by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
It is often tough to find quality hitting catching prospects, because when a player shows promise with the bat they find themselves at a less stressful position. Why would you want one of your better hitters dealing with not only the rigors of catching every day, but also managing a pitching staff? That’s not to say that there aren’t potential stars on the horizon, however, as we can see from the top of these rankings. Who is the best of the best? Let’s take a look:
1) Willson Contreras – Chicago Cubs
#2 on Chicago Cubs Top 10
Grade – B+
I may be among the biggest believers in Contreras, though he is quickly gaining steam in other circles. In 521 PA at Double-A in ’15 he hit .333 with 8 HR, showing the skill set to maintain the marks and continue developing:
- 11.9% strikeout rate
- 10.9% walk rate
- 34 doubles & 4 triples
The converted third baseman is still developing his defense, but it’s coming quickly. The potential is there to develop into one of the better offensive catchers in the game and with Kyle Schwarber seeing more and more time in the outfield, there will also be an opportunity.
2) Gary Sanchez – New York Yankees
#3 on New York Yankees Top 10
Grade – B+
It feels like we’ve been waiting a lifetime for him to develop into a Major League catcher, doesn’t it? After spending part of a third straight season at Double-A he finally graduated to Triple-A and was solid, hitting .295 with 6 HR over 146 PA and not being overmatched (19.2% strikeout rate). With a .274 average and 18 HR in 365 AB overall he obviously brings enough potential behind the plate that he deserves attention. The question is going to be where he plays, as Brian McCann is going to be the Yankees catcher for at least another season.
3) Jacob Nottingham – Milwaukee Brewers – B
#4 on Milwaukee Brewers Top 10
Grade – B (borderline B+)
Nottingham was acquired by the A’s from the Astros as part of the Scott Kazmir trade, but has quickly been moved again. He reached High-A last season hitting .316 with 17 HR (as well as 33 doubles and 2 triples) over 465 AB, showing the potential to be an elite bat behind the plate (assuming he proves capable of handling the position defensively). He also took a significant step forward in his strikeout rate, after posting a 27.0% mark in ’14:
- Single-A (Astros, 253 PA) – 20.2%
- High-A (Astros, 76 PA) – 13.2%
- High-A (A’s, 182 PA) – 20.9%
It remains to be seen if he can continue to improve in that regard, but at 20-years old and having a lot on his plate both offensively and defensively, we need to give him time. His power is his ticket, but if he can continue to improve he could be elite.
4) Jorge Alfaro – Philadelphia Phillies – B
#6 on Philadelphia Phillies Top 10
Grade – B (would be B+ with better plate discipline)
It’s possible he would’ve been ready in 2016, though June ankle surgery limited him to just 194 AB in ’15. He also needs work defensively, and with the Phillies rebuilding they will have time to let their newly acquired catcher of the future (he was another piece of the Hamels’ trade) to develop in the minors. That said there is no questioning his upside offensively, especially in the power department, but he needs to do a better job of limiting his strikeouts (23.2% at Double-A in ’14, 29.5% in ’15). He could be a 20-25 HR catcher with a poor average, though we all know there’s value in that.
5) Chance Sisco – Baltimore Orioles
#5 on Baltimore Orioles Top 10
Grade – B
We are higher than many on Sisco, but if he can stick behind the plate (there are questions about his defense) the bat has the potential to make him one of the better backstops in the league. Splitting time between High-A and Double-A last season he hit .297 with 6 HR in 337 AB, though he has a good eye at the plate (55 K vs. 42 BB) and the potential is there for the power to continue to improve (think 12-15 right now).
6) Tyler Stephenson – Cincinnati Reds
#7 on Cincinnati Reds Top 10
Grade – B-
The 11th overall selection in the 2015 draft, Stephenson failed to impress in his first taste of professional baseball. That said the upside is clearly there, as he posted 15 doubles and 1 HR over 194 AB and also showed a solid approach (10.0% walk rate, 19.2% strikeout rate). At 6’4” we’d expect the power to continue developing, especially at 19-years old. The strikeout rate is something to watch, especially coming in Rookie Ball, but he’s young and is going to need time.
7) Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians
#10 on Cleveland Indians Top 10
Grade – B-
While he hit .243 over 446 PA at Single-A last season it wasn’t his approach that was the issue (17.5% strikeout rate, 8.5% walk rate), which is promising having played the season as a 19-year old (he turned 20 in October). There’s power in his bat, which is just starting to show up (9 HR in ’15). He’s a few years away from arriving, but the upside is there.
8) Max Pentecost – Toronto Blue Jays
#4 on Toronto Blue Jays Top 10
Grade – B-
There’s certainly upside, but he lost all of 2015 due to a torn labrum and that’s got to push him down our rankings. Of course, while he showed a strong approach at the plate in 2014 after being selected in the first round (.324 in 105 AB), he drew just 2 walks and didn’t hit a home run. Obviously it’s a small sample size so no one is going to push the panic button based on those numbers. He’s expected to bring both power and average to the table, but we actually need to see it. Hopefully he can quickly put the lost season behind him, but time will tell.
9) Reese McGuire – Pittsburgh Pirates
#9 on Pittsburgh Pirates Top 10
Grade – C+
He showed an impressive approach at the plate at High-A, with a 9.5% strikeout rate as a 20-year old, and he’s also considered among the best defensive catchers in the minor leagues. He showed no power last season (15 doubles, 0 HR over 374 AB) and while he’s going to be limited in that regard at least some should develop in time. While it would be easy to point towards 14 SB as a reason to get excited, that shouldn’t be expected to remain a part of his game as he grows and matures.
10) Aramis Garcia – San Francisco Giants
#10 on San Francisco Giants Top 10
Grade – C+
He hit 15 HR over 319 AB at Single-A, but once he was pushed to High-A his strikeout rate soared (21.2% to 26.2%, albeit in just 75 AB). That wasn’t necessarily what he was known for when he was drafted, so it’ll be interesting to see how he develops and if he can get the strikeouts back in check.
Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs
Grading System (still in development):
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 Top 10 Prospect Lists: