Digging for Diamonds: 2016-17 Breakout Catching Prospects

Two weeks ago, I began a series on sleepers, breakout, and post-hype prospects, starting with Post-Hype Catchers and continuing last week with Sleeper Catchers. This week, we will be discussing catching prospects who have the potential to become some of the top prospects in their respective organizations, and perhaps all of baseball if they can continue to build on their stellar 2016 campaigns. Here are four young catching prospects who I think can fully breakout next year in 2017:

Keibert Ruiz, 18, Dodgers: Already highlighted in Matt Pullman’s Teens Who Rake, Pt. III, Ruiz is my absolute number one  breakout candidate for catching prospects next year. His offensive stats alone should cause you to get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside, but digging deeper into his scouting reports at FanGraphs and Baseball America, you will find that his defensive skills may in fact be ahead of his bat, which is just insane. He is the same age as a high school senior, and I think Ruiz would have been a consensus top-10 pick if he were in the 2016 amateur draft. A great find by Dodgers scouts and the obvious replacement of Yasmani Grandal once he becomes a free agent in 2019, I believe Ruiz is poised to become one of the premier catching prospects in all of baseball, and soon.

Chase Vallot, 20, Royals: If you were to pull someone off Wall Street and ask them about ‘trading,’ they probably are not going to immediately think “Danny Espionsa was a nice pickup for LA.” Instead, their thoughts immediately will go to stocks, which is exactly how you should view your dynasty assets. Someone whose stock you should be buying this offseason is former supplemental first-rounder Chase Vallot. Here are the stats of two players, both age 19, both in Single-A.

Player A: 10.8 BB%, 37.0 K%, .365 ISO, .245 BA, 163 wRC+
Player B: 11.8 BB%, 35.8 K%, .217 ISO, .246 BA, 140 wRC+

Player B is Chase Vallot, of course. Any guesses on Player A? It is none other than Joey Gallo, the Rangers slugging “top prospect.” Vallot does not have the same power Gallo has (no one does), but with “60-grade raw power and plenty of bat speed”, Vallot can still put on a show. He fortunately does not have quite the same degree of plate discipline issues that Gallo had at the same age and level, but a 35.8 K% still is not pretty. Neither are the reports on his defense, as Sickels notes his high passed-ball and error rates. He did throw out 33% of runners this past year, so I would be surprised if the Royals move him off the position in the next two-to-three years. Vallot should play the majority of next season as a 20 year-old catcher in the Carolina League, and if he can get his K-rate down to the 26%-range that Gallo was at in his first taste in High-A, he could become a top-50 or even top-25 dynasty league asset as the “Gallo at catcher.” However, much like Gallo, I do not feel confident in projecting their future MLB success due to their issues with both strikeouts and defensive limitations. I would be trying to acquire Vallot now so that I can sell him for profit in a year or two, before the Royals realize that he is not their answer to Salvador Perez. Don’t fret though, Royals fans, as there is another, more promising catcher on the prospect horizon…

Meibrys Viloria, 20, Royals: After hitting ZERO extra-base hits in 172 at-bats in 2015, Viloria did not look like much of a prospect coming into the 2016 season. After a pretty impressive 2014 debut (.309 BA/10.9 BB%/14.0 K%/.144 ISO/139 wRC+), it was too soon to completely write him off, especially since he was still only 19 years old heading into the season. Meibrys rewarded his dynasty owners who held onto him due to his 80-grade name by hitting 6 homers, 3 triples, and an amazing 28 doubles in 226 at-bats in 2016, good for a .230 ISO after a laughable .000 mark in 2015. Not only did he hit for power, but he continued to show the amazing plate discipline (7.7 BB%/13.9 K%) and contact skills (.376 batting average!!) that put him on the prospect map back in 2014. If he can continue to show the same skills and keep making progress with his defensive skills, we could be looking at the TRUE heir-apparent to Sal Perez in KC. The Royals also have another interesting, young catching prospect in Sebastian Rivero, but I do not know if he will hit enough to make a big fantasy impact. Still, Royals fans could be looking at a Viloria/Rivero-tandem (with Vallot at 1B/DH?) for a solid 5-6 years or longer once Perez is gone after the 2021 season (or sooner if he’s traded).

Dennis Ortega, 19, Cardinals: Ortega has made progress every season since signing with the Cardinals three years ago. His batting average has risen from .229 in 2014 to .248 in 2015 to a phenomenal .357 this past year. Here is what BA had to say about him in the GCL Top 20 chat, since I am far from a scout: “He’s a bigger-framed catcher but he’s athletic and agile for his size, he receives well and he has a plus arm. He’ll stick behind the plate and he should play the position well. Offensively, he never stood out much in games until this year, but he’s developed a good hitting approach, he understands the strike zone and he was one of the more difficult hitters in the league to strike out… I think he’s going to get stronger and that’s going to help the power develop, [p]lus he’s a young catcher, so there’s a ton on his plate to learn defensively during his first couple of years in pro ball, and with Latin American catchers, there’s even more to handle between learning a new language, a new country and having to communicate with English-speaking pitchers for the first time. So this could very well be the beginnings of an offensive breakout for Ortega.” If he makes the jump from the GCL all the way to the MWL and continues to hit well, watch out. If Carson Kelly is not the solution to Yadier Molina, maybe Ortega is.

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