The group of catchers is definitely top heavy here, and also prone to some serious movement. Catchers are always a tough part of the prospecting world to figure out, because one day they are top of the line, and the next they are moved to the outfield or to first base and severely lose value because of that. Guys like Wil Myers make the jump in the minors. Others like Mauer, or maybe Carlos Santana, start to move in their MLB days. And then there are guys like Lavarnaway that stick but probably shouldn’t due to lack of defense, but teams put up with it for the bat.
On top of the position movements, catchers are terrible to try and follow through their careers. They play 140 games a year, or thereabouts, and they don’t follow typical career trajectories. Just ask Yadier Molina, who was a supreme defensive catcher with an average bat up until a few years ago when he exploded around age 28. And of course you have to learn the rotation. A good defensive catcher still has to get to know his pitchers and his opponents well. That’s why Ryan Hanigan is the starting catcher for the Reds, while Devin Mesoraco splits time with him, even after being a legit Top 10 prospect only a few years ago.
Oh, and don’t forget the idea that every team needs an aging catcher who can’t hit, because they are always the best “game managers” and “clubhouse guys” that every championship team requires. Thank god for Jeff Mathis and Henry Blanco. Yes, catchers suck.
Rank. Name (TEAM) (T100 Rnk) [ETA*] – Comment
*ETA is when I believe they will be able to get a full time job on their team in the majors, not their first PA. FT Jobs include platooning and playing half weeks.
1. Mike Zunino (SEA) (9)  – Elite backstop, best in the minors (IMO). Should stick at the position and have a good bat there, could be a shallow mixed league option in the future.
2. Travis d’Arnaud (NYM) (16)  - Another guy who’s going to be a solid hitting catcher, he should hit .290 or better in the majors with decent homers. If he avoids the injury bug, he could impress those who picked him up after the Roy Halladay deal.
3. Gary Sanchez (NYY) (33)  - Another catcher with a good bat, he’s consistently compared to NYY former backstop Jesus Montero. Although I don’t think he’ll be as good with the stick, he still could be a force and potentially end up a top 25 prospect next season. If he blows up, look for top 15.
4. Austin Hedges (SD) (43)  – Best defensive catcher in the majors. He doesn’t project to be anything more than average with the bat (.270, 14 HR) but the safety that he brings for sticking behind the plate is a huge plus to his fantasy value.
5. Stryker Trahan (ARI) (82)  - Trahan is athletic, but also may have to move to third or a corner outfield spot because he isn’t refined. Plus, that will speed up his ascent to ‘Zona, rather than taking an extra year or two to learn how to catch. Could have an above average bat behind the plate.
6. Jorge Alfaro (TEX)  - Alfaro is toolsy and super young, but also has a huge K-rate. Risky is the name of the game here, but he could pay off big. The Rangers are still searching for a catcher, and Alfaro could be the answer in 2014/2015.
7. Clint Coulter (MIL)  - Coulter is likely to move elsewhere on the diamond, but for now he’s a catcher with some pop. If he sticks behind the plate, his bat is on par with Trahan. Not elite, but he gets docked because I think the other outcomes are less favorable than Trahan’s future positional options.
8. Blake Swihart (BOS)  - Swihart is young and athletic, and is what most people are looking at for the future backstop in Boston. But he’s got a good amount of potential, but is also unrefined behind the plate.
9. Wyatt Mathisen (PIT)  - Sleeper. Mathisen is a draftee who hit well and has some projection on him. Pittsburgh doesn’t have much behind the plate as of now after the tumble of Tony Sanchez, and Mathisen could be the answer. But he’s a ways off. His bat could put him higher next year for sure (top 6).
10. Tommy Joseph (PHI)  - Joseph would have been in the middle of the above tier about a year plus ago, but he’s fallen back down after the trade. He’s still a fine player and could be the catcher of the future in Philly (him or another guy).
11. Cameron Gallagher (KC)  - Sleeper. Cameron was described as being a good catcher with a great ceiling, and even received a few comps that his absolute ceiling could end up being somewhere around Mesoraco, which is highly unlikely but still gives a good picture of how good he can be.
