Top 15 Catching Prospects (2020 Preseason): New Top End Catchers Starting To Emerge

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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:

RankingPlayerTeamGrade
1)Adley Rutschman Baltimore OriolesB+
2)Sean MurphyOakland A'sB+
3)Daulton VarshoArizona DiamondbacksB+
4)Joey BartSan Francico GiantsB
5)Luis CampusanoSan Diego PadresB
6)Tyler StephensonCincinnati RedsB
7)Bo NaylorCleveland IndiansB
8)Ronaldo HernandezTampa Bay RaysB
9)Miguel AmayaChicago CubsB-
10)Alejandro KirkToronto Blue JaysB-
11)Francisco AlvarezNew York MetsB-
12)Keibert RuizLos Angeles DodgersB-
13)Andrew KniznerSt. Louis CardinalsB-
14)Ryan JeffersMinnesota TwinsC+
15)Cal RaleighSeattle MarinersC+

1) Adley Rutschman – Baltimore Orioles
Grade – B+

The first overall pick in the 2019 draft, Rutschman has a chance to move quickly through the Orioles system.  In 155 PA last season across three levels he hit .254 with 4 HR and 26 RBI, though he started slowly before getting going at Low-A (he hit .325 with 1 HR in 77 AB at the level).  The biggest question for any young catcher is going to be if he can successfully split his focus, providing both defense and above average production at the plate.

It could take time for Rutschman to adjust, but most believe he’s going to be able to.  He showed a tremendous approach in his first taste of professional baseball (6.3% SwStr%, 12.9% walk rate), and the power should quickly present itself.  At a position full of questions, Rutschman should quickly develop as one of the elite as soon as he arrives.

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2) Sean Murphy – Oakland A’s
Grade – B+

Another player who saw injury cost him an opportunity to make a significant impact at the highest level in 2019.  A torn meniscus limited him to 150 AB in the minor leagues, though he made the most of them hitting .293 with 11 HR.  He arrived in September and wasn’t as impressive on the surface, hitting .245 with 4 HR in 60 PA.  However the approach remained impressive and that’s what may be the most important thing (minors // Majors):

  • Strikeout Rate – 20.3% // 26.7%
  • Walk Rate – 12.4% // 10.0%
  • SwStr% – 7.5% // 12.1%

Obviously the Major League mark was based on a small sample size, and after an 8.0% SwStr% in ’18 there’s a lot to like.  The real key was the development of his power, and when coupled with his approach and defensive ability (which will keep him in the lineup) the upside is tremendous.  We are talking about a Top 5-10 fantasy catcher, and one you’d want to own.

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3) Daulton Varsho – Arizona Diamondbacks
Grade – B+

There are questions as to whether or not Varsho will stick behind the plate, as the Diamondbacks began trying him at other positions in order to expedite his arrival in the Majors and keep his offensive potential in the lineup regularly.  It was only four games in centerfield, but it’s a start and could be a sign of things to come. 

Varsho flashed power, speed and a strong approach while spending the season at Double-A (452 PA):

  • Power – 47 extra base hits (25 doubles, 4 triples, 18 HR)
  • Speed – 21-for-25 in SB
  • Approach – 13.9% strikeout rate, courtesy of an 8.1% SwStr%

While that potential would make him an elite catcher, not only do the Diamondbacks currently have Carson Kelly but why would they risk having him sit a few times per week?  He has all the makings of a strong Major League performer, with the ability to go 20/20 with a solid average.  Regardless of the position the bat makes him one to option.

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4) Joey Bart – San Francisco Giants
Grade – B

Considered the heir apparent to Buster Posey, the second overall selection in the 2018 draft could arrive at some point this season.  Regardless, you have to wonder exactly how high the offensive ceiling is.  After missing time due to a broken hand in ’19, Bart spent his time at High-A (234 AB) and Double-A (79 AB) combining to hit .278 with 16 HR and 5 SB.

