Top 10 Catcher Prospects

 

The top catching prospects entering 2004 struggled through a collectively disappointing season. Mega-prospect Joe Mauer performed well in the action he saw as a Twin; there just wasn't enough of it due to injury. With Mauer being in a class of his own, the second tier of catching prospects suffered disappointment as well. Jeff Mathis (Angels), Kelly Shoppach (Red Sox), Dioner Navarro (Yankee turned Diamondback turned Dodger) and Guillermo Quiroz (Blue Jays) all experienced setbacks in 2004 due to poor performance or injury.

 

With former prospects John Buck (Royals), Yadier Molina (Cardinals) and Gerald Laird (Rangers) each graduating to the majors last season, the race for #2 behind Mauer is wide open.

 

1. Joe Mauer -- Minnesota Twins

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

21

Majors

107

.308

8

1

6

11

14

.369

.570

 

It is not at all a surprise that Mauer tops this list. But what is a surprise is that he's even eligible for it. He was expected to exhaust his at-bat limitations for rookie status in 2004 as Minnesota's starting catcher. Loss of time due to injury held him to just 107 at-bats, 23 less than the 130 that would remove him from prospect status.

 

To put it in simple terms, Mauer will be the next generation's definition of catching greatness. He will carry the torch that will be passed to him whenever Ivan Rodriguez is ready to move on. When it's all said and done, the debate over the game's best allround catcher over the span of the past half-century will comprise of three names: Bench, Pudge, and Mauer.

 

Though scouts are hesitant to give out a rare 80 on the scouting scale, Mauer is said to possess three: his defensive skills, making him the standard bearer among receivers; his arm strength, which was able to throw out 7 of the first 18 major league base stealers he saw (39%); and his pure bat swing.

 

A .330 hitter in the minor leagues (as one of the youngest players at each level he performed), he was able to hit .308 as a major leaguer as he was turning just 21. His respectable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 14-11 as a Twin was the first time at any stop in his career that he struck out more than he walked. With enough major league experience expect him to hit .320.

 

His 9 homeruns in 1030 minor league at-bats certainly don't show any signs of significant power threat. But don't be fooled. Power is the last tool to develop and he showed more power in his brief stint in the majors than was expected of him at this point (.570 slg). His 6 home runs prorated over 550 at-bats puts him at about the 30 mark.

 

Expect him to solidify himself in the #3 spot in the Twins lineup, make several All-Star teams, strongly contend for league MVP a couple times, and possibly be a first ballot Hall of Famer in about 2026.

 

There's Mauer. And then there's the rest.

 

2. Jeff Mathis -- Anaheim Angels

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

22

AA

432

.227

24

3

14

49

101

.310

.394

 

Entering the 2004 season, Mathis was an obvious choice for being the game's best catching prospect not named Mauer. However, his disappointing season has caused some doubts. When Double-A teammates Casey Kotchman and Dallas McPherson received mid-season promotions, Mathis' season went into a tailspin for a miserable second half without much offensive support in the lineup.

 

A good defender, his glove and arm are still not questioned. His plate discipline suffered in 2004, a direct impact on his average.

 

It's possible that his 2004 season will simply be a blip on the radar; a season to forget. For that reason, he's given a reprieve to hang on to the #2 ranking among catchers. Expect him to bounce back in 2005. If not, he will plummet down this list.

 

3. Daric Barton -- Oakland A's

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

19

low A

313

.313

23

0

13

69

44

.445

.511

 

Selected as the St. Louis Cardinals' first round pick in 2003, Barton came to the A's as part of the package for Mark Mulder. Barton's 2004 numbers made him attractive to the A's and their philosophy of strike zone judgment and patience. His walk total is tremendous for the number of at-bats, raising his on-base percentage more than .130 points on top of his batting average, which is already over .300.

 

Barton also adds good punch to his bat. He's already shown good gap power with 23 doubles. As he continues to mature physically, his homerun totals should increase.

 

While his offensive skill is his great strength, he is not as strong defensively. It's very likely that he will move to another position before he gets to the big leagues. Though it's uncertain what position he may ultimately move to, what is certain is that it is his bat that will carry him to the big leagues.

 

Barton's path should take him to high-A ball for 2005; however, the A's also have 2004 college draftees Landon Powell and Kurt Suzuki to catch at Oakland's two A-ball affiliates. Unless the A's feel one of the three is ready to jump to Double-A this year, Barton may move from behind the plate as soon as this spring.

 

4. Guillermo Quiroz -- Toronto Blue Jays

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

23

AAA

255

.227

19

1

8

28

54

.309

.404

 

Quiroz had his 2004 season interrupted by a trip to the disabled list. Though it played a role in his average falling to a disappointing mark, don't expect Quiroz to hit for a great average even when healthy. His bat will provide some power, however, and imagine him as a guy in about the 7th spot of an American League lineup.

 

Quiroz' above average defense and arm strength make him Toronto's catcher of the future. The future may arrive for Quiroz in 2005.

5. Chris Snyder -- Arizona Diamondbacks

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

24

Majors

96

.240

6

0

5

13

25

.327

.458

AA

346

.301

31

0

15

46

57

.389

.520

 

Snyder has good power and works the count decently well. Don't expect Snyder to hit .300 as a big leaguer, an average a bit inflated by the Texas League, one of the most hitter friendly leagues in the minors.