12. Rob Brantley (MIA)  - Brantley is MLB ready and likely will be splitting time with “game manager” Jeff Mathis in Miami. He’s got some pop, but probably won’t wind up anywhere around a top tier catcher. He’s good if you need to fill a hole, but I don’t see a lot of upside here.
13. Christian Bethancourt (ATL)  - Bethancourt is the elite arm of the group. On the mound, he can touch 100 mph. That’s how good his arm is. However, he also hits like a pitcher. People have been waiting for his tools to turn the corner, but they haven’t yet. He could always become an elite defensive catcher that every team needs, but the bat will tell where he ends up.
14. Will Swanner (COL)  - Swanner is likely not a catcher. He’s the mortal enemy of Bethancourt. Pretty bad behind the plate, but his bat is great. If he can hit outside of Ashville (the CAL League isn’t exactly a challenge here, though), he could cement himself top 8 on this list. But more likely, he ends up in RF.
15. JT Realmuto (MIA)  - Realmuto was a favorite of mine a year ago. He’s got decent speed and a little pop, and he hit well in Low-A in 2011. He struggled a little more in High-A, but he’s one that I’m keeping my eye on to supplant Brantley in Miami.
16. John Hicks (SEA)  - He doesn’t have room in the majors to play, behind Zunino and Montero. But he has hit so far (wRC+ of 118 and 112) and he could be a trade chip for the future Mariners. He is a touch older than his leagues, but he could be a good surprise player in the future.
17. Carlos Perez (HOU)  - Sleeper. Carlos Perez is a sleeper of sorts. His wRC+ in his career lines have been 138, 142, 94, and 120. He’s got below average power and speed, but his OBPs are solid and he looks like he can work his way into the Houston plans in the future.
18. David Freitas (WAS)  - Freitas is quite a hitter. Dealt to Oakland in the Suzuki deal, Freitas doesn’t exactly have an opening on the roster. He’s blocked by Norris and Jaso, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be found hitting like crazy (149, 141, 121, 151 career wRC+). He should find a spot, and he seems to have a good enough bat to find a late round hole for your deep roster.
19. Andrew Susac (SFG)  - Susac is the remaining catcher for SFG, after Joseph was dealt. He hit .244 in High-A, for a slightly below average wRC+ of 96, but he was just out of college straight into High-A. He has time to improve.
20. AJ Jimenez (TOR)  - Jimenez was injured in 2012, and only had 105 AB. He will never have great power, but he could have a starting job sooner or later if he progresses and hits for a high average while maintaining good catching ability. He could be the near future for the Jays.
HM. Sebastian Valle (PHI)  - Valle was more interesting a year ago to me. He strikes out way too much and walks way too little for my liking. He does have bounceback potential, though.
HM. Kellin Deglan (TEX)  - After repeating the level in 2012 of Low-A, Deglan performed a little better and improved his power and CS%. I still don’t see him as a MLB regular though, but he could still improve.
HM. Santiago Nessy (TOR)  - Nessy is a project for the Jays still. He hit for a 113 wRC+ in Rookie Ball in 2012, and should climb the ladder slowly. Hopefully something comes of him, but I’m not counting on him being a star or anything. But he’s the brightest of the young Blue Jays backstops.
HM. Kevin Plawecki (NYM)  - He’s the definition of a “good hitter”. In short season ball, he walked more than he struck out (252 PA, 25 BB, 24 K), and he showed some talent. He’s probably a future backup, but someone that I wouldn’t mind holding onto in an OBP league, just in case.
HM. JR Murphy (NYY)  - He’s not the best hitter, posting below average wRC+ in the last few years. But, he does have a line to an open job on the Yankees and could get some serious at bats in 2013. I don’t blame you if you snag him late in a draft and pray for him to get some reps. Better to have someone with some ABs than the best player on the bench, right?
Overall this is an interesting group of Catchers in the minors. At the top end, you have elite options like Zunino and d’Arnaud. As you work your way down the players don’t get a ton worse, they just have a lot more question marks. Bethancourt’s defense is on par with Hedges, but the bat and the consistency is what separates them. If Swanner sticks, he could be a top 15 option at catcher. But he’s doubtful.
The three sleepers are Gallagher, Mathisen, and Perez. All three could surprise, especially Perez who gets overlooked. He’s got an open lane to Catcher-ville and Houston won’t be scared to promote him to see how he does.