MINORS: Top C prospects 2020

This week begins our annual review of the top prospects by position. Between now and mid-March, we’ll examine one position a week by looking at both those rookies ready to contribute in the big leagues now, as well as the top 15 long-term prospects at each position. To give you a complete look at the position, our topic schedule mirrors the position covered in our Market Pulse series, which was also published today. Today, let’s look at Catching prospects.

For the second year in a row, the catching position looks strong on the farm. You’ll find plenty of names to target in drafts as you build up your farm system with quality catching options. Top to bottom, this may be a stronger class than last year, even though more catchers made last year’s HQ100 (8) than this year’s HQ100 (7). There is incredible depth beyond the 7 catchers who made this year’s HQ100. The 8 remaining options, plus a few additional guys who just missed the list, like Mario Feliciano (MIL), Diego Cartaya (LA), Ryan Jeffers (MIN) and Gabriel Moreno (TOR), are all solid options to consider for your fantasy roster.

For the first time since 2013, when current Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud ranked 9th on the HQ100, a catcher made the top ten of our HQ100. Orioles prospect Adley Rutschman was surprisingly #8 on this year’s overall prospect list, which is the highest rating for a catcher since Jesus Montero ranked 8th overall on our 2012 list. I say surprisingly because the BaseballHQ Minors team tends to be conservative ranking first-year eligible players and catchers, separately or altogether, high on our lists. Rutschman is the best fantasy catching prospect we’ve seen since Buster Posey and is deserving of the Top 10 billing. Also, for the first time since 2013, two catchers made it inside the Top 25 of our HQ100. Joining Rutschman in the HQ100 top 25 is Giants prospect Joey Bart (21st), who was our top-rated catcher last year.

There is a stigma out there that carrying catchers in your minor leagues is bad because the reliability of catchers panning out is extremely low. If you are risk averse, it’s best to concentrate on assets closer to contributing, like Sean Murphy, Daulton Varsho, Tyler Stephenson and Andrew Knizner. If you have the room in your farm to add guys further away from the majors, any of the catchers listed, and a few you’ll find in our Organizational Reports and/or in Minor League Baseball Analyst, could be the options you’re looking for.

The dollar ranges listed below represent projected values for 2020. See a more detailed scouting report on each player by following the link to his team's organization report or PlayerLink page.

Sean Murphy (OAK)
Athletics catcher Sean Murphy is the one rookie catcher we believe can have a solid impact this season. Ranked 69th on our HQ100, Murphy had a 53 AB cup-of-coffee last season, showcasing his advanced catch/throw skills behind the plate and an ability to make hard contact with a short/compact swing. Power continues to show up in his game. Formerly a gap hitting power bat, Murphy has transformed into a bat reaching power regularly as he continues to loft the ball into the air. Split between Triple-A and the majors, he averaged a HR every 13 ABs. While it’s hard to expect this sort of production out of Murphy this season or long term, he should be at least an average HR hitter, maybe even above-average HR hitter at maturity.

Daulton Varsho (ARI)
Tyler Stephenson (CIN)

There are reservations about Dbacks catcher Daulton Varsho’s long-term position since has struggled to round into a solid defensive catcher as some believed he would become. Also, his athleticism plays best in the OF, where there is less wear-and-tear on the body, which could take away one of Varsho’s greatest strengths, his legs. Varsho improved immensely offensively this season. He re-established his ct% against better competition without losing his patient, all-fields approach. Varsho also cashed in on loft more, which allowed for an uptake in XBH overall, including slugging 18 HR in just under 400 bats. If Varsho can maintain catcher eligibility at least in the short-term, he could be a sneaky, deadly option at the position because of his ability to stuff 5 categories.

Other than Varsho, no other catcher made bigger strides in the upper minors last season than Tyler Stephenson. He improved his overall approach, hit rate and barrel rate without compromising his patience or ct%. Unfortunately, the one offensive area he backtracked in was his ability to hit for XBH and drive the ball over the fence. There’s hope the hit tool can help drive his power tool, especially considering Stephenson’s frame is built for big power potential. Defensively, he’s a liability, which could push him to a platoon or bench role. However, if the automatic strike zone is ever implemented, Stephenson will be a no-doubt starting catcher because the hit and, eventually, power tool will play.

Long-term Top 15 C prospects

1. Adley Rutschman (BAL)
2. Joey Bart (SF)

3. Sean Murphy (OAK)
4. Keiburt Ruiz (LAD)
5. Daulton Varsho (ARI)
6. Luis Campusano (SD)
7. Francisco Alvarez (NYM)
8. Sam Huff (TEX)
9. Bo Naylor (CLE)
10. Tyler Stephenson (CIN)
11. Shea Langeliers (ATL)
12. William Contreras (ATL)
13. Miguel Amaya (CHC)
14. Ronaldo Hernandez (TAM)
15. Andrew Knizner (STL)

Padres prospect Luis Campusano, along with Reds prospect Tyler Stephenson, is attempting to break through despite a stigma plaguing right-hand hitting prep catchers and their high fail rate of making it to bona-fide MLB starting roles. The last prep drafted R/R catcher to make it to a regular role was current Padres primary catcher Austin Hedges, who was a 2nd round pick in the 2011 draft. While the glove pushed Hedges profile to an MLB role, Campusano’s dynamic swing, ct% and barrel rate pushes his profile. Campusano has a thick frame and started to tap into over-the-fence power without compromising his underlying hit tool skills. Defense is still progressing, but he should be passable enough to let the hit/power profile shine.

Mets prospect Francisco Alvarez was the youngest player in the Appalachian League. He handled the assignment as a 17-year-old by posting a .282/.365/.443 line and receiving accolades for his hit tool and his defensive ability. Scouts loved his short, compact stroke and feel for barrel. His natural approach is to drive balls to the opposite-field gap. He will need to learn to hit the ball to the pull-side to tap into some over-the-fence power. The underlying hit tools should allow for it. Alvarez is the best bet among catchers to join Rutschman and Bart in the HQ100 top 50 next season.

Indians prospect Bo Naylor gets lost in the catcher shuffle because his full-season debut didn’t look great on the surface (.243/.317/.421). However, Naylor underlying stats make him poised for a breakout in 2020. He is one of the best hitters in the minor leagues in laying off fastballs out of the zone. Naylor also saw his barrel rate continually increase as the season wore on. Defensively, he has come even further. Known primarily as a bat-first guy who would catch if he was able to hit enough, he made strides with his framing ability and his movements behind the plate. There is still work to do but Naylor’s long term projection should see him stick at catcher.

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