2015 Prospect Watch: Top 10 catchers
Red Sox's Swihart sits atop list, followed by Rangers' Alfaro and Cubs' Schwarber
MLBPipeline.com's 2015 Top 100 Prospects list will be unveiled on Friday, Jan. 30, on MLB.com, with the Top 50 revealed during a one-hour show on MLB Network at 9 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLBPipeline.com takes a look at baseball's Top 10 prospects at each position.
Though only one catcher (Blake Swihart of the Red Sox) fits in the top 40 spots on MLBPipeline.com's upcoming 2015 Top 100 Prospects list, talent behind the plate actually runs deep. The Minors are teeming with backstops who have the tools to contribute offensively and defensively in the big leagues in the near future. This list could see a lot of turnover a year from now, as Christian Bethancourt figures to be the Braves' starter and Swihart, Kevin Plawecki (Mets) and J.T. Realmuto (Marlins) could be playing regularly in the Majors by season's end.
1. Blake Swihart, Red Sox
Though he didn't become a regular catcher until 2010, he's now the game's top prospect at the position, with tools and athleticism that call to mind a young Buster Posey. Swihart makes consistent hard contact from both sides of the plate and earns plus grades for his throwing and receiving. His power took a step forward in 2014, when he threw out 46 percent of basestealers and didn't commit a single passed ball in 97 games.
2. Jorge Alfaro, Rangers
His well-above-average raw power and arm strength have been evident since he signed for a Colombia-record $1.3 million bonus in January 2010. Alfaro's game still needs a lot of refinement, as he's too aggressive at the plate and raw as a receiver, but at age 21, time is still on his side. He's also the best athlete on this list, with the exception of Swihart.
3. Kyle Schwarber, Cubs
He lived up to his reputation as the consensus best all-around college hitter in the 2014 Draft by hitting .344/.428/.634 while reaching high Class A in his pro debut. Schwarber's strength, bat speed, pitch recognition and strike-zone management give him the highest offensive ceiling of any catcher on this list, though he's also the least likely among them to stay behind the plate.
4. Austin Hedges, Padres
The best defensive catcher to come out of high school in recent years, he's now the best defensive catcher in the Minors. Hedges is extremely advanced as a receiver and game-caller, and his plus arm plays up because of his quick release and accuracy. While he struggled at the plate in Double-A last year, he makes regular contact and his defense alone will send him to the big leagues.
5. Justin O'Conner, Rays
He has a cannon arm that may be the best among catching prospects and the hands to become a good receiver, not to mention impressive raw power. O'Conner struggled mightily against pro pitching, however, until breaking through in 2014 and carrying that success over to the Arizona Fall League, progress that greatly enhances his chances of becoming an everyday player.
6. Kevin Plawecki, Mets
New York already has the guy who ranked No. 1 on this list a year ago, but Plawecki could push Travis d'Arnaud for the Mets' starting job in the second half of 2015. Plawecki doesn't have a standout tool, but he also doesn't have a weakness, as he makes repeated contact with gap power and is an efficient thrower and receiver.
7. Reese McGuire, Pirates
The earliest selection among high school catchers in the past six Drafts, he went 14th overall in 2013. McGuire's defense ranks ahead of his offense at this point, with his throwing, receiving and framing all rating as above average. He has a knack for making contact and using the entire field, and he should develop at least gap power once he gets stronger.
8. J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
After he set national high school records with 88 hits and 119 RBIs in 2010, it took Realmuto a while to adjust to pro pitching, because he was focusing on making the transition from shortstop to catcher. Realmuto has become a solid receiver with a strong arm, as well as a line-drive hitter with doubles power and surprising baserunning savvy.
9. Christian Bethancourt, Braves
A star on Panama's 2004 Little League World Series team, he has shut down pro basestealers since he signed in 2008, thanks to his strong arm, quick release and uncanny accuracy. Bethancourt is a contact hitter who has yet to show much in the way of power or on-base ability, but his defense can carry him if he gets more consistent as a receiver.
10. Max Pentecost, Blue Jays
In the last 18 months, he has won Cape Cod League MVP honors, led Kennesaw State to the NCAA Super Regionals, became the highest-drafted player in Owls history (11th overall) and hit .324 in his brief pro debut. A rare catcher who has a chance to have average or better tools across the board, Pentecost stands out most for his bat and arm, and he could rocket up this list a year from now.
The Yankees' Gary Sanchez has seen his stock drop since his bat has stagnated in the mid-Minors, yet he still possesses the same rocket arm and huge raw power. Signed for $3 million out of the Dominican Republic, Sanchez is still just 22 and just needs to tone down his aggressive approach and work on his receiving.
Andrew Susac won't start for the Giants unless they shift Posey to a less demanding position, though he already has earned a World Series ring last October as a backup. He has the tools, including solid power and arm strength, to play for someone on a regular basis.