Most hyped catching prospects of the century

March 26th, 2020

Our beat reporters have begun ranking the five best players in each franchise's history at each position, starting with catchers. To complement that coverage, each week we'll identify each organization's top prospect at that position during the era, which began in 2001.

Four players double as both their club's top catching prospect of the last two decades and best backstop of all time: Jonathan Lucroy (Brewers), Joe Mauer (Twins), Buster Posey (Giants) and J.T. Realmuto (Marlins). Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, eventually should surpass Rick Dempsey as the Orioles' best catcher ever -- but we would have said the same about Matt Wieters a decade ago.


Blue Jays: Guillermo Quiroz
Ranked by as the No. 20 overall prospect in 2004, Quiroz put up solid numbers throughout his Minor League career, batting .251/.320/.407 across 17 seasons, though it never translated to the big leagues. After debuting with Toronto in 2004, he went on to compile a .199/.256/.277 slash line and -1.9 WAR while appearing in 148 games with six different teams over 10 seasons in the Majors.

Orioles: Adley Rutschman
Wieters technically ranked higher on the Top 100 list, coming in at No. 2 overall back in 2009, but Rutschman is just getting started. And as the No. 1 overall pick in 2019 and debuting at No. 4 on the 2020 Top 100, there’s no question that Rutschman has higher expectations than Wieters, even though he was the top catcher back in his Draft year as well. But with Rutschman being looked at as a once-in-a-generation type who can be the face of this rebuilding franchise, he gets the nod.

Rays: Justin O’Conner
The first catcher ever taken by the Rays in the first round, O’Conner, the No. 31 pick in the 2010 Draft, spent most of his Indiana prep career as a shortstop and a pitcher before moving behind the plate for his senior year. He quickly blossomed into one of the better defensive catchers in the Minors, showing elite arm strength and catch-and-throw skills at the position -- he threw out 44 percent of basestealers in seven Minor League seasons -- and hit well enough to earn a spot on the 2015 Top 100. However, a herniated disc in O’Conner’s back derailed his progress the next year, and he never was able to get back on track.

Red Sox: Blake Swihart
The 26th overall pick in an outstanding 2011 Draft for the Red Sox, Swihart had tools and athleticism reminiscent of a young Posey. Injuries and a lack of opportunity prevented him from ever solidifying a regular role with Boston, though he did win a World Series ring in 2018 before moving on to the D-backs and Rangers.

Yankees: Jesus Montero
Since began compiling overall Top 50/Top 100 Prospects lists in 2004, just six catchers have placed in the Top 10: future MVPs Mauer and Posey, four-time All-Star Wieters, Rutschman (who's just getting started), Travis d'Arnaud and Montero. Signed for $1.65 million out of Venezuela in 2006, Montero projected to have well above-average hitting ability and power but never delivered on that promise, and defensive and makeup issues helped sink his career. He spent one season as a big league regular (with the 2012 Mariners) and totalled 806 at-bats in the Majors.


Indians: Carlos Santana
After signing with the Dodgers for $75,000 out of the Dominican Republic in 2004, Santana began his career as a third baseman/outfielder before moving behind the plate in 2007 and breaking out the following year. Los Angeles was low on cash at the time and agreed to give him up in a trade for Casey Blake that July if the Indians would eat all of Blake's salary. Santana spent just three seasons as a regular catcher in the Majors but is still a reliable hitter who bashed a career-high 34 homers in 2019. He was a close call here over Francisco Mejía, who set a modern Minor League record with a 50-game hitting streak in 2016, got traded to the Padres in 2018 and still hasn't claimed an everyday role.

