01/17/11 11:00 AM EST
Prospect Watch: Baseball's Top 10 catchers
Yanks, Nats, Jays dominate list of up-and-coming backstops
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Finding good catching isn't the easiest thing to do. Growing your own seems to be an even harder task. Some can hit, but either can't handle the defensive rigors of the position or get moved to keep that offensive production from wearing down. Others are stalwarts with the glove, but don't hit enough to profile as everyday players. But as the 2011 season looms ahead, the prospect landscape is pretty catching-rich. There are a number of future big league backstops to get excited about. Here are the Top 10:
1. Jesus Montero, Yankees: There's been little doubt about the bat, even though he got off to a very rough start to his 2010 season, his first taste of Triple-A. But after stumbling out of the gate, Montero hit .351/.396/.684 in the second half, putting him back on the short list of top hitting prospects in the game. The question, however, has been more about his defense than his bat. Can Montero be an everyday catcher? Do the Yankees want him to be? While he's worked hard on that part of the game, it remains to be seen if it's enough to stay at the position and become an offensive-minded backstop. He'll have the opportunity to hit his way onto the Bombers' Opening Day roster this spring.
2. Wil Myers, Royals: Myers is another who fits into the "great bat, but can he catch?" group. There's no doubt he can hit, after a .324/.429/.533 line over 637 career plate appearances. He's got great plate discipline and should hit for plenty of power. He's even got decent speed. Having played a number of positions in high school, he's still learning how to catch, but there are those who feel he won't be able to stay behind the plate. He is athletic enough with plenty of arm strength to handle a move to the outfield should the Royals decide to go that route.
3. Gary Sanchez, Yankees: After getting $3 million -- a Yankees record for a teenager -- to sign out of the Dominican, Sanchez started out his career in the U.S. like gangbusters. He hit .353/.419/.597 in the Gulf Coast League to earn a late bump up to short-season Staten Island, where he held his own over 16 games. He's got all the makings of a solid defensive catcher as well. When all is said and done, he might have more upside than the other talented catching prospects in the Yankees' system. He'll hit full-season ball this year at age 18.
4. Wilin Rosario, Rockies: The only thing slowing Rosario's ascent to the big leagues is injury. After being a Texas League All-Star and Futures Game participant, he tore his ACL, ending his season and putting the timely start of 2011 in jeopardy. He's done very well with his rehab, and the Rockies think he won't be too delayed this season as he moves up to Triple-A. He can hit, hit for power and has an arm that allowed him to throw out 40.6 percent of would-be basestealers. The catchers in Colorado are merely keeping the position warm until Rosario is deemed ready.
5. Devin Mesoraco, Reds: The 2007 first-round pick battled injuries over his first few years as a pro, and his middling performance kind of forced him off the prospect map. Then he broke out in '10, playing at three levels and showing the offensive capabilities the Reds thought he had when they drafted him out of high school. He can hit for average and power (.302/.377/.587 in '10) and while he still needs to work on his overall receiving, he's got an outstanding arm (he threw out 41 percent of basestealers last season). He finished last year in Triple-A, and that's where he'll start '11. Don't be surprised to see him in Cincy at some point this season.
Top 10 catching prospects
6. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays: If first impressions are indeed the most important, then Blue Jays fans must love Arencibia. In his first Major League game, he banged out four hits -- a double and two homers -- against the Rays. His power is his best tool -- he's got a .507 career slugging percentage in the Minors, .626 last season. While he's definitely an offensive-minded catcher, he does have some defensive tools to work with. He should get every chance to show what he can do as Toronto's starting catcher during the 2011 season.
7. Wilson Ramos, Nationals: Ramos has long been thought of as one of the better catching prospects in the game, but that Joe Mauer fellow wasn't exactly about to yield the position in Minnesota. So the Twins included Ramos in the deal that netted them closer Matt Capps last July. He got a little big league time last May filling in for Mauer, but he really showed what he could do in September and October with the Nats, hitting .292 over 48 at-bats. He's got a little pop as well. But his real calling card is his glove work. Ramos has a very good receiver who will only get better as he gets used to catching a big league staff. He threw out 50 percent of basestealers in the Minors last season. For now, he's going to split time with (and learn from) Ivan Rodriguez, but the everyday job will be his before long.
8. Austin Romine, Yankees: Montero might get most of the ink because of his bat, but it's Romine many believe is the better all-around catcher. While he doesn't have the offensive upside of his counterpart, he's no slouch at the plate, with decent extra-base pop that should improve as he matures and gains more experience at the upper levels. He's a better catcher than Montero, with a strong arm and pretty solid receiving abilities. He'll be in Triple-A continuing to hone his craft. If Montero shows the ability to catch in the big leagues, Romine could get stuck. But some see him as the everyday answer behind the plate, at least until Gary Sanchez is ready.
9. Travis d'Arnaud, Blue Jays: Catching depth is something every organization strives for, and the Blue Jays have some. Arencibia might be the guy for now, but d'Arnaud could eventually supplant him as the everyday catcher in Toronto. In his first season with the organization after coming over in the Roy Halladay deal, he missed a chunk of time with a back issue, but it's not expected to be a long-term problem. He's got a great arm and is very agile behind the plate. While his offensive numbers haven't consistently stood out to date, he's got good bat speed and a solid approach that should lead to good results. It might take him a couple of years, but he profiles to be a better all-around backstop than Arencibia in the future.
10. Derek Norris, Nationals: Following the 2009 season, when he hit 23 homers, drove in 84 runs and had a .926 OPS, Norris was named MLB.com's Class A Hitter of the Year. Things didn't go as well in 2010. He didn't really get started until close to mid-May following hamate bone surgery in his left hand, and he never really found his stroke, finishing with a .235/.419/.419 line. He did bounce back with a solid showing in the Arizona Fall League, which should help him move up to Double-A. He's got tremendous plate discipline and excellent power when he's 100 percent. While he's more of an offensive-minded catcher, he's improved his defense considerably and has thrown out better than 40 percent of basestealers over the past two seasons. With a strong '11, he could make things interesting with Ramos in Washington in '12.
To be eligible for the list, a player must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player-limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.