Rolling right along, Minor League Ball continues its position by position look at prospects ready for their MLB debuts in the coming 2019 season. Today we focus our attention on the catching position. But before we begin, get caught up on those already completed:
Catcher, as most of us know, is such a hard position to project. Some catchers are defense first and can’t hit a lick, while others are all bat. It doesn’t seem that there are many impact catchers ready to make a difference in 2019, but here are a few that have our attention (as always, feel free to add more in the comments).
Murphy is the 24-year-old backstop out of Wright State that the A’s nabbed in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Just three short years later, it looks like they have a solid backstop on their hands.
Murphy entered 2018 as our own John Sickels’ No. 10 prospect on the A’s, with a very positive B- grade. Here’s why:
Age 23, third round pick in 2016 from Wright State University; hit .297/.343/.527 in 165 at-bats in High-A but slumped to .209/.288/.309 in 191 at-bats in Double-A; excellent throwing arm and a reliable defensive catcher, will get to majors on his defense alone but future will depend on the bat; flashes above-average power and will draw walks but uncertain what his batting average will look like against the best pitching, has never hit particularly well with wood; some caution with the hitting is advisable but overall I like him. ETA 2019.
So here’s the skinny. Sources, like Baseball America for example, have his arm labeled at an 80. He’s thrown out over 35 percent of base runners in his career and has allowed just 14 passed balls in 182 games behind the plate. And whatever ailed him in 2017 in the Texas League, he fixed in 2018.
Murphy slashed .288/.358/.498 with a modest 16.3 strikeout percentage and a very reasonable 8.0 walk percentage. He still hits way too many ground balls, but it seems like the power is there and he could be a 10 home run catcher at the next level. He has just eight at bats over Double-A, but with Josh Phegley the only catcher on the current 40-man roster, the job is Murphy’s for the taking.
Collins was one of the best power bats in the 2016 MLB Draft, and he homered in the College World Series almost immediately after the White Sox snagged him in the first round to prove it. He’s been a work in progress ever since but is certainly ready for a taste of the bigs on a restructuring White Sox team.
The big — he’s listed at 6’3” and 220 and looks every bit of it — left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing backstop has two tremendous positives. He has monster power that goes to all fields and he has incredible plate patience that pays off in walks and in waiting for the right pitch to drive. Last season he may have struck out 158 times, but he walked 101, 24 better than his 2017 career-best. Despite the contact concerns, Collins still got on base at a .382 lick, so there is definitely value there.
Along with perfecting his contact skills, Collins, as most big catchers do, is still honing his craft behind the plate. His footwork is much improved and he has a cannon, albeit somewhat inconsistent. If he continues to work on framing his pitches, he could very well be a viable backstop for years to come.
Ruiz is a bit of a stretch, as almost every publication feels his ETA is 2020. That’s fair, considering the switch-hitting catcher is still a mere 20 years of age. But with only Austin Barnes on the 25-man and THE Kyle Farmer and Rocky Gale as the backups on the 40-man, well, why not?
The Dodgers have never been shy about playing their young prospects, and if injuries strike, Ruiz could at least get a quick cup of coffee in 2019. Here’s why Ruiz is so special. The Dodgers inked him as a defensive-first catcher… and he has been a solid hitter with nice speed. And the defense hasn’t suffered at all.
You can look at the fact that Ruiz has just 23 home runs in his career, but 18 have come since his July 2017 promotion to the California League. He has already shown an ability to make contact, and now his power is clearly developing. His batting average struggled this season, but he did show the most power of his young career as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He’s only thrown out 26 percent of base runners in his career, but he doesn’t make many mistakes with solid blocking skills and good mechanics behind the plate.
The Dodgers could wait until 2020, but without many options at the big league level, we may see Ruiz this year.
Another to watch:
Taylor Gushue, Washington Nationals: There are better catching prospects on the Nationals. Raudy Read will likely get the first shot and Tres Barrera may be a quick mover, but Gushue is ready for his big league debut to at the very least, see what he can do. The power-first catcher is now 24-years-old and has been working in the Dominican Summer League so it’s safe to assume his MLB debut is close.
