Top 15 Catching Prospects (2019 Preseason): An Intriguing Class Emerges

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Catcher is a grueling position, therefore those with offensive ability are often moved out from behind the dish as a way to protect their bat and keep the offensive production in the lineup nearly every day.  That doesn’t happn 100% of the time, and there appears to be quite a few potential Top 10-15 catchers developing (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 currently in the minors?  Let’s take a look:

RankPlayerCurrent TeamCurrent Grade
1.Joey BartSan Francisco GiantsB+
2. Keitbert RuizLos Angeles DodgersB+
3.Danny JansenToronto Blue JaysB+
4.Daulton VarshoArizona DiamondbacksB+
5.Sean MurphyOakland A'sB
6.Francisco MejiaSan Diego PadresB
7,Ronaldo HernandezTampa Bay RaysB
8.Miguel AmayaChicago CubsB
9.Tyler StephensonCincinnati RedsB
10.Will SmithLos Angeles DodgersB
11.Anthony SieglerNew York YankeesB
12.Noah "Bo" NaylorSan Diego PadresB-
13.Zack CollinsChicago White SoxB-
14.William ContrerasAtlanta BravesB-
15.Andrew KniznerSt. Louis CardinalsB-

1) Joey Bart – Grade – B+
Bart should quickly emerge as one of the elite catching prospects in the game, after being selected second overall and hitting .294 with 13 HR over his first 204 AB.  His ability to make consistent contact is the biggest question, with a 12.3% SwStr% in his professional debut. A worst case scenario seems to be in the mold of Salvador Perez, hitting .240-.250 with 20+ HR.

Expected to be able to stick behind the plate defensively, that’s enough to make him one of the better catchers in the league.  Already 22-years old, he could move quickly through the system as he develops into the heir apparent for Buster Posey.

2) Keibert Ruiz – Grade – B+
Ruiz opened the year at Double-A as a 19-year old (he turned 20 in July), hitting .268 with 12 HR over 377 AB.  That’s an impressive line, especially given his age and the rigors of catching, and his 6.8% SwStr% and 8.0% strikeout rate look that much better given that context.  The switch hitter did struggle a bit against southpaws (.234/.304/.333), and if you are going to point towards that as a reason for concern you are simply splitting hairs.

Ruiz has the potential to emerge as one of the better hitting catchers in baseball and should see time at Triple-A this season.  In other words the future is coming quickly at the position for Los Angeles.

3) Danny Jansen – Grade – B+
Jansen has arrived as one of the best catching prospects in baseball, playing at Triple-A and the Majors last season, thanks to his excellent approach.  Just look at his strikeout rate // SwStr% at each level:

  • Triple-A – 13.6% // 4.4%
  • Majors – 17.9% // 6.8%

That alone is going to put him on the map, but his power is also starting to develop.  No he’s not going to be a 30+ HR catcher, but he combined to hit 15 HR over 379 AB last season while adding 21 doubles and 1 triple.  That’s not a void in terms of power, and with his average upside to go along with 15-20 HR annually?  He’s going to be one of the top options at the position moving forward.

4) Daulton Varsho – Grade – B+
Any catcher who steals 19 bases in 83 games is going to present as a potentially elite asset.  Having added 13 doubles, 4 triples and 12 HR, while also keeping the strikeouts in check (10.0% SwStr%), just makes it that much more impressive.  He hasn’t played above High-A, so the strikeout rate is something that will need to be monitored closely however. 

In 509 AB over his minor league career he has 19 HR and 26 SB, which would put him at an elite level of offensive catchers regardless of the strikeout rate.  If he just keeps it where he is now he could hit .260 or better with power and speed.  What about if he turns the corner, though?  He could develop into one of the truly elite, assuming the rigors of catching don’t completely cost him his speed over the years.

5) Sean Murphy – Grade – B
It was a cameo appearance at Triple-A (8 AB), but having reached the highest level of the minors in 2018 it appears inevitable that Murphy arrives in Oakland in 2019.  A broken hamate bone helped to limit him last season, but when he was on the field he was impressive, hitting .285 with 8 HR over 270 AB.  There’s clearly at least a little bit more power coming, having added 27 doubles and 2 triples a year after hitting 13 HR over 395 PA.

Murphy’s best skill may be his approach, with an 8.0% SwStr% leading to a 16.3% strikeout rate and 8.5% walk rate.  That should help him continue to hit for a strong average (think .270ish) with 15 HR.  For a catcher, especially one viewed positively for his defense (which will keep him in the lineup), there’s a lot to like.

6) Francisco Mejia – Grade – B
Mejia has long been highly touted and there is little question regarding his offensive upside, but the swing and miss that’s starting to develop is cause for concern:

  • Triple-A – 11.9% SwStr%
  • Majors – 15.1% SwStr%

While he showed more power potential last season, especially after the trade to San Diego, is it going to be enough to overcome that type of strikeout risk?  Time will tell, but it’s enough to drop his grade down to a B (though he continues to carry B+/A- potential).

