Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Drafted in the 27th round out of UC Santa Barbara last summer by the Colorado Rockies, catcher Campbell Wear did what he was supposed to do with the rookie level Grand Junction Rockies: handle the pitching staff, play every few days in the club's catcher rotation, and be productive enough at the plate along the way to tread water.
The 22-year-old was a curious draft choice by Colorado, considering he didn't start at UCSB until his senior season, and even then he only slashed .192/.247/.251 in 54 games for the Gauchos. Knowing that, and the often absurd offense that typically comes out of college baseball, even getting drafted should tell you a bit about Wear's defensive abilities, to say the least.
Interestingly, though, Wear actually did markedly better at the plate with the rookie Rockies on the Western Slope last summer than he did in college. In the Pioneer League, he slashed .256/.323/.337 across 27 games (86 at-bats). Like most in the Rockies' system, Wear didn't walk much (just eight free passes against 33 strikeouts), and he didn't show much power (just four doubles and one home run, with a .660 OPS), but his batting average and on-base percentage are in ranges productive enough to warrant a second look behind the plate this summer.
Wear is years away from being on the big league radar, if ever, and yet he has an interesting comparison already in the system. That a Rockies catcher would come out of a late round from a southern California college program, take a long road to the big leagues, and rely more on defense than offense is, well, a good way to describe Dustin Garneau's career. Like Wear, Garneau was taken late (19th round, 2009), didn't hit overly well in college (he slashed .262/.388/.410 in hitters' environments at Cal State Fullerton), and took a long (seven year) road through the minor leagues.
Obviously, the deck is stacked against a player like Wear from this point forward, but the precedent of a guy like Garneau is there. However unlikely it may be, it's clearly not something to which the Rockies are adverse should the 22-year-old prove himself at a full-season level this summer.
Another interesting wrinkle in Wear's spring in Scottsdale is the group in which the Rockies have him placed: the catcher finds himself working out alongside Dom Nunez, Wilfredo Rodriguez, and Robbie Perkins, all of whom have pretty significant full season experience at Low-A Asheville and High-A Modesto. (Wear, of course, has yet to play past rookie level Grand Junction.) Spring workout groups could mean very little—or they could mean very much!—but either way, it'd be interesting to see if the Rockies want to test Wear out with a big jump this summer, considering his experience with a major college program.
Here's some scouting video I shot of Wear working out at Rockies camp last week in Scottsdale. In the batting practice clips, Wear is hitting off the breaking ball machine and trying to go to the opposite field. (So as you watch, that's why his hips don't always pull through the swing.)
In the regrettably brief intrasquad clip, he takes a four-pitch walk against minor league reliever John Sheehan. He came to the plate later in the scrimmage, too, but it was an at-bat I missed filming because I was interviewing pitcher Ryan Castellani. (I'm just one man, OK? Castellani's scouting video and interview are coming soon, by the way.)
Obviously, the breaking ball machine makes it difficult to get a sense of Wear's full swing since, by design, he's not trying to pull his hips all the way through with any sort of authority to his pull (power) side. Nevertheless, Wear's stance and approach at the plate seem pretty conventional. He's slightly open to start, and ends slightly closed after his stride, with a pretty conventional swing path and plane that leaves his bat head in the zone a long time.
Seeing him take just a few rounds of batting practice, he seems to me to stay on top of the ball fairly well, as his stance and swing mechanics don't lend themselves to, say, consistently dropping his back elbow in an attempt to get lift on the ball. That being said, you can sort of see why he slugged .337 in rookie ball; while his hip action shows it can activate and drive through on certain pitches even during this specific BP round, a relatively upright stance and conventional swing most likely leave him a predominantly singles hitter.
But positional context matters! As a catcher, especially a defense-first catcher, hitting singles and doing just enough offensively could keep Wear in the game a long, long time.
"That’s where I want to be, not necessarily where I’m hitting homers and doubles, but to where I’m at least a productive out at the plate," Garneau told me last week about this exact topic. It's something a catcher like Wear should probably be thinking about long-term for his professional career.
The journey will probably be a long one for Campbell Wear, especially comparing his likely career path alongside a bona fide prospect in teammate Dom Nunez, but expect the 22-year-old to begin 2016 with the Asheville Tourists. From there, knowing the winding path of men like Garneau ahead of him, your guess is as good as mine.
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