Royals: Wil Myers
Selected in the third round of the 2009 Draft out of the North Carolina prep ranks, Myers spent his first two pro seasons behind the plate and peaked at No. 16 on MLB Pipeline’s Top 50 Prospects list ahead of the 2011 season. The Royals dealt the top prospect to Tampa Bay after the 2012 season -- netting the club a return (James Shields, Wade Davis) that would help it win the World Series in ’15 -- and he garnered AL Rookie of the Year honors the following year. Myers was traded again after the 2014 season, this time going to the Padres, who signed him to a six-year, $83 million extension after an All-Star campaign in ’16, but his production has steadily declined in the three seasons since the deal.

Tigers: Brandon Inge
A second-round pick in 1998 out of Virginia Commonwealth, Inge cracked the Tigers’ Opening Day roster in 2001 and became a fixture in team’s lineup for the next 12 years. His bat came alive once the Tigers moved him from catcher to third base, as he hit 27 home runs and drove in at least 83 runs twice within a four-year span and garnered AL All-Star honors in 2009. Though his hitting ability declined sharply after that, Inge still finished his career as a 19.2-WAR player, batting .233/.301/.384 line and 152 homers in 13 seasons.

Twins: Joe Mauer
Mauer was the No. 1 pick in the 2001 Draft and was in the big leagues less than three years later. He was the No. 1 prospect on the first rankings did that season, then went on to be a six-time All-Star who won an AL MVP Award to go along with five Silver Sluggers and three Gold Gloves. He retired after the 2018 season with a career .306 average and 55.3 WAR.

White Sox: Zack Collins
The White Sox selected Collins 10th overall in 2016, and his strengths and weaknesses are still the same four years later. He has well-above-average power, draws lots of walks and has solid arm strength, but he swings and misses excessively, has shaky receiving skills and a slow transfer. He's currently stuck behind Yasmani Grandal and James McCann on Chicago's depth charts.


Angels: Jeff Mathis
Back in 2004, Mathis was the second-highest-ranked catching prospect in the game, behind only Mauer. He also was the second (high school) catcher taken in the 2001 Draft, also behind Mauer. While Mathis hasn’t had the career his counterpart did, he has carved out a long career as a backup, spending at least parts of 15 seasons in the big leagues with the Angels, Blue Jays, Marlins, D-backs and Rangers.

Astros: Jason Castro
Castro played on the same Cape Cod League team as Posey before breaking out as a Stanford junior in 2008, when he went 10th overall to the Astros. The industry consensus was that was a bit rich for Castro, but he was an All-Star in 2013 and owns the 14th-best WAR (12.1) among players signed out of his Draft class.

Athletics: Sean Murphy
Murphy, who entered the 2020 season as the No. 33 prospect on our Top 100, made his Major League debut last September. The A’s thought so highly of him that he was on their Wild Card roster. The 2016 third-round pick has put up solid numbers in the Minors, though he’s gotten dinged up along the way, and really stands out as one of the best defensive catching prospects in baseball. He was slated to be the A’s starting catcher this season.

Mariners: Mike Zunino
While Jeff Clement was a two-time Top 100 prospect, Zunino peaked as the No. 23 overall prospect back in 2013 and was the second-highest-ranked catcher that year behind d’Arnaud of the Mets. The No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 Draft was in the big leagues a year after being drafted and while he hasn’t hit as well as expected, he has shown power at the plate and a strong arm behind it, first with the Mariners and then in 2019 with the Rays.

Rangers: Jorge Alfaro
Alfaro signed for a Colombian-record $1.3 million in 2010 on the basis of his raw power, cannon arm and quality athleticism for his position. He's still trying to put all his tools together, but he has been a decent regular the last two seasons and was a key part of trades for Cole Hamels and Realmuto.


Braves: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
The Braves had Christian Bethancourt on the top 100 three times and now have 2019 first-round pick Shea Langeliers on the list, but neither of them ranked as highly as Saltalamacchia did. The 2003 first-round pick (No. 36 overall) out of the Florida high school ranks, Salty was No. 16 overall in 2006 and No. 32 in 2007, ranking as the top Braves prospect each year. While he never quite lived up to those expectations, he did go on to spend parts of 12 seasons in the big leagues with seven teams (only one season with the Braves), finishing in 2018 with a positive WAR (5.9).

