by Tim Barrett
No other position in baseball elicits an emotional response like catchers do – case in point, Buster Posey. I saw him drafted as high as Round 1 in keeper leagues. This year, with Posey & Joe Mauer hurt, Victor Martinez & Jorge Posada fading fast and youngsters Carlos Santana & J.P. Arencibia struggling, catchers are few and far between, even shallower than third base. Those of you in two-catcher leagues know what I’m talking about. I’ve had to roster Kyle Phillips and Brett Hayes in a two-catcher NL league (thanks to injuries to Posey & Nick Hundley).
So this week, I will cover the top C prospects. A few weeks ago, there was a debate of the ETA of Wilin Rosario – the Rockies top C prospect. Will he start off next season in a platoon with Ianetta? Or will we see him in September of 2012? Keep this in mind when projecting ETAs for catchers – not only do they have to hit and play good defense; they have to handle a pitching staff and call a game. This is what most prospects struggle with. That’s why most teams prefer to have their catching prospects catch at all minor league levels. Rarely will you see a catcher make the jump from Double-A to the majors. Posey, Santana, Matt Wieters and Arencibia all played in Triple-A before making the big leagues.
Alright, enough chit-chat, bring on the next Mike Piazza! In no particular order…..
Devin Mesoraco, CIN (AAA) – We keep waiting, he keeps hitting. Currently batting .303, 9 HR 49 RBI and 30 (yes, 30) doubles. His bat is definitely major league ready. His defense has regressed a little (22% Caught Stealing down from career 29% CS) but he has gotten to handle some major league pitching in Travis Wood, Mike Leake and now Edinson Volquez. Soon to be free agent Ramon Hernandez is the only thing standing in his way to the big club. With the Reds fading in the standings, I could see Hernandez being moved at the deadline (SF? Texas? TB?) ETA: August 2011
Jesus Montero, NYY (AAA) – His bat is ready (.289), his defense (17% CS) – not so much. Most believe that DH is where he will wind up. However, it is the New York Yankees we are talking about. They tend to value hitting over defense from their catching position (Posada has a career 28% CS with only 15% CS last year.) It will be interesting to see what the Yankees do at the C position next year – resign Martin? Sign a free agent? Or keep it in house? Whether at DH or C, Montero’s bat is too good not to be in the Yankees line-up everyday. I can easily see him taking over for Posada at DH in a play-off run. ETA: September 2011
Wilin Rosario, COL (AA) – Started off slow but had a good May. Currently is batting .249 with 12 HR and 29 RBI but still below last year’s numbers. Many predicted a big improvement with a June call-up this year – that didn’t happen. With both his hitting and defense regressing a little bit, it’s starting to look like Jordan Pacheco is going to keep him in the minors for a year or two. I still think he is one of the top C prospects but he still needs a little more time. ETA: September 2012
Derek Norris, WAS (AA) – Now that Bryce Harper has moved to the OF, Norris takes over as the top Nationals C prospect. Comparisons to Mickey Tettleton are right on – big power, lots of walks, no average. He’s currently hitting .197 with 45 BB (only 64 K) and 12 HR. His glove is solid with a 40% CS career average but not quite as good as Wilson Ramos. Norris probably needs another year in the minors but could be forced into a role if Ramos decides to leave Washington this off-season. ETA: September 2012
Tony Sanchez, PIT (AA) – Tony has good plate discipline but his defensive skills need lots of work. He’s allowed 74 SB this year while only throwing out 22 base runners. The good news is that is up from the 9 base runners thrown out last year. I still think he will be a good starting catcher in the big leagues but he definitely moves down in my rankings. ETA: 2013
Max Stassi, OAK (A) – Baseball Player. That’s a term I use for those tough, gritty, hard-nosed guys with great work ethic that go out and hustle on every play. They may not be exceptional at any one thing but are solid all around players. At catcher, think Joe Girardi or Terry Steinbach. More of a solid everyday MLB catcher than a fantasy catcher but has the work ethic to make dramatic improvements. ETA: 2013
Sebastian Valle, PHI (A) – One of those catching prospects that has rare combination of good hitting with good defense. Batting .324 in advanced A ball with a 36% CS rate, Valle is quietly moving up the prospect ranks. I can easily see him rated as the top C prospect as soon as next year. Injury prone Carlos Ruiz is signed through 2012 with a club option for 2013. After that, the gig is all Valle’s. ETA: September 2012
Welington Castillo, CHC (AAA) – Welington started out slow but has turned it up a notch since then; currently batting .298 with 11 HRs in AAA. He was up briefly with the Cubs this year, replacing the oft injured Geovany Soto. While his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired, he did throw out 2 of the 3 base runners while up with the big club. May not hit for much average but he’ll be fun to own when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley. ETA: September 2011
Gary Sanchez, NYY (A) – The Yankees are stocked a C in the minors but Sanchez might have the most upside of all of them – better glove than Montero, better bat than Romine. Or he might just be the perfect trade candidate to get the Yankees some help (K-Rod? Bell? Nolasco? 3B A-Ram?) ETA: September 2012
Travis D’Arnaud, TOR (AA) – Always had the glove, the question was his bat potential. So far this year, he has exceeded the most overinflated expectations with a .314 average and 12 HR. Another farm system that is loaded with C prospects, it will be interesting to see what happens with Arencibia when D’Arnaud is ready (a move to DH perhaps). ETA: 2013
Yasmani Grandal, CIN (AA) – Yet another farm system loaded at C. Yasmani is another of those all around catchers – power, plate discipline and improving defense. Unfortunately he is blocked by Mesoraco; however, one cannot ignore the .302 and 11 HR he has put up at 2 different levels in the minors so far. The Reds will give him time in the minors to develop but his bat will bring him to the majors sooner than later. ETA: September 2012
Christian Bethancourt, ATL (A) – Has all the potential. Still young. Seen as McCann’s eventual replacement in a few years.
Ryan Lavarnway, BOS (AAA) – No respect from prospect reports. Defense needs work but is batting .343 with 7 HRs. Imagine that in the Red Sox already potent line-up.
Chun Chen, CLE (AA) – Excellent prospect. Many think Carlos Santana would be better served moving to 1B. Here’s his replacement.
Salvador Perez, KC (AA) – With Wil Myers moving to the OF, Perez takes over as the best C prospect. Great defense, solid bat.
Tyler Roberts, MIL (Rookie League) – Still a long way away but has power potential.
Kyle Skipworth, FLA (AA) – Has power but little plate discipline.
Jordan Pacheco, COL (AAA) – Converted second baseman, keeps hitting his way up the ranks.
Austin Romine, NYY (A) – Has one of the best defensive arms but NY farm system loaded at C.