Midseason Catching Prospect Check-In
It’s hotter than the surface of the sun where I live and I’m going on vacation in three days, so let’s skip the pussyfooting around and get right down to business.
Several of the top catching prospects made it to the majors this year and/or exhausted their rookie eligibility, including Blake Swihart (#15 in our preseason top 50 catchers), Kyle Schwarber (#18), Kevin Plawecki (#29), Andrew Susac (#30), Austin Hedges (#37), Christian Bethancourt (#38), and J.T. Realmuto (#48). Here’s a quick update on the guys from our preseason list who are left in the minors and a word about a couple of risers who weren’t.
Jorge Alfaro, Texas Rangers (#16)
Alfaro’s season is likely over after having ankle surgery in June. Scouts seems somewhat divided, with some still placing him inside the top 50 on midseason lists and others taking a wait-and-see approach. Baseball Prospectus was highest at #34 and Keith Law also had him barely inside the top 5o while Baseball American and Minor League Ball did not. There’s no question Alfaro still possesses two elite tools in his raw power and cannon arm but over 49 games before the injury, Alfaro was striking out just shy of 30 percent of the time and only walking at a 4.3 percent clip. A 61:9 walk-to-strikeout at Double-A doesn’t portend great things for his ability to access his raw power as he moves up the ladder and the lost development time won’t help but Alfaro just turned 22 and still has the same high ceiling that earned him a spot inside our top 20 in the first place.
Gary Sanchez , New York Yankees (#26)
Sanchez has recouped some of his former top 25 prospect value in 2015, reversing a power slippage that is part of what made his 2014 so disappointing. After hitting 13 bombs in 110 Double-A games last season, Sanchez reached 12 in his first 58 games on 2014 before being called to Triple-A, where he homered in his first at-bat. His walk rate has taken another step back and there are still questions about his long-term viability behind the plate but between his proximity to the majors, the re-establishment of his power, and the injury to Alfaro, you could make an argument for Sanchez as the best fantasy catching prospect left in the minors.
Reese McGuire, Pittsburgh Pirates (#33)
McGuire is a 20-year-old playing in the Florida State League and multiple sources have called his defense major league caliber right now. That’s special, but aside from guaranteeing that McGuire will stay behind the plate, it doesn’t help much in our game. What may help is his bat-to-ball ability, which has allowed him to strike out less than ten percent of the time in his minor league career. He doesn’t have a home fun this year, not too surprising given his contact-oriented approach and league context, and whether the power will come is an open question. McGuire is a safe long-term option but one with limited fantasy upside.
Max Pentecost, Toronto Blue Jays (#34)
The 11th pick in the 2004 draft underwent two off-season shoulder surgeries and has still yet to play in 2015 but he is currently rehabbing in extended spring training. Pentecost placed towards the back end of Bret’s recent top 500 update but will likely need to come back and show something in 2015 in order to hold his spot.
Chance Sisco, Baltimore Orioles (#36)
Reviews of Sicso’s defense in 2015 have not been positive and even though he’s still relatively new to catching, an eventual move to another position seems even more likely than it did at the beginning of the season. Not in question is his ability to hit. Sisco has missed some time due to injury this season but has put together a .303/.389/.393 in 203 plate appearances when healthy. His 134 wRC+ is easily the best among Carolina League catchers and a 26:23 K:BB ratio is mighty impressive for a 20-year-old. Sisco’s swing remains geared for line drives but there is still plenty of time for him to grow into home run power.
Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians (#42)
Mejia is slashing .206/.296/.332 and is a prime example of why we shouldn’t scout stat lines.The Midwest League is difficult on hitters of all kinds but is an especially big challenge for a 19-year-old catcher getting his first taste of a full-season league. Also, his batting average is severely depressed by a paltry .228 BABIP, lowest among qualified MWL batters. Mejia has maintained a strikeout rate in the mid-teens while upping his walk rate to 9.5 percent and his seven home runs are the third most among all MWL catchers, not just the teenaged ones. He remains several years away from Cleveland but with a solid second half, Mejia will push himself well up our list in 2016.
Max Stassi, Houston Astros (#44)
Stassi has 19 home runs in 160 Triple-A games over the past two seasons but he’s hitting .226 in those games. Stassi is average or better as a defender but his bat is going the wrong way. The Astros current big league combination of Jason Castro and Hang Conger isn’t very inspiring but they are both under team control in 2016 and even if Stassi supplants one of them, he won’t be a viable fantasy option unless he starts making more contact.
Clint Coulter, Milwaukee Brewers (#45)
Coulter is now a full-time outfielder and though he is taking a positive step forward in the Florida State League, his fantasy value takes a big hit with the much-anticipated position change.
Jakson Reetz, Washington Nationals (#46)
The Nationals 2014 third round pick opened his season in the New-York Penn League and his first twenty games haven’t gone very well. Reetz is riding a 40 percent strikeout rate to a .203/.292/.234 triple slash. He has the athleticism to adjust and I’d never advise discounting any prospect based on a sample size this small – especially a 19-year-old catcher who was in high school last year – but there is some risk that Reetz is just a guy who looks good in a uniform. There’s also enough upside for Reetz to be a top five catcher in his prime. He won’t be ready to contribute until the next decade begins and unless he shows something in Auburn, he’ll be leapfrogged by some newer, shinier toys.
Justin O’Conner, Tampa Bay Rays (#49)
O’Conner raised his stock with a strong 2014 that wrapped with an impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League. He has played all of 2015 at the Double-A level and has eight home runs as part of a .224/.255/.372 line. He still sells out for that power and is overly aggressive at the plate, a quality that may limit his usefulness at the major league level despite a double-plus arm.
Luis Torrens, New York Yankees (#50)
Torrens’ season ended before it began when he had surgery to repair a torn labrum in January. He has the kind of well-rounded skill set that could eventually make him the top catching prospect in the game and despite the lost season, he won’t be too far behind when he plays next season at low-A at 20 years old.
Jacob Nottingham, Houston Astros (NR)
Nottingham is one of my favorite pop up prospects in 2015. He played his first 59 games in the Midwest League and hit .326/.387/.543 before being promoted to the Cal League, where he’s currently sitting on a .339/.388/.661 line in his first 15 games. While the stint in the MWL is more impressive in context, a 1.049 OPS is impressive even for someone who calls Lancaster home. Nottingham is only 20 years old and is a physical specimen, having turned down a football scholarship offer from Arizona to sign with the Astros in 2013. If he continues to rake, I’ll have him in the comfortably inside the top 35 among dynasty league catchers when 2016 opens.
Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies (NR)
Murphy spent most of 2015 on the disabled list, appearing in only 27 games because of a balky rotator cuff. He’s back on track in 2015, compensating for his swing-and-miss with a healthy amount of power. Murphy’s 13 long balls are second most in the Eastern League and though the sub-.250 average raises questions about whether he’ll be able to get to that power when he arrives in the big leagues, a slugging catcher who will play in Coors deserves your attention.