).
It’s not like he’s just playing poor competition outside of the midweek games against mid-majors, either; he’s in a power conference on a bonafide contender. Virginia is ranked seventh in the country with a 28-4 record. The only ACC team ahead of them, and the only non-SEC team in the top six, is Wake Forest. The Hoos are 21-0 at home, undefeated in non-conference play, and have scored double digit runs in a third of their games.
Teel’s 1.182 OPS is good for second on the team behind fellow MLB Draft prospect Jake Gelof’s 1.257 OPS. In the aforementioned Richmond game, which is finishing up at the time of writing, Gelof hit his 38th career homer for the Hoos, which is now the program record. In combination with Teel, these two guys represent one of the best 3-hole/4-hole punches in college baseball.
Teel’s ongoing 2023 season represents a substantial improvement over a 2022 sophomore slump. After posting a .942 OPS his freshman year, splitting time between catcher and corner outfield, Teel’s production fell to an .841 OPS. It seems, though, that Teel has caught up to the offensive learning curve of a full-time catcher this season.
So, what separates Teel from the rest? Why is he held in such high regard for this upcoming draft? Scouts project Teel’s athleticism and arm to keep him behind the plate. He has the capability to play the outfield and some middle infield, but his arm is too tantalizing to move him from behind the dish.
Plus, I don’t know if you know this, but good offensive catchers are pretty rare in MLB history. Only five players with careers starting after Integration at the position have made the Hall of Fame. On top of that, Teel bats left, so teams are sure to covet him.
In Major League Baseball today, only two established lefty catchers have a career OPS+ of 100 or more: Yasmani Grandal and Omar Narvaez. Young pups Keibert Ruiz and Cal Raleigh’s projection as plus-hitting catchers looks to be coming true. Adley Rutschman will be in a league of his own. Even with these five, MLB still has a lack of quality, off-hand batting backstops.
Teel’s resurgent offensive prowess, in combination with more experience as a full-time, left-handed catcher, should have GMs salivating at his potential. In terms of current player comparisons, what does that potential look like?
Current Prospect Comparison: Patrick Bailey (SFG)
Patrick Bailey’s 2020 Scouting Grades:
Hit: 40 | Power: 50 | Run: 35 | Arm: 55 | Field: 55 | Overall: 45
Of the four comparisons I will make in this article, this pairing seems the closest. Patrick Bailey is nearly the same build as Teel; both are just over six-foot and weigh around 200 pounds. Bailey is a switch hitter, and while nowadays Teel hits only from the left side, there are videos circulating of him taking cuts from the other side of the batter’s box.
When it comes to the two players’ swings, Bailey’s has become more similar to Teel’s over time. He had a very pronounced leg kick at NC State, but as you can see from the swing recently, Bailey has abbreviated it in a similar way to Teel.
In terms of bat profile, Bailey and Teel are both average in contact and power potential. Grades between 40 and 50 tend to fluctuate a lot, so those minor differences between their scouting reports aren’t too big of a deal. Bailey also showed a similar level of plate discipline in college which has moved from a 50/50 split between walks and strikeouts to a 40/60 split in the minor leagues.
Bailey has stuck at catcher through his time in the minor leagues, but he’s only average at the position. He doesn’t have Teel’s arm or positional versatility, either. Though Teel has started at catcher for most of his time at Virginia, he could play a role like Eric Haase does for Detroit in that he can use his rocket arm to mow down baserunners from the corner outfield.
This comparison isn’t the most flattering. Although Bailey put up similar collegiate OPS numbers in the same conference as Teel, the ACC, he has struggled to move through the minors at a fast pace. Bailey is now 24 years old in AA; still hitting well, but leaving much to be desired as the former 13th overall pick in 2020.