Marlins: J.T. Realmuto
Two years after blowing the No. 6 overall pick on Kyle Skipworth, the Marlins scored big with another prep catcher in the third round of the 2010 Draft. More of a shortstop in high school, Realmuto set national high school records with 88 hits and 119 RBIs as a senior and also quarterbacked Carl Albert High (Midwest City) to the Oklahoma state 5-A football title. His athleticism eased his transition behind the plate and he's now regarded as the game's best catcher.

Mets: Travis d’Arnaud
Originally drafted by the Phillies in the first round of the 2007 Draft, d’Arnaud was shipped to Toronto in the December 2009 Roy Halladay deal, and then joined the Mets along with Noah Syndergaard three years later in the R.A Dickey trade. He was a Top 100 prospect twice with the Mets, peaking at No. 6 in 2013, though a myriad of injuries prevented d’Arnaud from reaching his potential with the organization. The Mets released him in May 2019 after hitting .242/.303/.401 over parts of seven seasons with the club. After a one-game stint with the Dodgers following his release, the 31-year-old found new life as a member of the Rays, slashing .263/.323/.459 with 16 homers and 67 RBIs over 92 games.

Nationals: Derek Norris
Norris, a fourth-round pick in 2007, never cracked’s Top 50 Prospects list, though he likely would have in multiple years (2010-11) had the list been extended to include 100 prospects. Ranked as Washington’s No. 5 prospect going into 2011, he was shipped to Oakland in the Gio Gonzalez deal after that season and became the property of the Padres three years later when they acquired him from the A’s for a pair of pitchers. He rejoined the Nationals via trade in December 2016 but failed to crack the team’s Opening Day roster the following spring, resulting in his release. Overall, Norris has batted .230/.304/.380 over parts of six big league seasons, albeit without appearing in a Major League game since ’17.

Phillies: Lou Marson
Marson, now a manager in the Angels’ Minor League system, was the Phillies’ fourth-round selection out of the Arizona high school ranks back in 2004 and hit the middle of the 2009 Top 100. He spent most of his time in the big leagues -- parts of six seasons in total -- with the Indians, after heading to Cleveland in the big Cliff Lee deal in 2009. He collected 768 big league at-bats in total and the 2008 Olympian called it quits after playing briefly in Double-A for the Reds in 2014-15. He joined the Angels’ player development staff, first as a coach, in 2017.


Brewers: Jonathan Lucroy
The 2007 third-rounder from Louisiana Lafayette was viewed as a glove-first backstop at the outset of his pro career but quickly emerged as an offensive force en route to his big league debut with Milwaukee in 2010. He was an NL All-Star in 2014, when he also finished fourth in the circuit’s MVP voting, as well as in ’16, when he hit a career-high 24 home runs. While Lucroy hasn’t been able to repeat that level of production since the Brewers traded him to Texas during the 2016 season, his abilities on both sides of the ball continue to earn him regular work behind the plate, with the 33-year-old bouncing between a slew of organizations on one-year deals.

Cardinals: Carson Kelly
Kelly cracked MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list in both 2017 (No. 39) and ’18 (46) but was perpetually blocked at the Major League level by Cardinals veteran Yadier Molina. That prompted the club to include him in the December 2018 trade with Arizona that brought Paul Goldschmidt to St. Louis. The 25-year-old broke out last season in his first extended big league audition, posting an .826 OPS with 18 homers and a 32 percent caught-stealing rate in 111 games with the D-backs.

Cubs: Kyle Schwarber
Somewhat of a surprise as the No. 4 overall choice in the 2014 Draft, Schwarber made the Cubs look smart by batting .333/.429/.613 in the Minors and arriving in Wrigley Field a year after turning pro. His desire stood out more than his physical ability behind the plate, and Chicago scrapped plans to continue using him as a catcher after he blew out his left knee in early 2016. He returned to become a World Series hero that October and has homered 94 times in three seasons since.

