Drafted in the second round of the 2013 MLB Draft, Gosuke Katoh was thought of as a reach as soon as the Yankees announced their pick. Baseball America ranked him as the 189th best player eligible for the draft, and yet he was taken 66th overall. I wrote about him back in June when he was first drafted, commenting on how surprising it was that the Yankees took him, yet it was clear he had some real talent.
He attended Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, California, and was believed to be heading to UCLA, but, a high draft choice, and the accompanying paycheck, likely changed his mind. In high school he became known as one of the best defensive players in the country, but a weak arm has limited to second base, instead of shortstop. Katoh has spoken about how he modeled his game after Ichiro Suzuki, focusing on contact and using his speed to get on base, even becoming a left-handed hitter to match.
The Yankees seemed pretty pumped to have him, as Damon Oppenheimer, the vice president of amateur scouting, believes that "on our scale, he's an excellent runner with great hand-eye coordination who can hit with some surprising power. He's a really good defender, and someone that excites us."
In his first season as a professional baseball player, Katoh continued to surprise a lot of people, including myself, but in a good way, after he hit .310/.402/.522 with six home runs, four stolen bases, and 25 RBI in 215 plate appearances for the Gulf Coast Yankees. He also had a solid 12.6% walk rate for an 18-year-old, though his 20.5% strikeout rate was a little more realistic. In all, that's a 171 wRC+ over a 50-game span, and much better than I ever expected him to be at any level throughout his career. Defensively, he was equally as impressive, making only four errors in 176 chances over 42 games at second base at a level where most players can't even figure out where the ball is going.
The biggest question is how he will perform in 2014, given a full year and a heightened level of competition. If he continues his line of production into this coming season, Jim Callis of MLB.com believes he could move into the system's top 10.
Definitely. @brothertona: do you think Katoh if he shows what he did in his limited time in the GCL could make the list next year? @Yankees— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) January 20, 2014
Obviously, the biggest concern is regression. We saw what happened with Dante Bichette after his impressive debut at the same age in the same level back in 2011. Katoh was expected to be a slap hitter with some power potential, so better pitchers and better fielders might be able to take advantage of that, since much of his success was at least partially fueled by a .378 BABIP.
There might be a little bit of a snag when it comes to promotions. I would like to see Katoh moved up to Low-A Charleston to start the season, however, that's where fellow second base prospect Angelo Gumbs was demoted to after Rob Refsnyder booted him out of High-A Tampa. If Refsnyder is moved up to Double-A Trenton this season, Gumbs could move back up to Tampa, and then Katoh can be promoted and everyone will be happy. But that might be too aggressive for the Yankees. If they want to go with the conservative approach, they can hold him through extended spring training and then let him play short season ball.
It's possible that the Yankees could try to convert him into a shortstop at some point and see what happens. This could make him extremely valuable and allow him to bypass the conga line of second basemen in front of him. Hopefully they ease him into the position because I'd rather him focus on repeating his hitting performance than worry about where he'll play exceptional defense on the field at this time. If it looks like his arm can make the conversion then they can give him more time at the position as he climbs up the ladder. In 2014, if his hitting is for real, I'd like to see him in Tampa by the end of the year, but we'll see. At 19, he has time.
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