As we continue our look at potential impact prospects for the 2017 season, we turn our attention to the catching position. Catchers tend to take a bit longer to mature because so much more goes into being a “good” catcher than a quick bat and a powerful arm. One needs to command a pitching staff and control the game, all while keeping the ball in front of him and holding the runners at bay. Blasting a few home runs here and there doesn’t hurt either. Today, we look at five who seem ready to contribute in 2016.
If you have been following the series, then you are aware that this is not meant to be a definitive list by any means. It is simply five prospects on the cusp of contributing regularly at the big league level. That being said, you won’t see names like the Indians Francisco Mejia or Yankees Luis Torrens because they are simply a few years away. Nor will you see names of “prospects” who claimed their rightful position, like Gary Sanchez. No, these are five prospects with less than 50 combined games in the big leagues amongst them ready for their turn to shine.
Jorge Alfaro/ Andrew Knapp Philadelphia Phillies
It’s simple. Either one will be traded, or the Phillies will have the most dynamic catching duo in baseball for years to come. Both are consensus top ten catching prospects in the game, and for the Phillies, it is a wonderful problem to have.
The 23-year-old Alfaro is widely regarded as the top catching prospect in the game. He was the prized piece in the Cole Hamels trade and has had the raw talent to be a big leaguer since he stepped on the diamond. Injuries and immaturity plagued him a bit early in his career, but this season he put it all together. He hit .285 with 15 home runs while throwing out a career-best 44 percent of his attempted base runners. If he improves his strike zone awareness, his 105-to-22 strikeout-to-walk rate and .325 on-base percentage will rise.
More was expected out of Knapp, the 24-year-old switch-hitting backstop, in 2016, but that was simply because his breakout 2015 was enormously successful. He slashed .266/.350/.390 with eight home runs and 24 doubles, all down from 2015, but it was in large part due to a slow April and May. He, too, threw out a career-best 37.5 percent of his base runners and handled a Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs pitching staff that all had big league experience very well.
The Phillies purposely kept the two on different levels last season, with Alfaro at Double-A and Knapp at Triple-A, to get them both regular at-bats. While one may start the season at Triple-A for the same reason in 2017, neither has much left to prove, and both are ready for their chance to contribute.
Chance Sisco, Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles have a pretty solid catcher already in the big leagues, but they might have an even better one in the minors. Chance Sisco may allow the Orioles to let Matt Wieters test the free agency waters this offseason and not miss too much should he be signed away.
Sisco is just 21 years old, which is what makes his 2016 Double-A debut that much more impressive. As one of the youngest position players at the level, Sisco remained a contact hitting machine, finishing the season batting .320. He also has an advanced awareness of the strike zone, and behind his 131 hits (eighth-best in the league) and 59 walks (seventh best in the league, he led the Eastern League in on-base percentage at .406. That more than makes up for the fact that he won’t be much of a power hitter (he belted just four home runs in 2016), but he can find the gaps, as evident by his 28 doubles last year.
He is a work in progress behind the plate, but he did show improvements this season. He has a rifle of an arm, but runners still are quite successful against him, stealing 100 bases in 133 Double-A attempts. He did cut down on the errors as well as passed balls this season, so the concerns about his slow footwork behind the plate seem to be evolving in a positive way.
Sisco has only seen 16 at-bats at Triple-A, so he may not make the Opening Day roster. He does offer a lot of potential, however, and could see the big leagues rather early next season, especially if Wieters leaves town.
Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: The Rockies have a promising offensive prospect who has an exciting power profile. In Murphy’s case, the power comes at both the plate and behind it.
Murphy had a big 2013 in A ball, but missed most of 2014 with rotator cuff issues. It took him some time to bounce back to 100 percent in 2015, but once he did, he carried that momentum right into 2016 and had a big year. The 25-year-old hit a career-high .327 while getting on base at a .361 lick. He lowered his strike out rate to 24.3 percent, his lowest mark since 2013. And he chipped in 19 home runs and 26 doubles as well.
He earned his second call-up to The Show in 2016, both of which have been small sample sizes. However, in 79 career MLB at-bats, he has eight home runs and three doubles, so the power translates. His arm now at full strength, and with Nick Hundley a pending free agent, the Rockies may hand the reigns to Murphy on Opening Day.
Who else made the cut? Find out who else at Today’s Knuckleball by clicking on the link below:
MiLB: Five catcher prospects ready to impact their big league ball clubs