Pirates: J.R. House
The Pirates have never done all that well in terms of elite-level catching prospects. Most recently, former first-round pick Reese McGuire cracked the Top 100 in 2015-16, and Ryan Doumit was a solid prospect, albeit one who didn’t crack the Top 100. The Pirates thought House had huge potential, taking him in the fifth round of the 1999 Draft. He made it to the big leagues briefly in 2003-04, then left to play QB at West Virginia in 2005, before returning to the diamond with the Astros in 2006. He retired with a total of 60 big league at-bats.

Reds: Devin Mesoraco
Mesoraco was the second catcher taken in the 2007 Draft, behind Wieters, and was the first prep backstop taken when the Reds selected him out of Punxsutawney, Pa. It took a while for Mesoraco to find his footing, sidelined several times by concussions. He was an All-Star in 2014 with the Reds, but was dealt early in 2018 to the Mets in return for Matt Harvey. He had re-signed with the Mets in 2019, but a refusal to accept a Minor League assignment last year has, for all intents and purposes, led to his retirement. He amassed a 4.6 WAR in just over 1,400 career at-bats.


D-backs: Daulton Varsho
Varsho came with little fanfare as a Wisconsin-Milwaukee junior prior to the 2017 Draft, when the D-backs took him with the No. 68 overall. But he has been a model of consistency in the pro ranks, performing well at every level while making a relatively accelerated climb through Arizona's system. He had a career-best offensive campaign at Double-A Jackson in 2019, finishing first in the Southern League in runs (85), slugging (.520) and OPS (.899) while also posting the circuit's third-highest average (.301). While there are some concerns about whether MLB Pipeline’s No. 76 prospect will be able to stick behind the plate, Varsho possesses the athleticism and speed needed to profile elsewhere on the diamond if catching doesn’t work out.

Dodgers: Keibert Ruiz
One of the few players in this story who's still a pure prospect, Ruiz currently ranks No. 73 on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 list. Signed for $140,000 out of Venezuela in 2014, he reached Triple-A last year at age 21 and offers hitting ability from both sides of the plate, solid raw power and similar defensive promise.

Giants: Buster Posey
Drafted out of high school as a pitcher by the Angels in 2005, Posey went to Florida State as a shortstop and moved to catcher after his freshman year. He led the NCAA in hitting (.472), on-base percentage (.572) and slugging (.908) in 2008, lasting five picks in the Draft that June because there were some mild questions about his power and his receiving. Suffice it to say he answered them en route to three World Series rings, an MVP Award, a Rookie of the Year Award, four Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove.

Padres: Austin Hedges
Scouts viewed Hedges as a potentially elite defensive catcher before the 2011 Draft, and it was that prowess behind the plate that earned him a spot on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list in three straight years (2013-15). Though he has lived up to that reputation in the big leagues and is widely regarded as the sport’s best framer and strike-stealer, the 27-year-old has underwhelmed offensively in five seasons with San Diego, slashing .201/.257/.360 with strikeout and walk rates of 28.9 and 6.2 percent, respectively. Hedges’ struggles at the plate worsened in 2019, too, as he posted a .563 OPS with 11 homers and 20 extra-base hits after combining for 32 homers, 31 doubles and 92 RBIs during the 2017-18 seasons.

Rockies: Wilin Rosario
Rosario was a Top 100 prospect two times, in 2011 and 2012, and he finished fourth in National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2012. He was the Rockies’ starter for most of 2012-2015, putting up a total 1.6 WAR along the way. He played in Korea in 2016 and 2017, then Japan in 2018, before resurfacing in the States, playing for the Twins in Triple-A in 2019, where he posted a .300/.339/.504 line in the International League, more as a first base/DH type who only catches occasionally.