There is some power in his bat, though having added 14 doubles and 3 triples it’s questionable how high that ceiling is (think 20-24 HR).  That’s fine, though a questionable approach further clouds the issue (strikeout rate // walk rate):

  • High-A – 19.9% // 5.6%
  • Double-A – 24.1% // 8.0%

His 9.5% SwStr% at High-A isn’t terrible, though it ballooned to 12.8% at Double-A.  While it was a small sample size, the lack of walks helps to show that he could get exposed by more advanced pitching.  It’s not to say that he’ll be a bad option at the highest level, as he could be one of the better offensive catchers in the game, though the stock is down slightly.

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5) Luis Campusano – San Diego Padres
Grade – B

Campusano is clearly the Padres’ catcher of the future, and one of the elite catching prospects in the game.  Playing at High-A he hit .325 with 15 HR over 422 AB in ’19, showing off an impressive approach:

  • Strikeout Rate – 11.7%
  • Walk Rate – 10.7%
  • SwStr% – 11.4%

Obviously the potential is there for him to see his strikeout rate rise against more advanced pitching. By all reports he does a good job of commanding the strike zone, so it’s not a significant concern, and having added 31 doubles and 1 triple the now 21-year old should continue to develop his power stroke.  He still needs to prove he can handle catching duties at the highest level, but the expectation is that he will be able to.  You put that all together and it’s an impressive package.

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6) Tyler Stephenson – Cincinnati Reds
Grade – B

Stephenson spent the year at Double-A (363 PA), taking a significant step forward in his approach (despite the move from High-A the year before):

  • Strikeout Rate – 21.8% to 16.5%
  • Walk Rate – 10.0% to 10.2%
  • SwStr% – 9.9% to 8.2%

While he only hit 6 HR last season, he added 19 doubles and 1 triple and the expectation is that he’ll mature into more power.  With catchers we have to give them time, considering the other responsibilities, and with Stephenson’s approach he should be able to tap into it.  There’s talk that he could be forced out from behind the plate, but if he can handle the position defensively he has the upside of a Top 10 option.

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7) Bo Naylor – Cleveland Indians
Grade – B

He spent the year at Single-A, hitting .243 with 11 HR and 65 RBI (adding 18 doubles and 10 triples).  Those are solid numbers, considering the aggressive assignment (he played the year at 19-years old after being selected 29th in the 2018 draft) and the fact that he also had the responsibilities that come with catching.  He has the potential to stick behind the plate and that could delay his development, though there’s a lot to like in terms of his upside (including his solid 10.0% SwStr% and 9.5% walk rate).  It could all come together to create a .260+ hitter with 15 HR and 5-8 SB annually, and there could be even more than that.

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8) Ronaldo Hernandez – Tampa Bay Rays
Grade – B 

Playing the year at High-A Hernandez hit .265 with 9 HR and 7 SB over 427 PA.  While the strikeout rate was a solid 15.0%, there are going to be questions about his aggressiveness considering his 11.0% SwStr% and 4.0% walk rate.  That’s something that more advanced pitchers will be able to take advantage of, barring an adjustment, and that’s what we’ll have to watch closely as he advances in 2020.  He does have power and should stick behind the plate, so it could take him a little bit longer to develop offensively.

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9) Miguel Amaya – Chicago Cubs
Grade – B-

Given the focus on defense it’s not uncommon for catching prospects to struggle offensively as they develop.  Amaya will turn 21-years old prior to the start of ’20, so he still has time to figure it out.  He hit just .235 with 11 HR over 410 PA last season playing at High-A, but he also showed a solid approach and more power potential:

  • SwStr% – 9.9%
  • Walk Rate – 13.2%
  • Extra Base Hits – 35 (24 doubles, 11 HR)

As he becomes comfortable with his catching duties and is able to focus on his offense, he should mature and develop.  He should hit at least .260 (with more possible) and continue to develop his power (20 HR annual is possible).  It’s going to take time, but he has the upside.

