Top 10 Catching Prospects - Jan. 2008
by Adam Loberstein
January 2, 2008
The first installment of our series of top prospects by position comes from behind the dish. Blue chipper Matt Wieters serves as our headliner, but with the likes of Jeff Clement, J.R. Towles, Geovany Soto, and so on to follow, 2008 becomes one of the deeper classes of catching prospects in recent years.
1. Matt Wieters BAL (5/21/86), ETA: 2009
Matt Wieters has had no problem distancing himself from the rest of the field with respect to catching prospects—and he didn’t even need an official MiLB at-bat to prove it. Taken No. 5 overall by the Orioles this past June, Wieters made his pro debut in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League. The 6-foot-4, 225-pounder posted an impressive .283/.364/.415 vital line (106 at-bats) given the league’s dominance by pitchers (league average: .254/.334/.338). Wieters has the best bat of any catching prospect on the board—both in pure hitting abilities in power potential—making him an easy choice for No. 1 overall.
2. Jeff Clement SEA (8/21/83), ETA: 2008
After struggling to a .257/.316/.347 vital line (245 at-bats) in his first crack at Triple-A in 2006, Jeff Clement and his bandwagon lost their fair share of passengers. But with a .275/.369/.497 showing (455 at-bats) at the same level in 2007—increasing his wOBA from a lackluster .295 to a strong .366—Clement is circling the wagons once again. While he doesn’t project to live up to the superstar potential he showed at USC, Clement’s ability to hit for power and keen eye (60:88 BB:K in ’07) at the plate gives him the potential to be a strong regular at the Major League level.
3. J.R. Towles HOU (2/11/84), ETA: 2008
As evidenced by his .324/.422/.551 vital in 216 Double-A at-bats last season, it has become clear that J.R. Towles has the potential to hit and hit well in the big leagues. A 6-foot-2, 190-pounder, Towles also provided sound defense as a catcher at all MiLB levels, meaning the Astros have no intentions of moving him off of the position anytime soon. For the balance of the offensive and defensive abilities the North Central (Tex.) J.C. product has shown, we expect Towles to become an above-average catcher for the Astros lineup.
4. Geovany Soto CHC (1/20/83), ETA: 2008
Looking at Geovany Soto's stunning .353/.424/.652 vital line from a season ago, it’s hard not to dream about what would happen if he could produce similar numbers at the Major League level. After a pair of disappointing Triple-A showings in 2005 and 2006, Soto dropped 30 pounds prior to the 2007 season in hopes of becoming a better prospect. And after raising his OPS well over 300 points (.733 in ’06 vs. 1.066 in ’07), Soto did just that. While he will be 25 years of age with just 54 MLB at-bats under his belt when the 2008 season gets underway, the new and improved Geovany Soto should continue hitting for the Cubs as a Major League regular.
5. Hank Conger LAA (1/29/88), ETA: 2010
In our closest of close debates, Hank Conger claims the rights to the No. 5 slot on this list by the slimmest of margins over Bryan Anderson. Playing in Single-A a season ago, Conger posted an impressive .290/.335/.469 vital line in 319 plate appearances, resulting in a .346 wOBA. Although his 373 career at-bats leaves plenty of grey area when compared with Anderson’s sample size of 924 MiLB at-bats, Conger’s slugging potential (35.7% XBH vs. 19.0% for Anderson last season) gives him the edge by our narrowest degree of separation.
6. Bryan Anderson STL (12/16/86), ETA: 2009
While a .298/.348/.388 vital line doesn’t appear to be too exciting on the surface, the fact that Bryan Anderson was able to experience such a degree of success at the age of 20 in Double-A speaks volumes about his potential. Although his lack of power last season isn’t hard to miss, you could argue that Anderson’s Single-A showing (.302/.374/.417) was superior to Conger’s (.290/.335/.469) at the same age, depending on your metrics of choice. Both Anderson and Conger have been scrutinized for their defensive performances, suggesting that neither one may stick behind the plate in the big leagues.
7. Jesus Montero NYY (11/28/89), ETA: 2011
After signing with the New York Yankees for $2 million as an international free agent in 2006, Jesus Montero entered the 2007 campaign with such a big target on his back that only a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder could support it. And support it he did. A native of Guacara, Venezuela, Montero posted a .280/.366/.421 vital line and .350 wOBA in 123 Rookie League plate appearances last season—as a 17-year-old. While his ceiling is hard to rival, the depth of this year’s catching class—paired with the long journey he still has to overcome to reach the Majors—slides Montero to the No. 7 slot on our list.
8. Devin Mesoraco CIN (6/19/89), ETA: 2011
Heralded as the total package behind the dish—pure hitting ability, plus power, and defensive ability—the Cincinnati Reds made Devin Mesoraco the No. 15 overall selection in June’s draft. The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder struggled with his Rookie League debut, posting a .219/.310/.270 vital line in his first 137 at-bats as a professional. While it wasn’t exactly the start that the Punxsutawney (Pa.) H.S. product was hoping for, Mesoraco’s overall potential is more than enough to land him a spot on this list.
9. Francisco Cervelli NYY (3/6/86), ETA: 2010
Posting a .279/.383/.397 vital line in the pitcher’s paradise that is the High-A Florida State League, Francisco Cervelli becomes the second Yankee catching prospect to earn his way into our Top 10. While it could easily be overlooked given his low slugging percentage, Cervelli managed a 34.6% XBH rate a season ago—with 24 of his 28 XBH coming in the form of doubles. Like Jesus Montero, Cervelli still has a long ways to go to reach the big leagues, but certainly has the abilities to do just that in due time.
10. Taylor Teagarden TEX (12/21/83), ETA: 2009
Even though his .316/.449/.608 showing (291 at-bats) came as a 23-year-old in the California League, it’s still hard to overlook Taylor Teagarden’s offensive production from a season ago. After mashing his way through High-A, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder continued to hit in Double-A, posting a .301/.362/.534 vital line in 103 at-bats. Although his first Triple-A at-bat will not come until he’s 24 years of age, Teagarden’s potential to continue hitting and his excellent defensive abilities are hard to overlook.