It’s everybody’s favorite time of year! No, not the holidays, I’m talking about prospects list season! This is the beginning of a series on sleepers, breakout, and post-hype prospects, starting today with post-hype catchers. These are guys who may or may not have exceeded rookie status (130 Major League at-bats) but who aren’t valued perhaps as highly as they were in years past. Next week, we will be discussing sleepers, following with everybody’s favorite, breakout candidates. After that will come post-hype middle-infielders, sleeper infielders, etc. So here they are, without further adieu, your 2016-17 post-hype catchers:
Austin Hedges, 24, Padres: According to Roster Resource, as well as several rumors around the league, Hedges is poised to supplant Derek Norris as the starter in San Diego starting Opening Day, 2017. The 27th-best prospect in 2014 according to Baseball America, Hedges exploded in AAA last year to the tune of .326/.353/.597 with an astonishing 22 homers in just 334 at-bats. Looks like the bat may be catching up with the glove, though be wary of scouting the stat line and expecting similar numbers in the big leagues. Still, a strong buy for me.
Mike Zunino, 25, Mariners: The #3 overall pick in 2012, Zunino has largely disappointed, mostly due to being rushed to the majors in just his second professional season. He’ll probably always strike out a lot, but there’s no denying the power, and he made improvements last year in AAA. He’s the projected starter with Ruiz as his backup in Seattle, and since he’s a young catcher and tore through the minors after being drafted as a top-3 pick, he may still be valued highly by his owner. I’d test the waters on him this offseason to see how his owner feels about him; he may come cheap, but don’t go crazy.
Andrew Susac, 26, Brewers: Drafted in the 2nd-round by the Giants in 2011, Susac climbed his way to BA’s Top 100 in 2015 and was brought over from San Francisco in the Will Smith trade. The only player that stands in his way to more playing time in 2016 is the completely average Martin Maldonado, so I don’t see him holding back Susac and his 104 wRC+ in 262 at-bats so far. Another good buy for ’17 and a great long-term investment.
Travis D’Arnaud, 27, Mets: A former four-time Baseball America Top 100 prospect, injuries have plagued the former 17th overall prospect to this point in his career. He went for pennies on the dollar in my super-deep league last month, as I think his owners are growing frustrated. He may not be a long-term catcher, but I still believe in the bat, as should you. He’s not the safest investment, but then again, none of these names are. If you can get him for cheap, go for it.
Bruce Maxwell, 25, Athletics: Maxwell was drafted in the 2nd-round in 2012, and he hit well upon signing and in 2013 as well. The 2014 and ’15 seasons were disappointing, however, and the reports on defense were not as encouraging as one had hoped. However, fast-forward to 2016, and he’s destroying AAA-pitching and earning a call-up to the Majors, where he hit .283/.337/.402 (103 wRC+) in 101 at-bats. Maxwell was brought to my attention by FanGraph’s writer Carson Cistulli’s The Fringe Five weekly column on “baseball’s most compelling fringe prospects.” There, he notes Maxwell’s above-average defensive performance according to Baseball Prospectus, and also a first-hand account from his manager while Maxwell was in AA, making key defensive adjustments. He never got the hype some of the others players on this last have, so this (and the next) candidate may be better classified as “sleepers” than post-hypers, but he definitely was a prospect back in 2012-13 and certainly fell off the map a little bit in 2014-15, so I think he’s a sneaky add, especially since the free-swinging A’s could likely move Vogt at some point.
Josmil Pinto, 27, free agent: Remember him? Since this is a fantasy-based website, I felt compelled to include the slugging ‘catcher’ Pinto. He will likely never become a full-time catcher or even a starter due to defensive limitations, but he’s hit a very respectable 11 homers with a .252/.336/.436 (116 wRC+) line in 252 Major League bat-bats, well above-average for a catcher. He should still be catcher-eligible in your league, and if he signs on with an AL team, look out. He only needs to catch in 20 games to retain eligibility in most leagues, and the bat is solid. An interesting investment if you’re a fantasy owner, let’s just hope an American League team gives him a chance, as I’m still a believer for one more year. He could prove me wrong and end up a Quad-A player, but there’s still some promise
Be sure to tune in next week for your 2016-17 Sleepers: Catchers Edition. Happy trading!
Credit to Baseball America’s All-Time Top 100 Prospects and FanGraph’s statistics.