7) Ronaldo Hernandez – Grade – B
The Rays kept Hernandez at Single-A for the entire season and he produced well, hitting .284 with 21 HR and even chipping in 10 SB.  There obviously is going to be a question as to if he’s going to be able to reel in his aggressive approach, despite a 15.4% strikeout rate, as his 11.4% SwStr% could rise significantly as he continues to advance through the system.  That said he turned 20-years old after the season and has the defensive chops to stick behind the plate and develop into a Top 5 offensive catcher.

8) Miguel Amaya – Grade – B
Generally ignored a year ago, Amaya emerged as not only the Cubs’ top prospect but one of the top catching prospects in the game.  Playing at Single-A he hit .256 with 12 HR and 52 RBI over 414 AB, though a dramatic split does bring at least a few questions:

  • First Half – .288/.365/.500
  • Second Half – .223/.332/.302

Playing the year at 19-years old and it being the first time he played more than 58 games in a season, there’s a good chance that fatigue played a role in his second half swoon.  We will have to keep a close eye on his SwStr% (11.7%), but his 10.4% walk rate and impressive first half gives reason for optimism.

9) Tyler Stephenson – Grade – B
A first round pick in 2015, Stephenson is finally starting to show signs of living up to the hype/pedigree.  Playing the season at High-A he hit .250 with 11 HR over 450 PA, showing a solid approach (9.9% SwStr%), an ability to draw walks (10.0% walk rate) and even more power potential (20 doubles and 1 triple).  Don’t sleep on him now as a breakout may be fully coming.

10) Will Smith – Grade – B
There’s no questioning the power, with 20 HR over 352 AB, though a 27.7% strikeout rate courtesy of an 11.4% SwStr% brings obvious concerns.  That was split between Double and Triple-A, and he also showed an ability to draw walks (10.6%) which does help to temper the negative outlook a little bit.  If he can cut down on the strikeouts and prove capable of hitting for even a decent average, the upside is there if he sticks behind the plate.

11) Anthony Seigler – Grade – B
Siegler was drafted 23rd overall in the 2018 draft as a catcher (he was also a switch-pitcher in high school).  He only had 95 PA in ’18 and he didn’t show much, hitting .266 with 1 HR and 9 RBI.  That said he showed he had an idea at the plate, as he walked (14) more than he struck out (12) and showed an ability to make consistent contact (7.0% SwStr%).  It obviously was a small sample size, but it’s a positive nonetheless.  The expectation also is that he can stick behind the plate, with his defense already seen as a strength and should only continue to improve.

12) Noah “Bo” Naylor – Grade – B-
An athletic high school catcher, Noah is the brother of Padres’ prospect Josh Naylor.  The 18-year old is expected to stick at catcher, though it’s not a guarantee, and if he does that will only make him a more valuable potential asset.  In 117 AB at Rookie Ball he hit .274 with 2 HR and 5 SB, and there’s power that should grow as he develops/matures.  The wear and tear of catching should ultimately cost him some of his speed, but he should be able to contribute 5-8 SB at this point.

While he did struggle to make consistent contact (22.8% SwStr%), considering his age and 15.1% walk rate it’s easy to give him a little bit of a pass.  He should be able to refine that approach and continue to improve, with the potential to come together and create the total package behind the plate.

13) Zack Collins – Grade – B-
Obviously a 29.8% strikeout rate is a significant concern, as it could get worse (he spent the year at Double-A).  He also showed a tremendous eye (19.0% walk rate) and his 11.5% SwStr% doesn’t justify this type of gaudy mark.  Even if he maintains this strikeout rate, with his power he could be your “typical” power hitting catcher.  If he improves he could be Top 10 in all formats (and in OBP formats he’s a near lock to get there assuming he sticks behind the plate).

14) William Contreras – Grade – B-
The brother of the Cubs’ Willson Contreras, William hit .285 with 11 HR over 390 AB last season as he played at Single-A (307 AB) and Double-A (83 AB).  A 13.4% SwStr% is obviously a concern, though he played the season at 20-years old and needs time to develop.  There’s obviously upside in his power (he added 24 doubles and 1 triple) and reports have him owning a solid eye (8.1% walk rate last season).  He has the upside of a solid starting catcher, and one that should provide power while maintaining at least a decent average.

15) Andrew Knizner – Grade – B-
Knizner reached Triple-A in ’18 and hit .313 with 7 HR over 335 AB overall and is the new heir apparent with Carson Kelly being jettisoned to Arizona.  He doesn’t have significant power upside, but a 7.8% SwStr% leading to a 12.8% strikeout rate shows a potentially elite approach.  For a catcher, if he can hit .270 and add 12-15 HR he’s going to hold value.

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

Make sure to check out all of our 2019 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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