Chadwick Tromp, Cincinnati Reds: I don’t know anything about him, his stats aren’t very good, but the 23-year-old backstop has a fun name (keep your politics out of this please) and that is worth an MLB debut alone.
Yesterday, we began our look at possible impact prospects for the 2017 season with five first baseman poised to bring their talents to The Show. Today, we switch our focus to their neighbor in the infield: the second baseman.
Remember, this isn’t a list of the best second base prospects in baseball. You won’t see names like Forrest Wall or Andy Ibanez (although he is hitting everything thrown his way in the Arizona Fall League right now) on the list with a 2018 full-time debut much more likely. Nor will you see the Chicago Cubs’ Ian Happ or Boston Red Sox’s Yoan Moncada (at least not until Sunday).
No matter how young and exciting Happ may be, there simply isn’t any room on the current roster with Ben Zobrist and the red-hot Javier Baez. That could easily change if Theo Epstein goes wheeling and dealing in the offseason as he has become infamously known for, but as it stands, the Cubs have time to allow Happ to mature for a full season at Triple-A. The Red Sox extended Dustin Pedroia until 2021, meaning Moncada is likely the new third baseman of the Red Sox future, which makes him ineligible for this list.
When you look at the Double-A home run leaders, it probably is not a tremendous surprise that big 6-foot-4 Rhys Hoskins or monstrous 6-foot-6 Dylan Cozens are atop the charts. What may come as a surprise is that Willie Calhoun has become one of the bigger power threats in all three leagues on the Double-A level. All 5-foot-8 of him.
Alex Verdugo came to the Los Angeles Dodgers widely considered the best two-way prospect in the draft. He and the Dodgers both had a choice to make at the professional level, however: Would Verdugo become a pitcher with his 94-mile-per-hour cannon, or would he become an outfielder with a lightning-quick bat?
The Los Angeles Dodgers have long been known for finding some of the best future aces in baseball. Two of them are currently members of their rotation in Clayton Kershaw and teenage sensation Julio Urias. A third could very well be on the way.
Since being drafted in 2011, Jharel Cotton is seemingly a pitcher searching for a role. Now that he appears to be on the brink of making his big league debut, there is still a little uncertainty in how he can be most effective.
The jury is still out: is Jharel Cotton a future reliever or can he become that starter the Los Angeles Dodgers had once hoped for?
The year is 1980. The Los Angeles Dodgers call up a 19-year old pitcher of Mexican descent to join their bullpen. A season later Fernando Valenzuela — the trigger behind Fernando Mania — would take the MLB by storm, winning Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and a World Series at the ripe old age of 20.
The Dodgers hope they have the second coming of Valenzuela waiting in the wings as 19-year old Julio Urias has begun his quest this season in Triple-A to reach the bigs. My latest at Today’s Knuckleball takes a look at Urias’ start to the 2016 season. Take a read below.
Spring Training rolls on. So does the tour of The Wayniac’s NL Predictions. In case you haven’t been following along you can check out the NL East picks and NL Central projections at your leisure but for the time being I demand your full attention on the NL West. The winner will round out the playoffs with the fifth and final spot.
Unlike Coors Original, the Colorado Rockies offense has never had a problem with its strength. Heading into 2014, the Rockies’ main problem is not their offense but the same two issues they struggle with every season: injuries and pitching. Michael Cuddyer, Wilin Rosario, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez are lethal in the middle of the line-up. They could carry this team very far… if they stayed on the field. Last season, the Rockies didn’t have one and of their offensive threats play over 130 games. This season, the Rockies begin their first season since 1998 without Peyton Manning’s former back-up, Todd Helton. Justin Morneau was brought in to replace him. He is a nice addition, but is also injury-prone.
