“That’s Amore!” Minor League Maestros: Catchers 2016
What does it mean to be a catcher? Are they just another player in the lineup? Are they the field general? Decade after decade, the catcher position becomes more and more valuable. Throughout the history of baseball, there have been many catchers that have been the focal point of a baseball team. Yogi Berra is the first catcher that comes to mind when I think of the greatest of all time. He won ten World Series, as a Yankee, in 16 seasons. He’s the definition of a Yankee and meant the world to the organization. He not only helped offensively, but was able to be a team leader. Being able to excel in multiple areas of the game makes catchers vital to any team. In recent years, Mike Piazza, Jorge Posada, Yadier Molina, and Buster Posey are the definition of what you want in a catcher. There’s no arguing Mike Piazza’s offense was far superior to his defense, but he was a leader for every team he played on. The same can be said for Yadier Molina. He, too, is a team leader, but his defense is what defines him as a catcher. Season after season, championship teams have stellar performances from their catchers. Buster Posey and Salvador Perez played vital roles for the previous two World Series winning San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals. With the next wave of super star catchers ready to make a splash, here are my top-ten minor league catchers for 2016.
- Gary Sanchez (New York Yankees)
A lot of experts have Willson Contreras as their number one, but I’m a bit biased to Gary Sanchez. I was lucky enough to catch one of his games against the Indianapolis Indians last season. I loved everything I saw in Sanchez. He has that ideal stocky-build one expects from a catcher. He’s shown the ability to gun down would be base stealers, and is way ahead in terms of his offensive ability. Sanchez showed offensive prowess in each of the at-bats that I saw. He went up to bat with an idea and worked the count until he got his idea pitch. In 2015, Sanchez hit .274/.330/.485 with 18 HR and 62 RBI. He only accumulated 78 strikeouts in 365 at-bats. At times, Sanchez gets overly aggressive at the plate, but I attribute this to the confidence he has. He knows he can hit any pitcher and that’s something I like to see in a young ballplayer. It’s only a matter of time before Sanchez is the everyday catcher for the New York Yankees.
2. Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs)
Contreras has been playing in the minor leagues since the age of 17. The potential has always been there, but, until 2015, he was posting average numbers. The start of last season saw Contreras backing up Kyle Schwarber. After Schwarber was summoned to the Majors, Contreras established himself as the top catching prospect in all of baseball. Like Sanchez, Contreras’ offensive production is ahead of his defense. His arm isn’t as good as Sanchez’s, and this was the main reason for me ranking Sanchez higher. In 2015, Contreras hit .333/.413/.478 with eight home runs and 78 RBI. The staggering number is in 454 at-bats Contreras only had 62 strikeouts. To me, this is an important number. There’s no questioning Double-A is far superior than any other level of minor league baseball. For a player to keep their strikeouts to a minute number under 100 speaks volumes to their offensive approach. If the NL gets a DH within the next few years, Contreras could allow the Cubs to shift Schwarber to designated hitter while he supplants himself as the Chicago Cubs backstop.
3. Jorge Alfaro (Philadelphia Phillies)
Alfaro again finds himself as the third-rated catcher on my list. I expected big things from the right-handed slugger, but his 2015 season was cut short following ankle surgery. Because of this, Alfaro only managed 194 at-bats. He produced a .258 average, but had 61 strikeouts in those at-bats. When the Texas Rangers bolstered their bullpen by adding Cole Hamels, Alfaro was one of the key prospects the Phillies acquired in return. Only 22, Alfaro possesses a great bat and an arm that ranks him with the best in the minor leagues. Prior to last season, Alfaro hit .261 with 17 HR and 87 RBI. I look for Alfaro to bounce back in 2016, and could easily see himself called to Philly as the season progresses.
