Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gorman 'Griff' Erickson, the Dodgers' best catching prospect

When Ned Colletti foolishly and inexplicably traded Trayvon Robinson on Sunday, one of the statements he made was the Dodgers needed catching prospects.
"We needed catching. You can move somebody to the outfield. You can move somebody to the infield. You can move guys around the outfield, you can move guys around the infield. But you can't move somebody behind the plate who has not been behind the plate or is not going to take a long time behind the plate. And we were in a tough spot and needed catching and feel we got a good one with (Tim) Federowicz."
Aside from the first part being so incredibly inaccurate and wrong (Russell Martin, Carlos Santana, Luke May -- just to name some recent examples), Colletti apparently hasn't been watching Gorman Erickson.

The 23-year-old began the season at Rancho Cucamonga with another catching prospect (if you can call a 25-year-old in High-A a prospect) -- J.T. Wise. He shared time with Wise in the beginning before taking the majority of the PT, pushing Wise to play a lot of first base.

Erickson was a 15th-round draft pick in 2006 by the Dodgers. He started in the Gulf Coast League in 2007, not doing much in 50 at-bats. He even got a one-game, one-at-bat promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. He repeated the GCL in 2008, putting up a .247/.333/.361 line in 30 games. He again got a one-game promotion to Vegas, going 0-for-5.

In 2009, he played in Pioneer League with Ogden and put up a solid line: .305/.378/.482 with five home runs. Still, not many saw him as a viable, legitimate prospect. In 2010, he played in Low-A with Great Lakes -- and he regressed: .215/.309/.310. The good thing is, he always showed a willingness to work the count and take a walk, which shows in his higher-than-expected on-base percentage (compared to his batting average).

Coming into the 2011 season, Erickson did not make my Top 30 prospect list. He didn't make Baseball America's Top 30. I'd be surprised if he made anyone's Top 30.

However, I'm coming around on Griff.

With Rancho, he put up a good line: .305/.408/.491, with six home runs and a 41/42 BB/K ratio. However, at 23, he was a little old for the competition. He earned a midseason promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. He isn't making as much contact in his first 20-plus games in the Southern League, but he's hitting for more power. He hit his sixth home run of the season for the Lookouts, matching his High-A total (a notorious hitter's league).

The best part is, he did it a third of the at-bats.

With Rancho: 6 HR in 226 ABs (37.7 HR/AB)
With Chattanooga: 6 HR in 81 ABs (13.5 HR/AB)

That's reason to be excited. Now, the Dodgers still don't have a legitimate, long-term catching prospect. Tim Federowicz is a glove-first guy who is likely not going to hit enough to be a regular. Erickson, however, has the chance to hit enough to stick.

He's only played 22 games for Chattanooga, so I wouldn't get too terribly excited... yet. Let's see how he finishes the season.

I'd like to see him start at Double- or Triple-A next season with a midseason call-up a possibility. On the minor-league depth chart, he's behind Federowicz and A.J. Ellis. But Dioner Navarro and Rod Barajas are free agents after the season and depending what the Dodgers do, Erickson could be forced into action sooner than expected.

The Dodgers have a history of developing long-term catching solutions: Roy Campanella, Johnny Roseboro, Steve Yeager, Mike Scioscia, Mike Piazza, Paul Lo Duca, Martin, etc. It'd only be appropriate if Erickson is the next in line.

Plus, he has a great nickname: Griff. That's a lot better than FexEx (Federowicz).

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