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Prospect Positional: C

by Matthew Foreman
Updated On: October 4, 2018, 4:09 pm ET

This week’s Prospect Positional will cover catchers; a position that contains many high-ceiling players who need to make substantial strides in their development, a couple of prospects whose value comes from being league-average hitters who are good defensive catchers, and the home run leader for all of the minor leagues.

 

Note: All statistics are current through Sunday, June 1.

 

Updated top-10

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 2 Gary Sanchez Yankees Trenton (AA)
2 3 Jorge Alfaro Rangers Myrtle Beach (High-A)
3 10 Blake Swihart Red Sox Portland (AA)
4 12 J.T. Realmuto Marlins Jacksonville (AA)
5 8 Reese McGuire Pirates West Virginia (Low-A)
6 5 Austin Hedges Padres San Antonio (AA)
7 11 Kevin Plawecki Mets Binghamton (AA)
8 6 Max Stassi Astros Oklahoma City (AAA)
9 7 Christian Bethancourt Braves Gwinnett (AAA)
10 N/A Nick Ciuffo Rays N/A

 

Graduates/No Longer Qualify (Pre-season rank)

 

Rank Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 Travis d'Arnaud Mets N/A
4 Josmil Pinto Twins N/A
9 Stryker Trahan Diamondbacks South Bend (Low-A)

 

Travis d'Arnaud has struggled in 2014, hitting .193/.281/.298 for the Mets.  He is going to have to improve his production or else he may start losing playing time.

 

After an electric introduction to major league pitching in 2013, Josmil Pinto is hitting .229/.340/.432 for the Twins.  His batting average is barely above the Mendoza line, but he has 20 walks in 141 plate appearances to go with seven home runs.

 

Stryker Trahan has struggled since becoming a full-time outfielder this spring, hitting just .196/.263/.345 in the Low-A Northwest League.  Now that he has shed his tools of ignorance, there will be increased pressure for offensive development.

 

Small sample size

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
10 N/A Nick Ciuffo Rays N/A

 

Nick Ciuffo was the 21st pick in the 2013 draft, and put up a .258/.296/.308 line in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League last year.  He has yet to be assigned to a team for 2014, but will likely return to the Rookie-level GCL in 2014, though he may receive a more aggressive assignment to Short Season-A Hudson Valley.  Ciuffo is a high baseball-IQ catching prospect that has the potential to hit .300 with 10-15 home runs, but will need 3-4 years of development before he has a chance to reach the major leagues.

 

Superb performance

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
3 10 Blake Swihart Red Sox Portland (AA)
4 12 J.T. Realmuto Marlins Jacksonville (AA)
7 11 Kevin Plawecki Mets Binghamton (AA)

 

Blake Swihart is switch-hitting catcher who could hit .280 with 10-15 home runs while playing above-average defense.  He is currently hitting .286/.322/.458 with ten doubles, two triples and five home runs for Double-A Portland.  His walk rate has taken a hit this year, but his strikeout rate has decreased for the second consecutive season, with his batting average remaining consistent despite a regression from his .350 BABIP in 2013.  He could see time in Boston in September, and could take over as the starting catcher in 2015.

 

J.T. Realmuto is the type of player more commonly associated with the Colorado Rockies, as he was a star shortstop and quarterback at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Oklahoma.  After drafting him in the third round of the 2010 draft, the Marlins converted him from shortstop to catcher.  Realmuto has a cannon arm that controls the running game, and projects as a 10-15 home run hitter who hits .280.  He is hitting .301/.364/.503 with 14 doubles, three triples and five home runs in his second season with Double-A Jacksonville.  He could see his first action in Miami in mid-2015.

 

Kevin Plawecki has hit consistently since being drafted with the 35th pick out of Purdue University in 2012.  He is hitting .321/.351/.497 with Double-A Binghamton, and could see time in Queens before the end of the season.  If Travis d’Arnaud continues his offensive struggles, Plawecki could get an opportunity to take away time.  Plawecki lacks star potential, but could hit .290 with 10 home runs if he can get 400 plate appearances.

