Most Dodger fans will remember Carlos Santana – some more than others. They will recall that the switch hitting catcher was most likely the best catching prospect the Dodgers had since Mike Piazza. Even more so they will recall Santana was traded to the Cleveland Indians for third baseman Casey Blake just before the trade deadline in 2008. Santana has had a good career with the Indians averaging over 20 home runs and 70 runs batted in each season since he joined the Indians. Interestingly enough he now is more of a corner infielder playing most of this season at third base and first base.
Dodger fans are waiting for the next Santana or a young catcher with a can’t miss label as part of his resume. We are watching Kyle Farmer, the Dodgers’ eighth round selection in 2013 and Spencer Navin an eleventh round pick in the same draft. Farmer, after an impressive start with the Great Lakes Loons has struggled offensively with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes hitting only .206 in 18 games in the California League. Navin, two years younger than Farmer, has been average at best in 2014 with the Loons. In 36 games he is hitting .243 with no home runs and eight runs batted in.
In the lower minors two other young catchers are garnering some attention. Both were signed as free agents by the Dodgers under the international signing regulations of MLB.
Eighteen year old Julian Leon has burst upon the scene perhaps in an unexpected way considering this is only his second year of professional baseball. Signed by the Dodgers in 2012 Leon had a very ordinary year with the Arizona League Dodgers in 2013 hitting .247 in 26 games. Perhaps an indication of his potential was revealed by the seven extra base hits he had among his 20 hits on the season.
The 5’11” Leon is built like a catcher at 215 pounds, a build somewhat reminiscent of former all-star catcher Pudge Rodriguez. Born in Hermosillo, Mexico the right-handed Leon was signed by the now famous Dodger scout Mike Brito in July of 2012. Brito described the then sixteen year old as: “Catcher, strong, extraordinary power, has an above average arm.”
In 2014 Leon began the season with the Ogden Raptors of the Pioneer League and has appeared in 29 of the team’s 31 games. He leads the team in at bats, hits, doubles and total bases. His batting average of .333 is the eighth best in the league as is his OBP of .388 and his OPS of .907. He has had four multiple hits games in his past seven appearances and has hit both left-handed (.346) and right-handed (.329) pitching equally well.
Julian Leon was signed at the same time as teammate Lenix Osuna, the eighteen year old son of former Dodger reliever Antonio Osuna. Logan White was excited about the international signings and seemed especially pleased with landing the young catcher. Said White: “Leon was highly regarded as one of the best catching prospects on the International market and he should follow a long list of quality catchers to come from Mexico.” Los Angeles has previously had three Mexican-born catchers, including Sergio Robles (1976), Alex Trevino (1986-87) and Noe Munoz (1995).
Another youngster is already making his mark as a catcher with the Dominican League Dodgers of the Dominican Summer League. Just turned seventeen, Hendrik Clementina is likewise leading his team in hitting. In 30 games he has a team leading 35 hits and a .313 batting average. He has shown some power for a 6’ 165 lb right-handed hitter with nine extra base hits including two home runs. Clementina is from Willemstad, Curacao, the home town of Dodger closer Kenley Jansen.
Although he has cooled off in July after a torrid June, Clementina was named to the National League squad for the Dominican Summer League All-Star game to be held on Sunday, July 20th at the Cleveland Indians complex in Boca Chica.
Although it a bit early to pin a Carlos Santana label on these young catchers, it is never too early to dream. I’m more than sure that Julian and Hendrik have their dreams waiting to play out.