Digging For Diamonds: 2016-17 Sleeper Catching Prospects
Last week, I started a series on sleepers, breakout, and post-hype prospects, starting with Post-Hype Catchers. A sleeper is someone who is underrated, who other owners are ‘sleeping’ on. It is not someone who is ‘asleep’ and ready to ‘wake up,’ which are called breakouts and are next week’s topic. Unlike last week, all of these guys are considered rookie-eligible prospects, since they haven’t exceeded 130 MLB at-bats or 45 days of service time. To qualify as a ‘sleeper’ for my series, a prospect cannot appear on either CBS Sports’ or MLB Pipeline’s Positional Top 10 Rankings. Also, even though they have not all been released yet, I will not include anyone who has shown up on Baseball America’s Top 10 lists. So here they are, the guys you need to quit hitting the snooze button on, your 2016-17 sleeper catchers:
Mitch Garver, 26, Twins: While some of his owners may be upset at the news that the Twins signed Jason Castro to a three-year deal, I think it is a blessing in disguise. Garver has always hit (16th out of all catchers in wRC+ with a 119 this year), but he made substantial improvements in his defense behind the plate, and he now looks like he can one day handle an everyday role there. With more seasoning in the high-minors, Garver can one day look to supplant Castro as the Twins’ starting catcher.
Victor Caratini, 23, Cubs: Coming in three spots above Garver at 13th on the 2016 catcher rankings for wRC+ is the former Atlanta Brave Victor Caratini. He is a converted third-basemen, so his defense will require patience, but I like his chances, given how well the Cubs developed Willson Contreras and Wellington Castillo recently. His bat is what draws my attention, as I particularly like the way he controls the strike zone (11.3 BB%/16.7 K%). Hopefully he can makes the same defensive strides Garver has by the time he turns 26, as catchers require a lot of patience. I think in Caratini’s case, it will definitely be warranted.
Tomas Nido, 22, Mets: Nido improved in just about every facet of his game this season. He cut his strikeout rate by an astounding 14.3%, from 25.7% in 2015 down to a ridiculous 11.4% in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. Nido’s batting average soared 61 points, from .259 to a league-leading .320 (and an impressive 138 wRC+). However, his BABIP only went up 12 points, meaning it was increasingly likely that his improvement was not a fluke. He also threw out 42% of potential base-stealers, good for second in the league. His .ISO went up slightly, so it would be nice to see him make more improvements in that area, but really, Nido is close to a complete catcher and sounds like he as the floor of a Major League backup. If he can take another step forward in Double-A, we could be looking at the long-awaited “catcher of the future” for the Mets. After failed opportunities from d’Arnaud and Plawecki, I’m sure Mets fans will welcome Nido with open arms. I think his fantasy owners should too, but they may be wise to exercise some caution until we see him perform at a higher levels and hit for some more power.
Jose Trevino, 24, Rangers: I don’t just scout stat-lines, and at first glance of Trevino’s, there isn’t a whole lot that jumps out at you. If you are like me, you scour the chats from BA’s Top 10 lists, and here is what Ben Badler had to say of Trevino just two days ago: “As a defender, he’s tremendous. Rave reviews about all the leadership/intangible qualities that managers love, the blocking and receiving are excellent and he can shut down a running game even without a rocket arm because his feet and exchange are so fast that he’s able to get rid of the ball in a heartbeat.” It sounds like his offensive limitations, particularly regarding plate discipline, are what kept him off the Top 10, but he had a 108 wRC+ and walk/strikeout-rates of 5.6% and 10.5%, respectively. I am more confident in Trevino’s ability to stay behind the plate than I am anyone else on this list, but he does not quite have the others’ offensive potential. A higher floor, but a lower ceiling.
Yermin Mercedes, 24, Orioles: Deep-sleeper time! Much like my Josmil Pinto pick last week, I’m going with a guy who is barely holding on to the fringes of the elusive “catcher” title. After getting cut by the Nationals, Mercedes was in Indy ball in 2014 before getting picked up by the Orioles. He had 500 at-bats between Single-A and High-A this year, and he slashed a ridiculous .345/.404/.570, good for a 174 wRC+ (tops among all catchers). He caught 62 games this year after catching 67 last year, and it is not hard to envision him making waves on the prospect map next season if he can continue to mash at Double-A while starting most games behind the dish. Fantasy owners don’t really care about how well they can catch, so as long as they stay catcher-eligible, so much like Pinto, I see Mercedes hanging on as a C/1B/OF? option who has a long career because of the bat.
Come back next week for our wrap-up of the position with 2016-17 Breakouts: Catchers Edition!