Top 10 Catcher Prospects (Preseason 2017 Edition)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

We all know that catcher is a grueling position, and therefore many times if a player shows upside with the bat he is moved off the position in an effort to keep him healthy and on the field.  That’s not to say that a high upside option never materializes, and there appears to be many of them working their way through the minors (as well as many who can handle the position defensively, though those tend to be easier to find).  Who are the most impressive catching prospects on the horizon?  Let’s take a look:

 

1) Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians
Grade – A-
ETA – 2018

A switch-hitting catcher who showed a tremendous approach at the plate en route to a 50-game hitting streak?  All that he needs is a little bit of power upside…  He has that as well!  Splitting time between two levels of Single-A last season he posted 11 HR (as well as 29 doubles and 4 triples) in just 407 AB.  In other words we could ultimately talk about a 15-20 HR type catcher.

Now his approach, as if the hitting streak wasn’t enough, as he showed strong strikeout rates at each level:

  • Single-A – 15.1%
  • High-A – 13.0%

Strong approach plus some power?  That sounds an awful lot like Jonathan Lucroy, a player the Indians nearly acquired at the trade deadline.  Mejia has the potential to be one of the elite in the game at his position.

 

2) Chance Sisco – Baltimore Orioles
ETA – 2017
Grade – B+

The heir apparent to Matt Wieters continued his development, seeing time at Triple-A for the first time.  He spent the bulk of ’16 at Double-A, hitting an impressive .320, though with little power (4 HR).  That said, given his approach/plate discipline all he needs to do is mature into a 10-12 HR hitter to entrench himself among the top half of the catching spectrum.  A minor league career .323 hitter, in 563 PA at Double-A he has 97 K vs. 68 BB (17.3% strikeout rate, 12.3% walk rate at the level in ’16).

At 6’2” and just 21-years old (he’ll turn 22 before the start of the 2017 campaign), the potential is there for him to add a little bit more power.  Keep in mind, among catchers with at least 300 PA in ’16 the best OBP was .377 (Francisco Cervelli).  Sisco owns a minor league career .402 mark, including a .403 in ’16.

He’s a different type of catcher, but that doesn’t make him a bad one.  Look for him to continue developing at Triple-A to open the season, but he should make his MLB debut at some point in ’17.

 


 

3) Jorge Alfaro – Philadelphia Phillies
ETA – Already Arrived
Grade – B

Alfaro is looking like your prototypical power catcher, as he hit 15 HR at Double-A but also proved to be extremely strikeout prone (24.1%) and lacking in his overall plate discipline (5.1% walk rate).  The defense is a plus, and that’s going to give him ample opportunities and a full-time role, and the power could take another step forward (think 20+ HR potential).  It could come courtesy of a poor average, in the range of .250 or worse, which puts him in the same category as many backstops around the league.  There’s a lot of hype and the potential to be a Top 10-15 catcher, thanks to the power, but to be one of the elite he needs to develop his approach.  With Cameron Rupp in the Majors, the Phillies should give Alfaro time at Triple-A this season in order to do so.

 

4) Tom Murphy – Colorado Rockies
Grade – B
ETA – Already Arrived

Murphy has the potential to be your prototypical all power, no average catcher.  He displayed it at Triple-A last season (19 HR over 321 PA), as he was a strikeout machine (24.3%).  While he hit .327, he needed an unrealistic .386 BABIP in order to get there.  Spending time in the Majors over the past two seasons (88 PA), he’s shown both the power (8 HR) and strikeouts (33.0%).  There’s value in that, of course, as he could be a similar player to Russell Martin or Brian McCann, but there also is limited potential unless he can learn to make more consistent contact.

 

5) Zack Collins – Chicago White Sox
Grade – B
ETA – 2018

No one is going to argue about his power potential, especially with 13 extra base hits over his first 131 professional AB.  The problem, though, is going to be the swing and miss he showed in his game.  Of course he also showed a good command of the strike zone, so there is going to be hope (the numbers are during his time spent at High-A, which was 153 PA):

  • Strikeout Rate – 25.5%
  • Walk Rate – 21.6%

There’s also a question regarding if he will be able to stick behind the plate or not, with 1B/DH a potential landing spot.  If that’s the case, is a 25-30 HR corner infielder with a ton of strikeouts really a standout prospect?  Hopefully he proves us wrong, but at this point the 2016 first round draft pick carries some significant risk.