4. Tyler Stephenson (Cincinnati Reds)
Following the 2015 MLB Draft, I questioned the Reds selecting Stephenson. With that being said, finding a great catcher is on the agenda of every organization. At 6’4″ 225lbs, Stephenson possesses great size. His arm strength has been noted throughout scouting reports and there’s no questioning his offensive ability. I’ve read reports that suggest he has a long release behind the plate. This will be an easy fix, as the Reds will look to allow Stephenson to “short arm” throws rather than wide-up behind the plate. In 194 at-bats, Stephenson produced 52 hits with 16 RBI and one home run. This is a small sample size for a player that could easily be a perennial 25+ HR hitter. Only 19, Stephenson has all the time in the world to develop intone of the best catchers in all of baseball. Listing Stephenson at four is based greatly on potential and being drafted eleventh in 2015.
5. Reese McGuire (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Up three spots from 2015, the jump has a lot to do with previous prospects getting their call during the 2015 season. At 20, McGuire is still two or three years from getting his call, but the potential is there. He’s a left-handed hitting catcher with advanced defensive abilities. While his 2015 average (.254) was a few points lower than 2014 (.262), the story remained the same with McGuire; he showed the ability to get on base while limiting his strikeouts to only 39 in 374 at-bats. There’s no questioning the Pirates lineup. With Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco looking like the outfield of the future, it’ll only be a matter of time before McGuire supplants himself as the everyday starting catcher for the Pittsburg Pirates. There’s no reason why McGuire won’t be settling behind the plate at Double-A this season.
6. Max Pentecost (Toronto Blue Jays)
In 2015, Pentecost made notable mention for my list of catching prospects. Shoulder surgery forced Pentecost to miss the entire 2015 season. Injuries happen, but having an upper-body injury (Tommy John) myself, I wish no such evil on any athlete. While turning 23 in March, Pentecost will look to regain momentum in 2016. There’s no question his ability to succeed on both sides of the plate. His athleticism makes up for raw ability, and there’s no question Pentecost will post numbers that will see him at the top of all MLB catching prospects.
7. Jacob Nottingham (Oakland Athletics)
I’m a bit biased when it comes to prospects in the Athletics system. While Nottingham wasn’t drafted by Oakland, he was acquired from Houston in the Scott Kazmir deal. He’s a pure power-hitting catcher that may struggle hitting for power in the O.co Coliseum. It’s a graveyard for power, and it may never reflect Nottingham’s true power. In 2015, the slugging righty hit an astonishing .316/.372/.505 with 17 home runs and 82 RBI. The best stat is that he managed to stay under 100 strikeouts in over 460 at-bats. He could be the next great catching prospect that could easily get his call in the next two to three seasons.
8. Dom Nunez (Colorado Rockies)
A left-handed hitter that has displayed good power, Nunez could prosper greatly from playing in Denver. Converted to catcher, Nunez possesses a strong arm that gives him another great tool. His great power was displayed in 2015 while hitting 13 HR, 53 RBI, and an OPS of .821 for Single-A Asheville. Only 21, it could still be two to three years before Nunez gets his call to the Mile High city, but once he arrives, there’s no questioning his ability to hit 20+ home runs a season.
9. Justin O’Conner (Tampa Bay Rays)
A second player to make my top-1o after being a notable player in 2015, O’Conner could easily make the Rays squad out of Spring Training. The Rays don’t have much to offer in terms of the catching position and this spring the Rays will give a long look at O’Conner. He’s struggled to hit for average, but he’s shown a bit of pop at the plate. Defense is the name of the game for O’Conner. Having one of the strongest arms in the minor leagues, he’s shown the ability to throw out would be base stealers. He could be another catcher that has his defensive game develop faster than offensive. That being said, he could be a sleeper off the waiver wire as the 2016 season progresses.
10. Chance Sisco (Baltimore Orioles)
With Matt Wieters accepting a one-year qualifying offer, Sisco could be in line to be the Orioles everyday catcher in a season or two. A second round pick in 2013, Sisco has shown great discipline at the plate. In 2015, Sisco hit .297 with six home runs and 34 RBI in 384 plate appearances. The number that stands out greatly is his [34:42] strikeouts to walks. Any player that can accumulate more walks than strikeouts has a great approach at the plate. Possessing an above-average arm, there’s no need for the Orioles to break the bank when it comes to negotiating with Matt Wieters after the 2016 season. If I were a betting man, Sisco would be my choice to be the Opening Day catcher for the Orioles in 2017.
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