The pitching staff from top to bottom is pretty weak. When Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin are battling to be the ace of your rotation, you are in for a long season. They brought in Brett Anderson from Oakland. Anderson has always had sick stuff but he is, of course, an injury risk. Tyler Chatwood showed a lot of promise last season, but he needs to get his control issues under, well… control! The bullpen is anchored by 41-year old LaTroy Hawkins, who has pitched 1374.1 innings over his 19-year career and has amassed a meager 101 saves. Now he is be asked to be the closer. Rex Brothersfilled in admirably last season as the teams’ closer; however, he has always been plagued by control issues with a career 1.37 WHIP. Perhaps the Rockies feel more comfortable with Hawkins’ experience, but I wouldn’t rule out seeing Brothers as the team’s closer by season’s end.
This team could hover around .500 if they stay healthy. Based on history, that is a big IF.
Projected 2014 finish: 78-84. For ticket information check out Ticket Monster.
4. The San Diego Padres
(Covers.com has the O/U at 76.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 81-81)
The team is named after a holy person, their mascot is a chicken, and I am told that the name of the city translates to whale’s vagina. None of that makes much sense to me, but as the saying goes, when in Rome.
Believe it or not, despite not having many big names, this team isn’t half bad. Their offense has a bunch of nice players, but none are close to superstars. Heck, I don’t even think one classifies as an All-Star. But together they work and could push this team around .500. Yonder Alonso and Jedd Gyorko are the future of this team. It’s time for them to stop teasing us and become the big time players the Padres need so the team can be relevant for the first time since Tony Gwynn retired.
Andrew Cashner should emerge as the ace of this staff as he set career bests in ERA and WHIP in his first full season in the bigs. Ian Kennedy will never be the 21-4 pitcher he was in 2011, having won 22 games in the 2 seasons since then, but he is still a good pitcher. The real X-factor will be Josh Johnson. He is one of the most frustrating pitchers in baseball with all the talent in the world but rarely stays healthy. If he can, they form a pretty strong 1-2-3.
If they can get to the bullpen, Huston Street and newly acquired Joaquin Benoit are very solid. Benoit came on strong last season when the Tigers needed him to be a closer for the first time in his career at the ripe age of 35. Sliding back into his set-up role for Street gives the Padres extra insurance should they need him. The Padres are kings of one-run ballgames so the deeper the bull pen, the better. Stay classy, San Diego.
Projected 2014 finish: 80-82. For ticket information click here.
3. The San Francisco Giants
(Covers.com has the O/U at 86.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing 85-77)
I never think these guys are going to be any good, but the Giants are legit contenders as long as Buster Posey is around. He isn’t the best in the league. Hell, he isn’t even the best player in the division, but there are very few players more valuable to his team than Posey. He bats in the clean-up spot and handles one of the better pitching staffs in the league.
The rest of the offense is a question mark. The biggest question every spring is always how fat can Kung Fu Panda actually get? Talk about a guy wasting his talent on French Fries. Pablo Sandoval can hit but his conditioning has derailed his career as his peripheral stats are already in a decline at 27. Brandon Belt has been a “sleeper” breakout candidate since he came into the league. He has gotten increasingly better each year so don’t be surprised to once again hear how this will be his “breakout campaign”. Hunter Pence is pretty reliable and really is the only protection that Posey has in the line-up.
No matter if the offense struggles, the pitching staff is strong enough to keep the Giants in contention. Tim Lincecum is the X-factor for these guys. It doesn’t make sense how he has fallen off from the best pitcher in the league to a guy battling to be in the rotation. I think he has a nice bounce back but I don’t think we will ever see The Freak again. Tim Hudson is the veteran leadership the front end of the rotation needs. Huddy can still pitch even if his best days are behind him. Madison Bumgarner (that name is funny, I don’t even need a joke) and Matt Cain are both the aces of the staff and I would trust either in Game 7 of a playoff series. Ryan Vogelsong is playing on borrowed time at 36 but there really isn’t anyone to take his job yet.
Sergio Romo leads a strong bullpen and should have no problem repeating as closer after a strong debut replacing Brian Wilson. Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, and Santiago Casilla will make closing out close games seem easy.
Projected 2014 finish: 83-79. For ticket information click here.
