Curt Casali is not positioned well for the Major League Baseball draft. That’s because the Vanderbilt junior has been unable to play his preferred position for the better part of two years.
“I am a catcher, contrary to what many people may think,” he said. “It’s hard when you have two good catchers in front of you right now. I’m willing to work my way up, and I’m happy with my place in the lineup.”
College players are eligible to be drafted after their third season, and several of Vanderbilt’s top contributors in 2010 — such as Casali, pitcher Taylor Hill and first baseman/outfielder Aaron Westlake — fall into that category for this year’s selection process, which takes place Monday through Wednesday.
Recently, the Commodores had some of the most highly regarded players available, with the likes of David Price, Pedro Alvarez and Mike Minor. As of late last week, it was unclear how this year’s group of draft-eligible players stacked up with others throughout the country.
“Usually going into this part of the year, you know from the talk and from talking to scouting directors and scouts about … where the kids would get drafted,” coach Tim Corbin said. “This is one of those years where I don’t have a real good grasp of it. … I just don’t know how our players are lining up.”
None is more perplexing than Casali.
He came to Vanderbilt three years ago to be a catcher, a position pro scouts typically covet, particularly when a prospect is 6-foot-2, 225 pounds and can hit for power.
He led the team in RBIs and tied for the most home runs as a sophomore after having been a backup to Shea Robin (drafted by Houston in 2008) as a freshman. But Casali played first base in 2009 because an injury to the elbow of his throwing arm made it impossible to return the ball to the pitcher 100 times or more per game.
This season, he figured to at least split time with Andrew Giobbi, but a hamstring injury sidelined or limited him for two months. Giobbi led the Southeastern Conference in throwing out base stealers and became one of 16 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, which recognizes the top college catcher.
“Gio is a heck of a catcher,” Casali said. “… I can’t complain about that. We’ve got a good catcher behind the plate, and he deserves to be there.”
Additionally, former walk-on Drew Fann filled the role of backup capably enough that he held onto it even when Casali was healthy.
Thus, Casali settled into the role of designated hitter.
“He understands that a lot of this is something he couldn’t help,” Corbin said. “He got injured, and the injury set him back to the point where he missed almost two months of catching duty — practicing and playing.”
Casali plans to get back behind the plate this summer in the Cape Cod League, one of the top summer showcases for college players. The idea is that he will also play catcher for Vanderbilt next year — unless, of course, a team already has a clear sense of his potential, drafts him and makes him an offer he can’t refuse.
“Whether it happens after your third year or your fourth year, it doesn’t matter,” Casali said. “There’s a lot of different factors that go into [getting drafted]. It’s an honor just to be considered one of the eligible ones.
“To be actually taken by a team … if it happens, great. If not, oh well.”