Kale Emshoff received collegiate interest from multiple baseball programs throughout his time at Calallen High School in Texas.
He visited the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and committed to its baseball program over Grand Canyon University in Arizona. GCU offered better facilities and was a program trending upwards, but Emshoff wanted to work with Little Rock coach Chris Curry, he said.
Curry spent seven years in the professional ranks as a catcher and was drafted four different times as an amateur player. Emshoff believed Curry would develop him into a pro catcher, which is what led him to commit to Little Rock.
The decision has worked out well for Emshoff. After missing all last season with Tommy John surgery, Emshoff bounced back and thrived this season. His production at the plate during an abbreviated season enhanced his stock for this year’s MLB draft.
Emshoff is one of the top college catchers in this class and is considered a likely top-five-round pick in this year’s draft.
“I’m ready to start my career and am just excited,” Emshoff said. “If I don’t get a chance, it is what it is. I am just going to be thankful for whenever it happens.”
In Emshoff’s first two years, he hit .214 in his freshman year and .273 as a sophomore. After tallying zero home runs as a freshman, he increased his total to four as a sophomore in 2018.
Emshoff had higher hopes for his junior season but an ulnar collateral ligament injury caused him to miss the entire 2019 season. During Little Rock’s scout day in the fall, Emshoff threw a ball from behind home plate to second base as he warmed up in preparation for the start of the second inning of the intersquad scrimmage.
He knew immediately that he had injured his elbow and walked off the field to the trainer’s room. He underwent Tommy John surgery, missing the entire season, and served as Little Rock’s first base coach most of the year.
In the offseason, Emshoff tweaked his batting stance in hopes of incorporating his lower half and cutting down on the movement in his swing, he said. The changes allowed him to see the ball easier out of the pitcher’s hand and hit with more power consistently.
His offseason work paid off this spring. In 17 games, he hit .417 with seven home runs and 12 RBIs in 74 plate appearances. He also drew 14 walks compared to 11 strikeouts. He ranked 11th in the country with a .800 slugging percentage.
“I’ve always had the power, but I’d say the new stance allowed me to do it more consistently,” Emshoff said. “Sophomore year, I was kind of standing tall and if I wasn’t on time with the pitch, I didn’t have any power. But now if I am down in my legs and squatted a little more, it just gives me a better chance to barrel up more pitches.”
Emshoff has an intriguing set of tools. He should stick at catcher long term, and although he isn’t extremely fast, he moves well behind the plate. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound catcher also has solid receiving skills that have improved throughout his time at Little Rock.
“I would say my receiving is my biggest strength,” Emshoff said. “I am a plus-plus receiver, but the difference between when I am catching a game and others are catching a game, I am just getting more strikes. I think my receiving is overlooked, but I would say that’s one of my top skills.”
His arm strength also is one of his best attributes. It’s taken time for Emshoff to recover from the elbow surgery, but he feels his arm strength is back to where it was before the injury. He possesses solid arm strength and hopes to improve in that area as he prepares for either pro baseball this summer or another year at Little Rock in the fall.
“I want to be more consistent with my throws to second and increase my arm strength as much as possible,” Emshoff said. “I am completely healthy, I’m 100 percent, it feels great, and I’m as strong as I was before the surgery. But I want to get a little stronger and quicker behind the plate.”
Emshoff is thankful for his first four years at Little Rock and the chance he’s had to learn from Curry, who he believes has made the biggest impact on his young career.
“Words can’t describe how thankful I am to be under that kind of mentor,” Emshoff said. “I am so thankful he gave me a chance to come to Little Rock and learn from him.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.