“That’s Amore!” Minor League Maestros: Catchers 2015
Beethoven once said, “Nothing is more intolerable than to have admit to yourself your own errors.” In our own minds, we are all Hall of Fame fantasy managers. Although, I think it’s safe to say we all have that one issue that we can’t overcome. For me, it’s fantasy catchers. I’ve always struggled getting consistent production from the catcher position.
I can remember scrounging the waiver wire for the likes of Geronimo Gil, Paul Lo Duca, and Michael Barrett. Yes, each had at least one season of moderate stats, but those guys? I was looking back at public leagues, that I took part in, and I was amazed by how many times I was stuck with Paul Lo Duca as my starting catcher in the early 2000s. I’ve always shied from reaching for catchers, and always had my eye on guys called up like Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, and Carlos Santana.
Even today, I catch myself praying to the Gods of Fantasy Baseball that an unknown catching commodity will have a great year and I snag him off of waivers. For instance, two seasons ago John Buck had a hot start. I knew this couldn’t last all season. There is no way this great Earth would allow it. Naturally, after a great first month, he came back down to Earth. I tried moving him, praying someone would give me anything for him. Yeah, that didn’t happen. He was released shortly after, and I was stuck looking for another replacement. Then, last season I drafted Matt Wieters. He was off to a hot start and ended at .308, 5HR, 18RBI before being accepted to “Tommy John University.” Again, the catcher positions strikes back! While in real life I’m “Crazy hairy Rob Lowe,” in the fantasy realm I’m “I can’t get production out of the catcher position Rob Lowe.”
With that being said, let’s take a look at Round 2 of Minor League Maestros: Catchers.
- Blake Swihart (Boston Red Sox)
The former 2011 first round draft pick has lived up to his draft position. He’s shown he can hit, and do so with a high average. Last season, he batted .293 with 13 homers, and 64 RBI. Not to mention, he had a OBP of .341. That’s very impressive coming from a switch hitter. He threw out 42% of base stealers. The MLB average was around 25% last season, and Yadier Molina threw out around 60%. Swihart throwing out 42% is incredible. He really doesn’t have much competition in regards to Christian Vazquez and Ryan Hanigan. With Mike Napoli no longer a threat to see time behind the plate, Swihart will have a chance to win the starting job out of Spring Training. Realistically, Swihart gets a call at some point in the 2015 season, and more than likely is the Opening Day starter in 2016.
- Austin Hedges (San Diego Padres)
With the likes of Swihart, Hedges is one of the best defensive catchers in the minors. Many rankings have him ahead of Swihart, but Swihart is superior with the bat. Hedges shows more power than contact, making him a work in progress. His defensive prowess is not in question. Last season, he hit .225/.268/.321. He struckout 89 times in 427 at-bats. Those aren’t terrible numbers, but he absolutely must work on his average and OBP. Hedges made it is easy for San Diego to move Yasmani Grandal. Derek Norris is more than capable behind the plate, but if he gets injured, at any point, Hedges will get the call. I look to see Hedges start in the minors to get the at bats he desperately needs. With Norris not headed to the outfield, Hedges looks like a September call up and having a better shot in 2016.
- Jorge Alfaro (Texas Rangers)
There is no question that Alfaro can hit. Converted from the infield, Alfaro possesses one of the strongest arms of any Minor League catcher. At 21, there is no rush getting Alfaro to the Major Leagues. At the dish, Alfaro hit .261 with 17 homers and 87 RBI. The OBP and SLG is there with a mesmerizing .323 and .440. The only downfall was his 127 strikeouts in 486 at-bats. In my eyes, this isn’t a huge issue in regards to his stat line. With the potential for 20 plus home runs, and athleticism, he’s well on his way to becoming a future All-Star. With Robinson Chirinos not offering mind-boggling numbers, there’s a chance Alfaro is a call up with a hot start in the minors. I seem him getting his chance in 2016.
- Kevin Plawecki (New York Mets)
He’s a former Purdue Boilermaker that can hit! He batted .283 at AAA and had only 21 strikeouts in 152 at-bats. He has been a terrific game-caller, and has been able to be above league minimum in regards to caught-stealing percentage. His arm may not be the strongest, but he has the ability to block balls. Did I mention he can hit? Hitting is his calling card to the Major Leagues. His quick swing, and ability to drive the ball sets him apart from many prospects. If d’Arnaud shows any signs of struggle, Plawecki is a phone call away from arriving at Citi Field.
