When I started working on the Prospect Grid, I didn’t realize just how many good catching prospects there were. Coupled with the low production generally associated with the position, there is definitely help coming down the pipe. Each week I will release a new positional prospect ranking, working my way across the diamond as the rest of the team contributes to the 2015 rankings.
Reminder that I am not a scout. I watch a lot of video and read a ton of information as a fan of all things minor league, but there are no eye-witness accounts of the players listed below. They are ranked based on their fantasy value only. I hope you enjoy!
The Best of The Best
The top two catchers boast excellent power and could become top 5 options for fantasy leagues in the future. Kyle Schwarber, drafted 4th overall in 2014, also has an excellent approach at the player. The issue is that his development defensively may slow down his arrival to the major leagues. If the Cubs want to get his bat into the lineup sooner than later, Schwarber may be moved to the outfield. In 262 at bats spanning 3 levels in 2014, he hit .344/.428/.634 — not a bad debut.
Jorge Alfaro has all sorts of crazy tools, from his power hitting to his cannon arm behind the plate, and even his speed on the bases. What he lacks currently is the ability to make solid contact at the plate. While Alfaro almost assuredly will be a big league catcher, his bat is not as safe as Schwarber. The ceiling is there if everything comes together, but his poor approach at the plate would need to improve significantly.
Following these two potential stars are Blake Swihart and Kevin Plawecki. Still just 22, Swihart finally showed some power in 2014, hitting 13 home runs after just 2 in 2013. The switch hitter should hit for a good average with moderate power. His defense by all accounts is solid, with a plus arm behind the dish. Swihart is a safe bet to be a productive hitting catcher with potential for 15+ home runs and a .280 average. A strong 4 in the rankings, Plawecki combines excellent contact skills with his developing power. He is also an excellent receiver, which may push Travis d’Arnaud to the outfield. Plawecki is as safe as they come, though he may not have quite the offensive ceiling as the top three.
The second tier consists of some good power options, some solid major league ready catchers and three young catchers with upside.
Gary Sanchez has been a player to watch since he was signed as a 16-year-old back in 2009. He has plus power and should be able to maintain a good average. His receiving skills still need development time, but his above average bat should be enough to make up for his likely average defense. Two years older than Sanchez is Diamondbacks Peter O’Brien, who has some of the best power in the minor leagues, hitting 34 home runs last year in just 399 at bats. His strikeout/walk ratio was 26%/5%, which means you need to temper your enthusiasm. O’Brien’s defense lags far behind his bat, leaving the Diamondbacks needing to likely find a stopgap until 2016.
Francisco Mejia and Max Pentecost are the two premium young catching prospects; both are 3-4 years away from the major leagues after finishing 2014 in Low A. Pentecost, 21, was a first round pick in 2014 and has the ability to hit for average and power, as well as chip in a few stolen bases. Mejia, 19, can also hit for average and has some developing power as well. Drafted in the first round in 2013, Reese McGuire, 19, also finished the season in low A and projects as an excellent defensive catcher with a good approach at the plate. He makes excellent contact and has developing power. McGuire is pretty close to the complete package for a catching prospect. There is a lot of development time ahead for these three young catchers, but they are the best of the young prospects.
Two catchers who saw major league time in 2014 check in next: Andrew Susac and Christian Bethancourt. Susac hit .273/.326/.466 in his 88 at-bat debut with the Giants last year. Solid defensively, Susac boasts excellent power and a decent approach at the plate. Blocked by Buster Posey, Susac has the skills to be a starting catcher some day. Christian Bethancourt is a defense-first catcher who was looking to take on the starting job with the Braves prior to the Pierzynski signing. Bethancourt shows some home run power with the bat, but he is overly aggressive at the plate as evidenced by his 3% BB rate with a 22% K rate in his brief time in the big leagues last year.
This third tier is full of some good near-ready catchers and a few players who are a few years away but have pretty good upside.
Both Marlins J.T. Realmuto and Cubs Victor Caratini have excellent approaches at the plate without a lot of power. Realmuto makes good contact and can steal a few bases (18 last year). He is good defensively, and he has a chance to become a solid #1 catcher with a good average and OBP with 10-15 HR. Recently added to the Cubs embarrassment of prospect riches, Caratini has should hit for a good average while playing good defense behind the plate.
Tyler Marlette, on the other hand, has plus power and hit .301/.351/.519 in high A last season. When promoted to AA, he slugged .540 in limited at bats. Just 21, Marlette has improved enough defensively to look like a future starting catcher for the Mariners.
Youngsters Chance Sisco and Luis Torrens are two teenage catchers who are making their marks early on. Drafted out of high school in 2013, Sisco has a good approach at the plate and is developing left-handed power. He hit .340/.406/.448 in A ball as a 19 year old, so while he’s still far away, there’s enough to be cautiously excited about. Just 18 years old, Torrens moved up to A ball in 2014 after signing out of Venezuela for $1.3M in 2012. He makes good contact and is developing into a good defensive catcher after playing shortstop prior to joining the Yankees.
Austin Hedges joins Austin Barnes in this tier, with the latter being ahead offensively at this point. Hedges has struggled offensively and doesn’t offer a whole ton for fantasy purposes right now. His elite defense will get him regular at bats, though, and at 22 years old it’s possible he can provide some pop down the road. Barnes plays C, 2B and 3B and looks the part of a super-utility player. He has an excellent approach at the plate, has good speed and should provide a high OBP.
Other Prospects to Know
This last group is easily divided between good upside youngsters and major league ready catchers who may not provide enough offensively to have much fantasy value.
First round picks from 2013 and 2014, Nick Ciuffo and Chase Vallot both struggled, hitting less than .225 last year. Vallot has big time power but needs to work on his plate discipline. Just 18 years old, Vallot is no lock to stick at catcher even with his plus arm, but he has a very intriguing offensive package. On the other hand, Ciuffo is very good defensively and projects to add some power. He had a disappointing year in 2014, but he has the talent to turn things around.
Three interesting names to watch are Jakson Reetz, Mark Zagunis and Justin O’Conner. A third round pick out of high school in 2014, at 18 years old Reetz has a long way to climb. Fortunately he has good tools across the board as a foundation. Reetz won’t be a big power guy, but he could hit for a good average, with walks and some speed thrown in. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft, Zagunis has an excellent approach at the plate and very good speed. His defense is behind his bat, and he shared playing time in the outfield last year. If he can remain at catcher, he can be an interesting bat in the future. O’Conner put on a hitting clinic in the AFL and was named to their All-Star team. He has a lot of power and is excellent behind the plate defensively. His K rate likely limits his offensive ceiling, but the power is legit.
Finally, our veteran prospects James McCann and Tom Murphy. Murphy hasn’t made his debut in the majors like McCann, but he’s been on prospect radars for a long time. He was hurt for most of 2014, and when he wasn’t hurt, he wasn’t producing, either. Murphy is solid defensively and has very good power, though he strikes out too much to maintain a good batting average. And finally, a defense-first catcher, McCann doesn’t have a lot of power, but he has been able to hit for a decent average in the minors. He’s ready for the majors in 2015.
Honorable Mentions to Max Stassi (Astros), Aramis Garcia (Giants), Deivi Grullon (Phillies), Stryker Trahan (Diamondbacks)
Still need more rankings? Head on over to Fantasy Rundown, where Goose has compiled Prospect Rankings from all the top sites on the web along with rankings for the 2015 season and the best baseball links available.