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Rankings in Review: Preseason Top 10 Catching Prospects

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The minor league season has entered its' final month, and with that I always like to start taking a look back at how my rankings went during the preseason. The first position up is catcher, of which you can find the complete top 20 here.

  1. Jorge Alfaro - Phillies (AA)

Alfaro got off to a hot start at AA in April, going 18 for 36 with 10 RBI in his first eight games. However, an oblique injury sidelined him for a couple weeks, and brought his numbers back to earth. He returned on May 7th, and has hit .256/.304/.407 with 11 home runs in the 76 games since. He’s expected to head to AAA in 2017 rather than straight to the majors, but given that his defense is still considered to be behind his bat, that’s not all that surprising.

2. Jacob Nottingham - Brewers (AA)

A trade to the Brewers in the offseason didn’t really have a specific impact on Nottingham’s path to the majors given that the starter at the time, Jonathan Lucroy, was one of the most likely players to be traded before the deadline. However, Nottingham has not hit well at AA, with a .239/.299/.345 slash line, wRC+ of 82 and a serious spike in strikeout rate (up to 30% this year). His defense was a question at the beginning of the year, but it sounds like he has improved enough that he is expected to keep catcher eligibility long term. Overall, his value is probably similar to the offseason, as he is still expected to hit well for a catcher, and can still end up as a top 10 catcher overall in the majors.

3. Gary Sanchez - Yankees (Majors)

Sanchez didn’t end up serving as the backup to Brian McCann as I speculated in January, but rather spent the majority of the season at AAA before being called up to stay at the start of this month. He’s been splitting his time between catcher and designated hitter since being called up, and is 16 for 43 with 4 home runs since returning.

4. Tom Murphy - Rockies (AAA)

Murphy missed the first month of the season with an oblique injury, but has been hitting well ever since. On the season, he’s hitting .315/.345/.637 with 15 home runs in 66 games at AAA Albuquerque. While hitting stats at Albuquerque usually need to be taken with a grain of salt, Murphy’s wRC+ of 152 overall and a road slash line of .267/.296/.585 show the performance to be more than just a product of his home park.

5. Chris Betts - Rays (Short-Season)

Betts did not make his professional debut until June 24th this year after having Tommy John surgery, and has not hit well so far between two short season levels. His value is essentially unchanged at this point, and is still likely to need 3-4 years of development before he could see the majors.

6. Tyler Stephenson - Reds (Low-A)

It’s been a tough season for Stephenson, who has appeared in just 39 games despite starting in a full-season league this year. Injuries have led to four different disabled list stints, and he seems likely to return to Low-A in 2017.

7. Willson Contreras - Cubs (Graduated)

Contreras spent the first two months at AAA Iowa before the Cubs called him up. It became abundantly clear that, at least from an offensive stand point, he had little else to work on there, hitting .353/.442/.593 with 9 home runs in 55 games. Since being called up, the Cubs have worked him into the lineup wherever possible, as he’s seen time behind the plate as well as first base and left field. He got off to a hot start, but has settled in with an excellent .266/.354/.444 line in 50 games so far. This ranking was probably too low in the offseason, as he can be a perennial top 10 catcher as long as he qualifies.

8. Austin Barnes - Dodgers (AAA)

Barnes represents a unique prospect, in that he has seen significant time at both catcher, second base, and even third base in the minors this year. He’s hit well at AAA Oklahoma City this year, and also been up for three different cups of coffee this year. A path to regular playing time isn’t clear at the moment, but the positional flexibility could lead to enough time at all three spots in the future.

9. Max Pentecost - Blue Jays (Low-A)

It’s hard to judge Pentecost going forward, as he has not appeared in even one game this year behind the plate as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He’s been hitting well (.314/.375/.490), but until he can get behind the plate, we simply do not know whether he will remain at catcher or not.

10. Reese McGuire - Pirates/Blue Jays (AA)

McGuire has spent the year at the AA level, primarily at Altoona before being included in the Francisco Liriano trade and sent to New Hampshire. The question about McGuire has always been whether he will hit enough to be fantasy relevant, as he has never shown very much in-game power. He has a great approach at the plate though (29 BB, 29 K this year), and is a lock to stay behind the plate defensively.

The Next Wave

There are actually a few catching prospects who could jump right into the top 10 at the position in the offseason. The one who has been receiving the most press this year has to be the Indians’ Francisco Mejia (#17 in the preseason), who just recently had a 50 game hitting streak between two Single-A levels. He will easily slot near the top of this list in the offseason.

In terms of draftees, the White Sox’ Zack Collins may or may not be a catcher long term, but his bat could be special there if he does. If he can’t, the bat is good enough that it would still be a positive at first base, but obviously hurts the value a lot.