Top 10 Catching Prospects (Preseason 2018 Edition)

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

There are always questions about catching prospects, because they need to focus on their defense and ability to handle a pitching staff (which could take away from their surface numbers at the plate).  There also is the risk that if someone shows the offensive potential they are moved out from behind the plate, with the thought being that they can stay healthy and in the lineup every day.  Those are two obstacles to keep in mind as we dive in and look at our Top 10 catching prospects:

 

1) Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians
Grade – A-
ETA – Already Arrived
Indians #1 Prospect

We all know Mejia is one of the premier prospects in the game, regardless of position.  The Indians appear to be tinkering with him at 3B, where the bat may not profile quite as well though he began tapping into his power more (14 HR, 37 total extra base hits, in 347 AB) while continuing to show an ability to consistently make contact (13.8% strikeout rate, 9.0% SwStr%) while at Double-A.  That gives him the profile of a catcher who could hit .280+ with 20 HR, a rare commodity (think Buster Posey-esque, as the average could easily climb higher).  That should give the team incentive to keep him behind the plate long-term, especially as a switch-hitter.

He’ll likely start the year at Triple-A, but given the production behind the plate that the team has gotten it may not be long before he arrives to stay.

 

2) Keibert Ruiz – Los Angeles Dodgers
ETA – 2019
Grade – B+
Dodgers #2 Prospect

Ruiz played most of the season as an 18-year old, splitting time between Single-A and High-A (411 PA), and in the process showed a highly impressive approach.  For a player his age an 8.9% SwStr% at any level shows an advanced approach.

While he only hit 8 HR, he added 23 doubles and 2 triples so there appears to be more power that he’ll be able to tap into as he matures and gains experience.  A switch hitter, he’s gotten comparison to Francisco Mejia this offseason (the consensus top catching prospect in the game).  That’s really all you should need to know.

 

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3) Carson Kelly – St. Louis Cardinals
Grade – B+
ETA – Already Arrived
Cardinals #2 Prospect

It’s been a slow build for Kelly, who is the heir apparent to Yadier Molina.  He has continued to show a strong approach at the plate, including a 14.3% strikeout rate and 11.8% walk rate over 244 AB at Triple-A last season.  With a solid 8.7% SwStr% in the minors, and a 6.0% mark over 69 AB in the Majors in ’17, there’s little reason to think there’s going to be a change.

The question has always been if he would develop power, and as he matures that’s beginning to show up.  He hit 10 HR (with 13 doubles) last season at Triple-A, though we’ll have to keep that in perspective having come in the Pacific Coast League.  He may never be a 20+ HR hitter, but it seems like he could develop into a consistent 12-15 HR catcher to go along with a .270+ average.  That’s a rare combination, especially in a backstop who can handle the job defensively, the big question is simply when the opportunity will come.

 

4) Jorge Alfaro – Philadelphia Phillies
Grade – B
ETA – Already Arrived
Phillies #6 Prospect

You could argue that Alfaro has as much upside as anyone at the position, though he’s struggled to fully tap into it thanks to his aggressive approach.  That was on display at Triple-A last season, with a 16.1% SwStr% helping lead to a 32.3% strikeout rate and .241 average over 350 PA (and he was further exposed in the Majors, with a 21.5% SwStr% and 46.2% O-Swing% over 114 PA).  He needs to learn to cut the strikeouts down in order to tap into his raw power, which is there and waiting.  He also showed a bit too many groundballs, at 52.2%, given his lack of speed further limiting him.

Still 24-years old (he’ll turn 25 in June), there’s still time for him to develop.  The time is now, though, or he could quickly fall to a “B-“ or “C+” grade as the strikeouts will keep him from reaching his ultimate ceiling.  We can’t ignore the upside, but proceed with caution.

 

5) Daulton Varsho – Catcher
ETA – 2020
Grade – B-
Arizona Diamondbacks #4 Prospect

He has the lineage, as the son of former catcher Gary Varsho, and performed well in his first taste of professional baseball (.311 with 7 HR and 7 SB over 212 PA at Low-A).  Throw in 16 doubles and 3 triples and it’s clear that there’s power potential to go with a little bit more speed than a normal catcher.  Playing as a 20-year old his plate discipline was also solid, with a 14.2% strikeout rate courtesy of a 9.1% SwStr%, so the package presents itself well (especially for a catcher).  There are some questions about his arm and if he’s forced to move out from behind the plate the skill set likely wouldn’t look as promising.  For now he’s an intriguing player to watch progress after being selected 68th overall in the 2017 draft.