2. The Arizona Diamondbacks
(Covers.com has the O/U at 81 while FanGraphs has them at 83-79)
I hate the Diamondbacks. Not only did they win that 2001 World Series from my beloved Yankees, but on one pitch, on one bloop single by Luis Gonzalez, the D-Backs ended the Yankee dynasty. That being said, I think they have a good squad this year. If the Pirates fall back into their losing ways, then the Diamondbacks could steal the last Wild Card slot.
The offense is led by one of the best all-around players in baseball. Paul Goldschmidt’s stat line last season was sick: .302 batting average with 36 HRs, 125 RBI, 103 runs scored, and 15 SBs, all while getting on base at a .401 clip. He will be a Triple Crown threat soon enough as his batting average has jumped tremendously in each of his first three seasons. Bringing in Mark Trumbo from the Angels surrounds Goldschmidt with a solid 2 through 6 in the line-up. DiDi Gregorius has been a highly touted prospect for a few years and showed a glimpse of what he is capable of last season. If he can put it together this year, then the D-Backs will have a very potent line-up from the leadoff spot right up to the pitcher.
The pitching staff isn’t full of Cy Young contenders but they have 6 solid starters. Newly signed Bronson Arroyo brings some much needed veteran leadership to this young staff. Patrick Corbin stepped up and became the ace of this staff last season. Trevor Cahill and Brandon McCarthy need to return to their old form. If not, Randall Delgado is waiting in the wings. I watched this guy as a youngster in Atlanta. He has the stuff to be in this rotation — most likely for McCarthy — by mid-season.
The bullpen is deep as well. They acquired Addison Reed from the White Sox and now have three go-to options with closing experience at the back end of the bullpen. J.J. Putz (yet another fantastic name) and Brad Ziegler will lock down plenty of wins for the upstart Diamondbacks.
Projected 2014 finish: 88-74. For ticket information click here.
1. The Los Angeles Dodgers
(Covers.com has the O/U at 92.5 while FanGraphs has them finishing at 91-71)
Well, folks, for just $224 million, you too can have the best team in a mediocre division. This Dodgers team (on paper) has all of the tools to win the NL Pennant. Which is why Don Mattingly is already on the hot seat.
Most Yankee fans are rooting heavily for the Dodgers just to see the hero of our youth make a World Series. He will have a lot of managing to do to pull it off both on the field and in the dugout. He has some highly paid egos that could implode on him if he doesn’t clamp it down right from the get go.
It truly is a Hollywood story for the Dodgers. Yasiel Puig is going for the Fat Albert look putting on 40 pounds in the offseason, which is exactly what you want from your stud 23-year old outfielder. Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp appear to be poised to bounce back from injury-riddled seasons… again. Adrian Gonzalez is the first player in the history of baseball to become a worse hitter after leaving the pitcher-friendly confines of San Diego. Together though, with the likes of Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, and Dee Gordon, there is no weakness in their line-up.
The pitching staff is anchored by possibly the best pitcher in baseball. You can mark it down now, Clayton Kershaw is your 2014 NL Cy Young. He’s too good not to win the award for the third time in the last 4 years. This starting five is so deep (how deep is it?) that newly signed starting pitcher Paul Maholm may most likely start the year in long relief out of the bullpen. Zack Grienke would be an ace on any other staff and it will be exciting to see how Hyun-Jin Ryu responds in his second year in the states.
The bullpen is super deep. Kenley Jansen throws straight-up gas striking out 111 batters in just 76.2 innings last season. That’s a 13 K/ 9 inning ratio which translates to INSANE. Like the Diamondbacks, Jansen’s set-up men both have closing experience. Brian Wilson seems like he is back and hairier than ever. Reports are that he is also adding a knuckle ball into his repertoire which is perfectly normal 8 years into your career and also translates to INSANE. Chris Perez has long struggled closing out games for the Indians but maybe he thrives in LA with the pressure off of him as a closer. There is no reason this team can’t reach 100 wins.
Projected 2014 finish: 100-62 NL West Champs. For ticket information click here.