 

Snyder was a 2nd round pick in 2002 and was put right on the fast track. His defense is above average and he has a strong arm. Snyder's bat is not as polished as would be expected for someone on the fast track, but the truth of it is that it took just over two years to become a big leaguer.

 

Snyder will compete with Koyie Hill for the Diamondbacks starting catcher position in spring training.

6. Dioner Navarro -- Los Angeles Dodgers

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

21

AAA

136

.250

8

2

1

14

17

.316

.360

AA

255

.271

14

1

3

33

44

.354

.369

 

One of the Yankees' few jewels in their barren farm system, Navarro was used to acquire Randy Johnson. Days later, the Diamondbacks sent Navarro to Los Angeles in a package to acquire Shawn Green.

 

After a breakout 2003 season when Navarro hit .321/.376/.469 at two levels, his 2004 saw dramatic decline. It's possible that his successful 2003 was the aberration, as his 2004 numbers more closely resemble his 2002 (.238/.326/.360).

 

His good defensive skills will make him an asset, but it's possible that 2005 may prove that Navarro is not even the best catching prospect in the Dodgers system if Russell Martin continues to improve.

7. Justin Huber -- Kansas City Royals

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

22

AAA

16

.313

2

0

0

3

3

.421

.438

AA

236

.271

16

1

11

46

57

.414

.487

high A

48

.250

2

0

2

5

8

.333

.417

 

Huber made a big splash in his first full season experience in 2002 at low-A ball as a Met. He draws walks well, hits for a solid average and adds a little power. His offensive skills draw more raves than his defense, though his defensive skills can be adequate.

 

Going to Kansas City as part of the deal that sent Kris Benson from Pittsburgh to New York, Huber should start 2005 in AAA with a chance to make his major league debut before the season is over. He may even battle John Buck for playing time this season. If not, there may be quite a position battle for 2006.

 

8. Kurt Suzuki -- Oakland A's

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

21

ss A

175

.297

10

3

3

18

26

.394

.440

 

After leading his Cal-State Fullerton team to the College World Series championship, Suzuki was taken in the 2nd round by the A's last June.

 

In addition to being a team leader, Suzuki has a good bat and puts the ball in play, as indicated by his professional debut in short-season A ball. Being a line drive hitter, his power potential is ordinary. He is an agile defender and should start 2005 in low-A.

 

9. Ryan Garko -- Cleveland Indians

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

24

AAA

20

.350

1

0

0

2

3

.391

.400

AAA

172

.331

15

0

6

14

28

.397

.523

high A

238

.328

17

1

16

26

34

.425

.609

 

If judging bat alone, Garko would rank much higher on this list. The offensive numbers show how he tore through the system, mashing at each level. The concern with Garko is his defensive ability, which is adequate at best. If he is indeed able to remain behind the plate he could be a special player.

 

However, his 45 games at first base almost match his 47 games as a catcher, which is not a promising sign that he will remain at the position. Also, if an organization is serious about grooming a major league caliber catcher, they usually bring him up slowly and cautiously through the system, especially if he is a bit raw, which Garko is.

 

There is a good argument for Garko being considered for the list of first base prospects and not catchers. Phil is working on the first base prospects and indicated that Garko would likely place in the top 5 of his list had we considered him a firstbaseman.

 

It's likely that Garko should see some time with the Indians in 2005. This may be the year he realize his true position.

10. Francisco Hernandez -- Chicago White Sox

Age

2004 level

at-bats

ave

2b

3b

hr

bb

so

obp

slg

19

low A

12

.333

1

0

0

0

3

.333

.417

Rookie

181

.326

13

1

5

13

32

.372

.492

 

Young and raw, he is quite a projectable talent. His 5'9" stature may cause some concerns, but his defensive skills are above average.

 

He also hit very well, both for average with a good punch. Baseball America's poll of Rookie level Appalachian League managers ranked Hernandez the 2nd best prospect in the league.

 

Hernandez will have an opportunity to showcase his talent to prove it for real in his first full season in the South Atlantic League.

 

 

Honorable mention (in alphabetical order):

Koyie Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks

Russell Martin, Los Angeles Dodgers

Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves

Lou Palmisano, Milwaukee Brewers

Landon Powell, Oakland A's

Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Atlanta Braves

Kelly Shoppach, Boston Red Sox

Neil Walker, Pittsburgh Pirates

Josh Willingham, Florida Marlins

 

 

On the Move?

 

The catching position is comprised primarily of two kinds of prospects: those who excel behind the plate and those who excel with the bat. More often than not, the catching prospects who excel with the bat typically never play there regularly as a major leaguer (see the Carlos Delgado types). This list consists of the players mentioned on this page who are most likely to move to another position.

 

Most Likely to Move to Another Position

1. Ryan Garko -- already playing half his games at first base.

2. Josh Willingham -- strong bat with plenty of power and tremendous plate discipline. Though mostly played behind the plate in 2004, he also got action at first base, the outfield and even a game at third base.

3. Daric Barton -- in a catcher logjam in the A's system.

4. Justin Huber -- if he loses out to John Buck, who is better defensively, his bat should be able to keep him in the lineup somewhere.

5. Neil Walker -- great bat, but a long way to go to assure he'll stay at the position.

 

 

Top prospects by position

 

Sean Martin's take on #8 Kurt Suzuki