 

Holding serve

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
1 2 Gary Sanchez Yankees Trenton (AA)
2 3 Jorge Alfaro Rangers Myrtle Beach (High-A)
5 8 Reese McGuire Pirates West Virginia (Low-A)
6 5 Austin Hedges Padres San Antonio (AA)

 

Gary Sanchez’s .258/.325/.434 line is not particularly impressive, but he has taken substantial strides in 2014, as he has increased his isolated power from .130 to .176 without an increase in strikeout rate (17.1% in 2013 to 16.7% in 2014).  He won’t turn 22 until December, making him the 6th youngest player in the Double-A Eastern League.  He has the potential to be an all-star, but he is a poor defensive catcher and needs to continue to improve his offensive production.

 

Jorge Alfaro is one of the most physically talented prospects in major league baseball.  He has the potential to hit .300 with 20-plus home runs and 20-plus stolen bases while controlling the running game with his top-of-the-charts throwing arm.  He has hits in each of his last seven games, smashing .429/.484/.714 during the process, raising his season line to .278/.332/.429.  He has an ultra-aggressive approach to hitting, which has led to prolonged slumps and could lead to bigger problems as he faces more advanced pitching who will exploit his poor approach.

 

Much like Sanchez and Alfaro, Reese McGuire is a catching prospect whose potential is far outstripping his production.  He is hitting .291/.350/.333 with four doubles, a triple, and zero home runs in 36 games.  However, McGuire was aggressively assigned to the Low-A South Atlantic League, and has been able to hold his own as a 19-year old in a league where the average hitter is nearly 23.

 

Unlike the other prospects in this group, much of Austin Hedges’ value is tied up in what he is able to do right now.  Hedges is a very good defensive catcher who is hitting .254/.305/.401 in the Double-A Texas League.  If he were a lesser defensive catcher, he would likely be in the High-A California League.  Hedges lacks impact offensive potential, but could be a league-average batter while playing gold glove-caliber defense.

 

Struggling

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
8 6 Max Stassi Astros Oklahoma City (AAA)
9 7 Christian Bethancourt Braves Gwinnett (AAA)

 

After a solid but not spectacular season in 2013 in which he hit .277/.333/.529, many expected Max Stassi to slug his way into a platoon with Jason Castro in Houston.  Instead, Stassi has hit .249/.295/.420 with just nine walks in 184 plate appearances.  While much of his value is tied up in his defensive aptitude, he will need to hit much better in the offense-friendly Pacific Coast League if he is to have a chance at a promotion.

 

Much like Stassi, much of Christian Bethancourt’s value is related to his defensive proficiency, but Bethancourt lacks Massi’s power potential.  After a breakout 2013 in which he hit .277/.305/.436, Bethancourt is hitting .240/.275/.347 for Triple-A Gwinnett, a hauntingly similar line to 2012, his first season with Double-A Mississippi in which he hit .243/.275/.291.  The Braves have the offense-minded Evan Gattis starting behind the plate, and Bethancourt could displace Gerald Laird as the primary backup if he improves his hitting.

 

On the Bubble (listed alphabetically)

 

Updated Pre-Season Name MLB Team MiLB Team
Bubble N/A Tommy Joseph Phillies Reading (AA)
Bubble N/A Peter O'Brien Yankees Trenton (AA)

 

Tommy Joseph’s development has been stunted by a myriad of injuries, most notably recurrences of concussion symptoms that have cost him substantial portions of 2013 and 2014.  He missed a week this season due to a concussion and has not played for nearly a month due to a sprained left wrist, but he has produced when he is on the field, hitting .282/.345/.551 with five home runs in 87 plate appearances.  Joseph was the centerpiece to the trade that sent Hunter Pence from Philadelphia to San Francisco, and has the potential to be one of the top offensive catchers in baseball, but his career may end if he continues to suffer head injuries.

 

Technically speaking, Peter O'Brien has had a great season in 2014 as a power-hitting catcher who leads the minor league in home runs with 20 in 213 plate appearances.   A little digging clearly identifies the problem with that statement: he has only caught eight times in 23 games with Double-A Trenton, and he hit ten of his home runs in the High-A Florida State League where he is older than the average player.  After hitting .321/.353/.688 in 30 games with High-A Tampa, he has hit .247/.287/.618 with Double-A Trenton.  O’Brien started strong with Trenton, hitting .310/.310/.857 with two doubles and seven home runs through his first 10 games; in the 19 games since he has hit .191/.269/.404 with one double and three home runs.  While he has walked more over the past three weeks, he will need to improve his approach at the plate and make more consistent contact in order to have sustained success.

Matthew Foreman
Matthew Foreman is a baseball prospect writer for Rotoworld. He can also be found on Twitter.