AFL Prospects: Catchers

by Chuck

During the recently completed Arizona Fall League season I had the opportunity, as I’ve done each season since the league’s inception in 1992, to see some of the top minor league talent put refining touches on their skills as the begin what they hope to be the final leg on their ascent to the major leagues.

From the initial class consisting of players such as Ryan Klesko, Troy Percival, Steve Pegues, Rico Brogna and Mike Piazza to the most recent class with Dustin Ackley, Mike Montgomery, Tony Sanchez and Eric Hosmer, the AFL has served as the sometimes final stop on the way to Major League success, as was most recently proven by Buster Posey and Jason Heyward.

While the 2010 class was widely considered to be sub-standard compared to years past, there were still some players who could dominate Major League All-Star and award voting in the coming years. There were also, again as in years past, players who were coming close to the end of the line as far as minor league tenure goes and could find themselves exposed to the Rule V draft or facing free agency.

Top Prospect lists, like any other in this day of the internet, are a dime a dozen. Ninety nine percent of them aren’t worth the time it took to read them. I’m not a blogger. I don’t spend thirty bucks a month for on-line subscriptions to the likes of Keith Law or Ken Rosenthal, I don’t spend countless hours reading through the material of others, writing articles and
calling it my own, and I’m not a paid endorser of anyone.

The point of this exercise isn’t so you’ll agree with me, it’s so you learn something.

And maybe shorten your off-season a bit, and I know that’s a wish we all share.

My plan through this is to list the players I saw during the AFL season and list them not only by their primary positions but in the positions they were in Arizona to learn. Every single player I saw is represented here, with the exception of relief pitchers and I’ll explain the reasons for that later. If a player isn’t here it’s only because I didnt see him, not because I don’t think he’s worthy of consideration.

K?

Over the next few days I’ll list players I saw at the positions I saw them, whether it be their primary or future.

We’ll start today with catchers.

Candidates:
Tony Sanchez (Pittsburgh), Jose Felix (Texas), Ryan Lavarnway (Boston), Tony Cruz (St. Louis), Jordan Pacheco (Colorado), Salvador Perez (Kansas City), Derek Norris (Washington), Caleb Joseph (Baltimore), Adam Abraham (Cleveland), Austin Romine (Yankees), and Devin Mesoraco (Cincinnati).

In fairness I can’t consider Abraham because in the two games I saw him he served as the DH. Tough to evalute a catcher when you haven’t actually seen him catch, no?

I liked Tony Cruz alot, especially with the bat, but since he’s playing behind an All-Star, his immediate future in St. Louis will either be as a backup or at another position. He was initially drafted as a third baseman, so that would seem to be a possibility, but I just don’t know enough about his hot corner
experience to speculate.

Caleb Joseph, whose younger brother Corban is an infielder in the Yankees’ system, and Jordan Pacheco are buried behind future stars and spent time in the AFL exploring opportunities at other positions and were likely being showcased.

I made mention in the press box during the Rising Stars game that the defensive performances of both starters, Lavarnway and Romine, were the worst I had ever seen by opposing catchers in the same game. Both looked like they had subscribed to the Bob Uecker School of Catching, that is, pick up the ball after it stops rolling.

Lavarnway has the better stick of the two but I don’t think it will be enough to offset his defense and allow him to play everyday. I’m hoping the performance of Romine may have been nerve related as he is considered the most ready defensively of all the Yankees catching prospects.

Because of his season ending injury, the jury is out for me on Tony Sanchez. He was not considered first round material in 2009 when drafted by the Pirates and only was so because he had agreed pre-draft to sign quickly. Sanchez’ injury, a broken jaw, caused him to lose almost thirty pounds and he did appear frail and sluggish in Arizona.

Spring Training partners in Surprise, Arizona, the Royals and Rangers, each had a young catching prospect on hand, Salvador Perez and Jose Felix, respectively. Felix is known to be more of a catch and throw guy without much offensive potential but he surprised, hitting .347, albeit in a small sample size of 49 AB’s.

Perez is my sleeper out of this group. Considered to have a ceiling of an average ML catcher, Perez could be the Royals future starter if they decide to move stud prospect Wil Myers, as expected. Perez is a young, still physically immature 20 year old who should show consistent improvement as he matures, both physically and mentally. He showed a great arm with a quick release, both of which he was more than willing to show off.

We’re down now to two remaining candidates, and quite frankly I can’t go wrong with either one. Derek Norris and Devin Mesoraco were both products, as high schoolers, from the 2007 draft, although Mesoraco
is a year older. Their career stats are strikingly similar, with Norris posting a .261/49/186 split in 327 career minor league games, while Mesoraco checks in with a .261/44/162 in 328 games.

There is one significant difference between them offensively, however; Norris’ uncanny ability to draw walks, his career total of 267 is more than double Mesoraco’s 113.

Defensively, Mesoraco has the higher ceiling, with Norris capping at just about ML average, a consideration the Nats’ may have looked at when acquiring Wilson Ramos from the Twins in the Matt Capps trade.

I believe the Nationals may take the 2011 season to decide which prospect better fits at the major league level and may explore trade options for the other, which at this point seems to be Norris.

With Ramon Hernandez re-signing in Cincinnati, albeit for just one year, the impression is they will transition Mesoracoto the majors at some point in 2011 and give him the starting job in 2012.

With that, Mesoraco is my choice as top AFL catching prospect.

Next:

Corner infielders.

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6 Responses to “AFL Prospects: Catchers”

  1. Raul Says:

    Cinci just won the NL Central AND they have a top catching prospect? Things are looking pretty nice.

  2. Brautigan Says:

    Does anyone know the status of Jesus Flores in Washington? I have not heard a bleep about him…………….I hold him in high regard, but if he has no future (which appears to be the de jour because I DON’T hear anything about him), maybe we’ll see Norris sooner than later in Washington.

  3. Chuck Says:

    Flores missed the entire season with an injury.

    He’s currently playing winter ball in Venezuela.

  4. Brautigan Says:

    Glad to see him playing again. Thanks for the update Chuck. I think Flores (if healthy) is going to make the all star game in the near future.

  5. Cameron Says:

    Mesoracoto may be good to 2012, but isn’t Yasmani Grandal supposed to be there the year after or so? From what the reports said, he could do well in Cincy. Not the best glove, but a surprising bat for a catcher.

  6. Chuck Says:

    Grandal didn’t play in the Fall League, Cam.

    Grandal doesn’t do anything for me.

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