Name: Sean Patrick Coughlin
Draft: 13th Round, 2007
Position: Catcher/First Base
Weight: 215 lbs
History: Sean Coughlin put up outstanding numbers at Kentucky along with his one-year younger teammate, Collin Cowgill, and was able to parlay that success into a 13th-round selection in the 2007 draft. A catcher with his offensive prowess would normally go higher, but his defensive skills were questionable at the time.
Statistics Courtesy of The Baseball Cube
In Coughlin's pro debut, he didn't look quite as promising offensively. He struck out once every 3.5 at-bats and slugged under .400 using a wooden bat. He then suffered an injury in that fall's Instructional League that required knee surgery. After beginning the 2008 season in extended spring training rehabbing that knee, Coughlin joined South Bend and made an immediate impact, cranking out six homers in his first 15 games while batting .352.
"I was just coming up here, trying to make a good impression, help these guys," Coughlin told FutureBacks.com last summer. "I don't want to say [the Silver Hawks] were struggling, but they were kinda down. I was just trying to come up and give them a little bit of a spark and be part of the crew."
Coughlin surely did provide that spark, as the Hawks recovered from a dismal April to become Eastern Division Champions. He went through some cold stretches himself, however. It took Coughlin another 20 games to hit his seventh homer after his hot start, and he hit just .220 for the month of June.
"Just little things with my swing have been going wrong when I've been cold, [such as] getting to anxious at the plate," Coughlin explained. "The biggest thing when I've been hot is being nice and relaxed in the box and not trying to do too much."
Coughlin rebounded to hit five homers and drive in 22 during the month of August, and was named to both the midseason and postseason Midwest League All-Star teams. That and a good Instructional League in which he split time between catcher and first base was enough to earn him a spot on Visalia's roster to begin 2009, and his performance there shot him to Double-A Mobile on May 13th.
Batting and Power: Mark Haley and Francisco Morales, the manager and hitting coach at South Bend, agreed that Coughlin improved more over the course of that 2008 season than any other Silver Hawks player.
"He's basically the real pure power guy," explained Haley. "What happened was, pitchers started to identify him as the one guy [in the Silver Hawks' lineup] that can hurt you. So they pitched around him and weren't throwing him very good pitches. He started swinging at them, then he made an adjustment, now his pitch selection and identification have made him more patient. He's gotten a lot better."
Coughlin's batting stance is unique, as he holds the bat handle at head level and points the barrel almost directly at the opposing pitcher's head. Starting his swing from that position gives him extra momentum and power, but it also makes the swing long and reduces the consistency of his contact. Coughlin is big and strong, and probably doesn't need the extra momentum in order to muscle baseballs out of the park. The Diamondbacks face an interesting decision on whether or not to tinker with that stance that works well for him at times, but doesn't seem to give him enough consistency as a hitter.
Coughlin has already made the adjustment to go the other way more. When he first began playing in the D-backs organization, Coughlin pulled almost everything. He still pulls the ball more often than not, but now rather than grounding out to second on pitches away and offspeed stuff, he sometimes stays back and drives the ball to left field.
He's also learned to hit left-handed pitching better. He had not homered against a southpaw in his first 58 games of 2008 before breaking out with two on July 10th.
"I've been working with my hitting coach on keeping my front hip closed against lefties, but once the game starts, my approach is just see the ball, hit the ball," Coughlin remarked after that game.
These are the sorts of adjustments that Coughlin must continue to make if he is going to succeed at the Double-A level.
"Oh, I take a lot of pride in it," Coughlin said of his ability to work well with pitchers. "I think the pitcher-catcher trust is a lot greater now. I've come a long way for the pitch calling from college to pro ball."
In fact, the South Bend pitching staff turned the corner once Coughlin joined the club. He doesn't want to take credit for that, and his coaching staff is wary of giving him too much of the credit for that, but there is no doubt that he has improved in that regard.
"He listens, he executes, and he gets better, better, and better," Haley said. "He's starting to learn pitching patterns and how to execute sequences."
"He had some things to learn, too, as far as calling a game and learning each of the pitchers on the fly," added South Bend pitching coach Erik Sabel. "He's done a really good job. I think he has a good rapport with every one of them and knows what they like to do in certain counts. He's got enough of a fiery streak in him where he'll get on them when he needs to, which is fine with me as long as it's done in the right way. I think he's helped out. He wants to learn the game and he's doing a lot better."
As far as the physical aspects of catching, Coughlin is about average at just about everything. He has a strong arm, and threw out a quarter of the base runners who tried to steal on him last year, but was just 1-for-11 with Visalia . If he tightens up his footwork and quickens his release, he can become above average in that area. Coughlin won't commit a lot of errors or a lot of passed balls, but he also won't make many exceptional blocks behind the dish, either. He's perhaps a touch slow out of the crouch to field bunts and popups.
Base Running and Speed: Not applicable. Coughlin is no threat whatsoever on the base paths, either to steal a base or to leg out a triple. In fact, he has yet to do either as a professional. To his credit, he gets out of the batter's box quickly considering his big swing and leaden legs.
Major League Clone: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Prediction: It's difficult to say whether Coughlin will wind up as a catcher or a first baseman at this point. If he makes a couple of adjustments at the plate, he could prove valuable enough offensively to protect at first base. If he continues to improve his defense, he could be the valuable left-handed hitting portion of a catcher platoon. In the unlikely event that he makes big strides on both sides of the ball, he could develop into an All-Star catcher.
Timetable: Most scouts and analysts outside of the organization still do not know who Coughlin is, but his recent promotion to Double-A speaks volumes about how the Diamondbacks feel about him. Coughlin likely won't get a serious look at big league playing time until 2011, but if he can sustain one of his patented hot streaks at the plate at the upper minor league levels, he might just force the organization to give him his shot sooner.