 

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6) Austin Allen – San Diego Padres
Grade – B-
ETA – 2019
Unranked

Playing the year at High-A Allen posted an impressive line, hitting .283 with 22 HR, 81 RBI and 71 R over 463 AB.  He hit the ball hard (24.0% line drive rate) and added 31 doubles, both of which are promising numbers, though there are a pair of red flags that can’t be ignored:

  • 1% strikeout rate courtesy of a 10.4% SwStr%
  • He played the year as a 23-year old, so you can argue he was old for the level

There’s also the question in regards to his ability to stick at catcher, though that remains to be seen.  He has the potential to move quickly and the Padres have questions behind the plate, so as long as he can keep the strikeouts in check the upside is there to be a catcher who hits for both average and power (think .270/25).

 

7) Victor Caratini – Chicago Cubs
Grade – B-
ETA – Already Arrived
Chicago Cubs #4 Prospect

Switch-hitting catchers who can handle the bat are instantly going to be placed on our radar.  He got his feet wet in the Majors (59 AB), and it was well deserved considering his Triple-A numbers (.342 with 10 HR and 61 RBI over 291 AB).  While the power doesn’t blow you away, especially coming from the Pacific Coast League, keep in mind that he added 27 doubles and 3 triples.  He may not develop into an elite power hitting catcher, but he should fall into the 14-18 type range.

Couple that with an ability to handle the bat, and there’s an awful lot to like.  His 14.7% strikeout rate and 8.3% walk rate are impressive, and there’s no doubt that he can hit the ball hard (22.0% line drive rate) and can make consistent contact (8.7% SwStr%).  Those two things should produce a .280+ hitter, and if the power improves that would create a solid producer.

If he can find a starting job remains to be seen, but he profiles at least as a backup catcher and could be more than that with a little bit of pop.

 

8) Sean Murphy – Oakland A’s
Grade – B-
ETA – 2018
A’s #10 Prospect

When you look at a catcher who split time between High-A and Double-A, hitting .250 with 13 HR isn’t going to blow you away.  Take a look at the split in average, which shows some intriguing potential:

  • High-A – .297 AVG // .323 BABIP
  • Double-A – .209 AVG // .232 BABIP

He carried an overall 15.1% line drive rate, so there is a little bit of concern in regards to his average but a 7.4% SwStr% overall shows he can handle the bat and should improve as he develops/matures.  He also added 18 doubles over 356 AB, so while he may not be a 30 HR threat the potential is there to be a 14-17 HR contributor.  Better known for his defense, there’s enough upside in his skills at the plate to make him an intriguing option.

 

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9) Aramis Garcia – San Francisco Giants
ETA –2019
Grade – B-
San Francisco Giants #5 Prospect

He broke out at High-A, hitting 17 HR (while adding 20 doubles and 1 triple) over 324 AB.  While he failed to homer in his 78 AB at Double-A after his promotion, he did hit 12 doubles and that shows that the power is there.  He showed a little bit of swing and miss (12.2% SwStr%), and that will be something that we’ll have to watch.  That said, a catcher with some power and a 25% strikeout rate?  That’s become the relative norm these days.  The bigger question is if he’ll ultimately be used as trade bait or get stuck behind Buster Posey for the foreseeable future.

 

10) Chance Sisco – Baltimore Orioles
Grade – B-
ETA – Already Arrived
Baltimore Orioles #5 Prospect

The power still hasn’t developed, something everyone thought would come (7 HR, 30 total extra base hits).  If that wasn’t enough, his plate discipline wavered at Triple-A as he struggled to a 13.4% SwStr%.  That carried into the Majors, though obviously no one is going to draw a conclusion off 18 AB. Sisco’s advantage was supposed to be as a catcher who could hit for a high average, but if he can’t make consistent contact that simply isn’t going to happen.  We obviously want to give him more time to adjust against upper level pitching, but at this point we’re tapping the brakes just a little bit.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com, MILB.com

Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Preseason Top 10 Prospect Lists:

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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4 comments

  1. JR says:

    Zach Collins??? From a fantasy perspective, he is easily top 5 catching prospect. Even better, he may end up a full time DH and a backup catcher!

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      Collins was literally #11 for me and has the same “B-” grade as everyone from #5 down. They are all pretty interchangeable and it’s more of a personally preference

  2. DR says:

    Pumping the brakes on Chance Sisco so you can speed up with Daulton Varsho? You haven’t scouted a game in your life

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      As I mentioned in the above comment, same grade is going to be a lot of a personal choice. I’m not going to argue with anyone who wants to rank Sisco higher, but I’m down on him giving his showing last year at the upper levels. If he can’t cut down on the strikeouts he’s going to be a bust

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