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10) Alejandro Kirk – Toronto Blue Jays
Grade – B-

There are questions about his size and his ability to stick behind the plate, as he’s listed at 5’9”.  However by all reports he’s a solid defensive catcher, and if he can stick his bat will play that much more.  Playing the year at 20-years old he showed a tremendous ability to handle the bat over 372 PA split between Single-A and High-A:

  • Strikeout Rate – 10.5%
  • Walk Rate – 15.1%
  • SwStr% – 5.3%

His power hasn’t developed yet (7 HR), but he added 31 doubles and 1 triple.  As he matures physically and learns to be a little more aggressive there is upside that should develop.  A catcher who can hit for a high average while adding 15 HR is a commodity, so look for Toronto to continue developing him in hopes that he proves he can handle the position.

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11) Francisco Alvarez – New York Mets
Grade – B-

Alvarez became a hot name in prospect circles in 2019, after hitting .312 with 7 HR in 182 PA as a 17-year old.  Of course his age alone, as a catcher, tells you how far off he is of arriving but he made a statement that he could emerge as the Mets catcher of the future.  The fact that, at his age, he posted an 11.5% walk rate speaks to his approach at such a young age.  Couple that with the potential to physically mature into more power only adds to the appeal, especially if he can do it as a catcher.  There’s a long time for him to develop, but keep a close eye on him.

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12) Keibert Ruiz – Los Angeles Dodgers
Grade – B-

Ruiz spent time at Double-A (310 PA) and Triple-A (40 PA) in 2019, combining to hit .261 with 6 HR and 34 RBI.  There’s no question that he has elite contact ability, posting an impressive 4.8% SwStr% and a 6.3% strikeout rate.  He also has yet to develop much power and didn’t draw many walks (8.6%).  The belief is that he’ll mature into more power, as he learns to be a little bit more aggressive at the plate.  Time will tell, but with Will Smith in place you have to wonder if Ruiz will ultimately try to realize his potential in another uniform.

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13) Andrew Knizner – St. Louis Cardinals
Grade – B-

He’s assumed the role of Yadier Molina’s heir, replacing Carson Kelly as the Cardinals’ young catcher waiting for one of the all-time greats to retire.  Knizner struggled in his first taste of the Majors (.226 with 2 HR over 58 PA), but he thrived at Triple-A hitting .276 with 12 HR over 280 PA.  It’s a strong approach that fuels the upside (8.5% SwStr%, 13.2% strikeout rate, 8.6% walk rate), as he doesn’t have top-end power (he only added 10 doubles).  Of course there’s value in a catcher who could hit .270+ along with double-digit power.  It’s not an elite profile, but it’s a solid one.

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14) Ryan Jeffers – Minnesota Twins
Grade – C+

Will he stick at catcher or could he be moved to another position?  Time will tell, but he’s coming quickly and is currently blocked at the highest level.  Splitting time between High-A and Double-A he hit .264 with 14 HR over 414 PA, and adding 16 doubles and showing a strong approach (8.8% SwStr%) is promising.  He has proven to be adept at the position defensively and does have the ability to mature into a solid option, especially if the power continues to develop.

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15) Cal Raleigh – Seattle Mariners
Grade – C+

Raleigh split time between High-A (310 AB) and Double-A (145 AB), hitting .251 with 29 HR and 82 RBI.  There are going to be questions about his ability to make consistent contact (14.2% SwStr% overall, which leaped to 16.2% at Double-A).  There’s no questioning the power, which he put on full display in ’19, but if he can’t make consistent contact will it matter?  That makes you think that he’ll be the “prototypical” catcher, who hits for power and a poor average, though one that could play in the Majors.

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Just Missed – Sam Huff (TEX)

Sources – Fangraphs, MILB.com, MLB.com

Make sure to check out all of our 2020 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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