1/22/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Ohlman worth watching as he climbs Minors ladder
Orioles catching prospect has some pop in bat, plays solid defense behind plate
By Bernie Pleskoff / MLB.com
There are many reasons we see players in the Arizona Fall League. Perhaps a player missed time with an injury and has missed at-bats or innings to recover. Perhaps the team was required to fill that position as part of the league-wide position requirements. Or perhaps the club just wants to see the player against good competition.
Regardless of the Orioles' motivation for sending catcher Michael Ohlman to the Arizona Fall League, I'm glad they did. I had never seen him play before.
At 6-foot-4, Ohlman is tall for a catcher. He is slightly built for his height, at only 205 pounds. Ohlman can certainly stand to carry some more weight -- especially for catching in the humidity of Camden Yards.
Ohlman attended Lakewood Ranch High School in Bradenton, Fla. He hit .597 with three home runs, four triples, five doubles and 21 RBIs during his senior year. After high school, the O's selected Ohlman in the 11th round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. He has shown improvement both offensively and defensively in his four full seasons of Minor League ball.
Ohlman, who is No. 14 on the Orioles' Top 20 Prospects list, has endured his share of adversity and has grown from difficult times in his past. Brett Wagner and Josh Rogers, two very close friends of Ohlman, were killed in an automobile accident on Christmas in 2011. Ohlman still honors their memory with wristbands of the two friends' favorite colors.
On March 6, 2012, Ohlman injured his right shoulder when his truck was cut off by another vehicle as he was on his way to the mall after a workout at the team's Spring Training facility. One month later, Ohlman was suspended 50 games for violating baseball's banned substance regulations.
It would appear, however, adversity is behind him. Ohlman has a chance to be a Major League catcher with a loud bat and an ability to play average defense.
Ohlman was recently added to Baltimore's 40-man roster. He is one of four catchers. It means Ohlman is on the club's radar, and he was protected from being claimed in the 2013 Rule 5 Draft in early December. However, there is room for improvement on both sides of the ball.
Being such a big guy, Ohlman doesn't have the quickest feet, and he looks a bit awkward moving that large frame to stop balls in the dirt. It comes with his size. He will have to continue to improve his blocking and footwork. Ohlman's arm is average. I did, however, like the way he took charge of the game and provided good leadership with solid game management.
The real plus with Ohlman comes from his offense. This past season at Class A Advanced Frederick, Ohlman hit 13 home runs and drove in 53 runs. They were both career highs. He went to the plate 424 times and collected 56 walks. Ohlman struck out 93 times, but those free passes were meaningful, as he scored 61 runs. He hit .313, his best as a professional.
Ohlman had great success against left-handed pitching last season. He hit .364 against southpaws, but he wasn't too shabby against righties either. Ohlman delivered a .302 batting average against right-handed pitching. Ten of his homers came against righties.
Defensively, Ohlman threw out 29 percent of the runners trying to steal in 2013 at Frederick. He had eight passed balls.
The O's have a history of tall catchers. Going back to 6-foot-3, 205-pound Gus Triandos, Baltimore has had bigger-than-life backstops. Current catcher Matt Wieters is 6-foot-5 and weighs 240 pounds. Ohlman fits. His frame is almost identical to that of Triandos, who died March 28, 2013. Seen as an outstanding catcher who was named to four All-Star squads, Triandos had a lifetime batting average of .244 in 13 seasons.
The game was different when Triandos played, but Ohlman has some of the same pop in his bat and perhaps even more hitting ability. Wieters' lifetime average is .255 after five seasons.
Ohlman is worth watching as he progresses through the Orioles' system. If he can improve his defense and continue to hit with some pop in his bat, he'll force some decisions regarding his future.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.