Floor Comparison: Tony Wolters
Career Stats: .235/.321/.314 | 60 OPS+ | 7 HR
If Teel loses the ability to hit the baseball in the move from college to the minor leagues, he’ll play like Tony Wolters. Wolters has proved to be a bad hitter across seven different seasons in the majors, but he’s stuck around for his defense and his handedness. Not really for his handedness I guess, he has a career .642 OPS against righties.
The reason he carved out a spot in a platoon in Colorado was for his arm, throwing out 39% of baserunners in 2017, which was good for sixth in MLB. He was also able to play some middle infield in a pinch, playing 34 games at second, third, or short. Still, though, if Kyle Teel’s MLB career ends up like Wolters’, it will be an immense disappointment.
Baseline Comparison: Omar Narvaez
Career Stats: .258/.343/.385 | 100 OPS+ | 51 HR
Omar Narvaez is a left-handed catcher that prioritizes getting on-base, whether by hitting for contact or by walking to first, and has limited power. Sound familiar? I think Narvaez is the closest MLB offensive comparison to Kyle Teel. He doesn’t have Teel’s arm strength, but they have similar batting profiles.
Throughout his career, Narvaez has reached a batting average around .270, while ending up with an OBP around 80 points higher. That kind of discipline already presents a good floor for a young catcher. His 22-homer season coincided with the 2019 juiced ball, hence Narvaez only having surpassed double digit homers one other time in his career (2021; 11).
Narvaez has made an All Star team, played for contenders, and should be able to stick around the bigs for a few more years, having already appeared in eight seasons. For a team drafting Teel in the first round, a career like Omar Narvaez should be the expectation.
Ceiling Comparison: Darren Daulton
Career Stats: .245/.357/.427 | 114 OPS+ | 137 HR
I’d call this comparison a realistic ceiling. If I wanted it to be the absolute ceiling for Teel, I would have picked Buster Posey. However, Daulton fits for much of what we’ve said about Teel, and he’s an interesting player who passed away far too soon.
Darren was a slow starter, not becoming a full-time player until his age-27 season, and even then, the former 1980 25th round high school draft pick, wouldn’t hit above league average until the season after.
Allowed to find his footing on some bad, late 80’s Phillies teams, Daulton broke out in 1992, slashing .270/.385/.482, finishing sixth in MVP voting. He dropped his OPS+ from 156 to 136 the following season, but that was still good enough for an All Star nod, culminating in a surprise 1993 World Series appearance for Philadelphia.
Alas, as a late-blooming catcher, Daulton wasn’t going to stay in prime form much longer. 1992 and 1993 were the only two seasons Daulton registered over 20 home runs. While he still was an above league average hitter entering his late-thirties, he couldn’t play catcher anymore, eventually hanging up the spikes after a midseason trade in 1997 saw him land with the eventual World Champion Marlins.
I’m not arguing that Teel will have Daulton’s exact career. As a player with first round talent, I think Teel would flame out instead spending years making incremental progress before becoming a starter. He’s too talented not to be a big contributor before the age of 28 if he’s going to end up being a contributor at all.
Darren Daulton’s peak is what the peak of Kyle Teel’s career would look like. In ‘92/’93, Daulton simultaneously found his power and still showcased preternatural ability to get on-base, with those two seasons ranking 35th and 24th, respectively, among all full-season, post-integration catchers’ on-base percentages.
As seen with most of these comparisons, Daulton doesn’t have Teel’s arm, but he was a version, in his prime, of what Teel could become offensively. Daulton might not be a Hall of Famer, but he’s a Philly fan favorite after a career of clutch hits and a late-career surge. Rest easy, Dutch, I think whoever drafts Kyle Teel would be lucky to get a player like you.
There’s still another half-season of college baseball to go, but it looks like Kyle Teel will be one of the first catchers off the board in the 2023 MLB Draft. The team that selects him will receive a versatile player that can be molded into whatever the player development staff sees fit. I’ll be watching his career with great interest.
Categories: 2023 Prospects, Articles, MLB Draft
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