MINORS: 2014 top catcher prospects

This week we kickoff our annual review of the top prospects in baseball by position. Between now and opening day, we'll examine one position a week by looking at both those rookies ready to contribute in the big leagues now, as well as run-down of the top 15 long-term prospects at each position. 

We start with the catchers. Because of the demands of the position, very few backstops project to receive much playing time. Only one catcher, Travis d'Arnaud (NYM), is expected to win a starting job out of spring training. While injuries and trades can result in unforeseen opportunities, it seems unlikely that those backstops who begin the year in the high minors will play pivotal roles in the majors by year-end.

Six catchers made the HQ100 that was posted a few weeks ago. Of those six, only two should see more than a cup of coffee throughout the 2014 campaign. One Rule 5 pick, Adrian Nieto (CHW), could make the club in the spring, but that is more of a byproduct of the necessities of the Rule 5 draft than talent.

The dollar ranges listed below represent projected values for 2014 and are broken down in $5 dollar increments. (See a more detailed scouting report on each player by following the link to his team's organization report or PlayerLink page.)

Travis d'Arnaud (NYM)

There is little doubt that the 25-year-old backstop will win the starting job for the Mets in spring training. He likely would have exhausted his rookie eligibility in 2013 if not for a broken foot suffered in mid-April. With only Anthony Recker behind him, he should get plenty of at bats. While he may not profile as a superstar, d'Arnaud has good hitting acumen with average to slightly above average power. He also has the defensive chops to stay behind the plate, something other top catching prospects can't claim.

Josmil Pinto (MIN)
Jhonatan Solano (WAS)
Bryan Holaday (DET)
Christian Bethancourt (ATL)
Max Stassi (HOU)
Tony Sanchez (PIT)
J.R. Murphy (NYY)

Of the catchers who should see big league action in 2014, Pinto, Solano, and Holaday have the best chances to start the season in the majors. He's always been known more for his bat than glove, but Pinto was quite a surprise in 2013. He hit .308 with 14 HR in Double-A before a promotion to Triple-A. He later reached Minnesota and hit .342/.398/.566 with 4 HR in 76 AB. Those numbers shouldn't be expected again, but he has a solid bat and enough defensive skills. He'll battle Kurt Suzuki for the bulk of the playing time. Solano is a glove-first catcher who won't contribute much with the bat. He'll serve as a backup to Wilson Ramos and should get enough at bats to warrant a pick in a deep league. Holaday could attain more at bats in Detroit assuming he can beat out Ronny Paulino for the backup spot to Alex Avila. Holaday has some offensive value, but profiles better as a reserve.

The Yankees signed Brian McCann to a hefty, long-term deal which negates any fantasy value for J.R. Murphy. Austin Romine and Murphy will likely battle Francisco Cervelli for a spot on the bench with the losers of the battle heading to Triple-A. Murphy has a higher upside than all of them and could be best served with more seasoning in Triple-A.

The Braves traded for Ryan Doumit and it appears they will go with three catchers (Evan Gattis and Gerald Laird are the other two) on the Opening Day roster. Prior to the Doumit trade, it seemed that Christian Bethancourt was destined to make the club. He'll likely begin the season in Triple-A and wait for an opportunity. He is a well above average defense catcher with some offensive potential.

A sleeper in the mix could be Tony Sanchez. He was solid across the board in Triple-A in 2013 and earned a call-up to the big leagues. The 25-year-old could make the team out of spring training and could supply the Pirates with a little bit of pop off the bench.

Top 15 Catching Prospects

1. Travis d'Arnaud (NYM)
2. Gary Sanchez (NYY)
3. Jorge Alfaro (TEX)
4. Austin Hedges (SD)
5. Blake Swihart (BOS)
6. Christian Bethancourt (ATL)
7. Kevin Plawecki (NYM)
8. Josmil Pinto (MIN)
9. James McCann (DET)
10. Reese McGuire (PIT)
11. Tom Murphy (COL)
12. Stryker Trahan (ARI)
13. J.R. Murphy (NYY)
14. Nick Ciuffo (TAM)
15. Max Stassi (HOU)

Ranking catchers can be quite difficult as the defensive demands of the position often overshadow any offensive exploits. Take the case of Gary Sanchez. He has the most pure power of any catcher in the Top 15, but the biggest question mark with him is his defense. He's shown improvement across the board and the Yankees are convinced he can stick behind the plate. However, with McCann, Murphy, and Romine ahead of him on the depth chart, he could move to 1B and hasten his arrival to the big leagues. The same can be said of Jorge Alfaro. He's very athletic for a catcher and is relatively new to the position. As a pure hitter, he has excellent power and the ability to hit for BA despite his free-swinging nature. Another offensive backstop is Swihart. He, too, has good pop to all fields (though he only hit 2 HR in '13) and simply needs to leverage his natural strength to realize it. He has the potential to be a good receiver, but needs more experience. Plawecki could eventually move to 1B if his glovework doesn't develop as hoped as he has excellent, raw power and a good approach at the plate.

Three first round selections from the prep ranks in 2012 and 2013 made the Top 15 list. Trahan was a first rounder in '12 and has yet to play full-season ball. He'll begin the '14 campaign in Low-A where he'll continue to develop on both sides of the ball. His bat is further ahead of his glove at this point. Ciuffo and McGuire were first rounders in '13. McGuire is a gifted defender with the tools to be a solid offensive contributor. He has some work to do with his swing, but he could easily be in the top 5 of this very list at this point next year. Ciuffo is further away and will likely simmer in short-season ball in '14. He has the natural tools to be solid-average with both the bat and glove.

Two other catchers worth mentioning include Hedges and McCann. Hedges is considered by many to be the best defensive backstop in the minors. He is a natural leader with a very strong arm and keen footwork. He could be an asset in the major leagues right now, but the Padres are looking for him to take a step forward offensively. While he'll never win a batting title or finish among the league leaders in HR, he has good bat speed and a discerning eye to hit for a moderate BA with average pop. McCann is vastly underrated and is often overlooked among his peers. He has a large frame with natural power to the entire field. He's also getting better with receiving and blocking. He established a career-high in HR in '13 and should take the next step to Triple-A in '14. Keep an eye on him.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.