 


 

6) Carson Kelly – St. Louis Cardinals
Grade – B-
ETA – Already Arrived

Kelly’s defense is seen as his carrying tool, though he did hit .289 between Double and Triple-A last season (329 AB).  He did a good job of making consistent contact at each level:

  • Double-A – 19.5%
  • Triple-A – 13.5%

When he was drafted as a 3B back in ’12 the thought was that there was power he’d eventually tap into, and at 6’2” and 220 lbs. there’s still a chance he does (maybe the transition to catching has helped to stunt his growth offensively).  Time will tell, but there’s definitely intriguing upside.

 

7) Tomas Nido – New York Mets
Grade – B-
ETA – 2018

Nido didn’t get much attention entering 2016, but now he belongs on all radars after he hit .320 with 7 HR over 344 AB.  The HR total isn’t going to blow you away, but he added 23 doubles and 2 triples and was known for his power when he was drafted.  The big development was his approach at the plate, despite the jump in levels:

  • Single-A (2015) – 25.7%
  • High-A (2016) – 11.4%

If he can continue to make regular contact, while tapping into the power potential, you are looking at an elite catcher.  How he performs upon reaching the upper levels will be telling, but don’t overlook him.

 

8) Ben Rortvedt – Minnesota Twins
Grade – B-
ETA – 2020

A second round pick out of high school, he is going to need time to develop and mature.  That said, in his first 99 AB of professional baseball he showed a great approach at the plate (10 K vs. 10 BB).  He also has power potential, with the upside of hitting 15+ annually.  It’ll be interesting to watch him and see how things progress, but the upside is definitely there.

 


 

9) Tyler Stephenson – Cincinnati Reds
Grade – B-
ETA – 2019

A 2015 first round pick, Stephenson struggled in his first full professional season (.220 with 4 HR over 159 AB).  Part of the problem was likely due to time missed on the DL (159 AB), so to an extent you want to give him a pass.  That said he needs a strong bounce back campaign otherwise he could fall off the prospect map completely.

 

10) Garrett Stubbs – Houston Astros
Grade – C+
ETA – 2017

In 326 AB split between High-A and Double-A all he did was hit .304 with 10 HR (as well as 22 doubles and 1 triple).  If that’s not enough, he nearly walked (43) as many times as he struck out (48) for the season.  Still not enough?  How about chipping in 15 SB as well, giving him the potential to be the next J.T. Realmuto.  With Evan Gattis and Brian McCann ahead of him on the depth chart it’s going to take a lot for Stubbs to emerge, but he also has the ability to force the team’s hand.

Sources – MLB.com, MILB.com, Frangraphs, Baseball Reference

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Grading System:
Grade A – Elite Prospects (aka potential future perennial All-Stars)
Grade B – Above Average Prospects (aka above average Major Leaguers, could develop into a potential All-Star)
Grade C – Average Prospects (aka solid, though unspectacular)
Grade D – Nothing More Than Roster Filler
Grade F – Move On

Make sure to check out all of our 2017 Prospect Rankings:

AL EastAL CentralAL West
Baltimore OriolesChicago White SoxHouston Astros
Boston Red SoxCleveland IndiansLos Angeles Angels
New York YankeesDetroit TigersOakland A's
Tampa Bay RaysKansas City RoyalsSeattle Mariners
Toronto Blue JaysMinnesota TwinsTexas Rangers
NL EastNL CentralNL West
Atlanta BravesChicago CubsArizona Diamondbacks
Miami MarlinsCincinnati RedsColorado Rockies
New York MetsMilwaukee BrewersLos Angeles Dodgers
Philadelphia PhilliesPittsburgh PiratesSan Diego Padres
Washington NationalsSt. Louis CardinalsSan Francisco Giants

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