- Gary Sanchez (New York Yankees)
For me, it was a coin flip between Sanchez and Schwarber for number five. They both have decent competition, in regards to current MLB starters, but the Cubs seem pretty set on Montero and Ross. Defense is a work in progress. He needs to work on blocking balls, but covets a strong throwing arm. Just like Schwarber, there is the possibility of moving to left field. Last season, at AA Trenton, Sanchez batted .270/.338/.406. His 91 strikeouts in 429 at-bats aren’t too concerning considering he hits for power. He’s gone over 10 home runs in each minor league season with over 50 RBI. With most catchers on this list, defense will keep him in the minors to start the season. I give his ETA as 2015/2016.
- Kyle Schwarber (Chicago Cubs)
He’s hit at every level since he first set foot in the minors. There is absolutely no other way to describe him than a power hitting catcher. A few weeks away from turning 22, Schwarber has hit over .300 with a OBP of .428 and .634 SLG at three different levels. His defensive ability has been a question, but there is no denying his potential as a hitter. He saw time at left field, but the Cubs have stated they would like to see him stick to catching. I don’t see him reaching the Cubs this season, however, if he continues to mash, he absolutely has a shot at starting for the Cubs in 2016. The Cubs have the minor league system intact, and it’ll be interesting to see if their draft picks perform at the Major League level. Regardless of position, Schwarber will hit on arrival and should do so for years to come.
- Christian Bethancourt (Atlanta Braves)
The Braves’ starting catching job is his to lose this Spring Training. As insurance, the Braves signed A.J. Pierzynski. Not to mention, Pierzynski is great to teach Bethancourt the defensive part of the game. In 91 minor league games last season, Bethancourt hit .283/.308/.408. There is room for adjustment in terms of striking out. With his defense ahead of his offensive ability, he reminds me of Yadier Molina. Hitting struggles will more than likely surface, but once he gets that down pat are we looking at Yadier 2.0?
- Reese McGuire (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Losing Russell Martin has to be devastating to Pirates fans. Francisco Cervelli doesn’t help mask the pain of losing such an integral piece to the Pirates team. Despite the ups and downs from the catcher position, McGuire looks promising behind the plate. A few weeks shy of 20, McGuire possesses a smooth swing from the left side, as well as advanced defensive abilities. Still quite young for the minor leagues, McGuire will look to build on his .262 average. He showed ability to get on base, and didn’t strike out a lot. The Pirates will see struggles from the catcher position, but McGuire’s work ethic will allow improvement, and shows an ETA of 2017/2018. Patience is a virtue for the Pirates when it comes to a potential stud catcher.
- J.T. Realmuto (Miami Marlins)
It’s safe to say the Rob Brantly Experiment was a bust. A late draft pick that didn’t amount too much. Now, with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jeff Mathis behind the dish, the Marlins are in need of a catching savior. There is a sleeper in their organization, and it’s J.T. Realmuto. He’s above average in terms of defense, and his bat showed improvement in 2014. He hit for .299/.369/.461. He’s about as ready as it gets to make the Marlins’ roster. There’s no reason he can’t displace Jeff Mathis out of Spring Training. Knowing what they will get from Saltalamacchia, I see Realmuto in a time share behind the plate. If he hits, he starts.
- Andrew Susac (San Francisco Giants)
It’s only a matter of time before Posey moves to first base for good. Brandon Belt doesn’t offer much, and I think it’s more intriguing to get as much as possible out of Posey, and bring up another catcher. That catcher will more than likely be Susac. He’s a solid defender and make it easy on the Giants. The potential is there for a .270 hitter with 20+ home runs. He could easily start for many Major League teams, and more than likely will start at some point in 2015. With that being said, feast your eyes on the player that allows Posey to be the starting first baseman for the 2015 San Francisco Giants.
Other Notable Players:
Max Pentecost (Toronto Blue Jays)
Clint Coulter (Milwaukee Brewers)
Justin O’Conner (Tampa Bay Rays)
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