One position where the Dodgers are looking for improvement is in catcher. I have read some who are not happy about who of Maldonado, Wieters, Lucroy, Vogt, Joseph, Mesoraco, Ellis, or Butera, Friedman will select from. Most of the naysayers did not want Grandal back but have no recommendation for a replacement except JT Realmuto. If it were only that easy just to want something. The Fish are looking for a king’s ransom starting with Cody Bellinger, and Friedman is saying NO.
I got to thinking…What’s happened to all the good catchers? In 2018, there were 117 catchers that played, but only 6 that qualified for the batting title…Realmuto, Molina, Contreras, Barnhart, Grandal, Perez. The Dodgers seem inclined to go with Austin Barnes rather than include Cody Bellinger in a trade for the #1 catcher in MLB, JT Realmuto. Who can blame them?
The Dodgers seem to want to be patient while waiting for one of their two young catching phenoms to make it to the ML. Some think that one or both might be ready this year, but I have my doubts. Keibert Ruiz is the #3 catcher prospect per MLB Pipeline, while Will D. Smith is the #8 catcher prospect. As a 19-year-old in AA, Ruiz showed very good bat to ball skills. He hit .268/.328/.401/.728. His skill with the bat was shown through the sparse 33 K for the year. But his impatience at the plate was shown in his scant 26 BB. As a 23-year-old in AA, Smith hit a very strong .264/.358/.532/.890. He earned a promotion to AAA but did not fare as well there batting .138/.206/.218/.425. Smith is going to need to show he can hit AAA pitching.
Will he hit at AAA? I believe he will. Will Ruiz learn a little more plate discipline? Will he learn better ball transfer to speed his throw to 2B? Again, I think he will. More importantly Jonathan Mayo and Jim Callis believe it. Back to where have all the great catchers gone, does being rated in the top ten catchers give an idea as to how good they turn out?
I got to thinking about previous top catcher prospects and where they are today. I have been a Carson Kelly fan for several years and when he went to AZ I remembered a couple years back when Francisco Mejia was #1, Carson #2, and Chance Cisco #3. All three have made it to the Show but none have made it as a starting catcher. Former #3 (2016), #2 (2018), and #1 (2017) Francisco Mejia may not be a catcher much longer, perhaps moving to the OF. It appears that both Kelly and Cisco will get their shot at starting catcher for Arizona and Baltimore respectively this year. Will they seize that opportunity?
Before Keibert Ruiz appeared as #5 (2017), #3 (2018), and Will D. Smith as #8 (2018), the Dodgers had one previous catcher make the top 10 since 2011; Austin Barnes #9 (2015) and #8 (2016). Yasmani Grandal made the list in 2011, but while he was a Reds prospect.
The prospect who has appeared on the most catcher top ten lists is starting Phillies catcher, Jorge Alfaro. Yes, that Jorge Alfaro that was included in the Cole Hamels to Texas trade. Alfaro was included in six consecutive top ten lists from 2012 thru 2017, including twice as #1 (2015 & 2016). NYY starting catcher Gary Sanchez made 5 consecutive top ten lists from 2011 thru 2015, and Toronto rookie catcher Reese McGuire was named on 4 consecutive top ten lists from 2013 thru 2016. McGuire was called up by Toronto this year for his MLB debut. McGuire was listed once as a Pirate and three times as a Blue Jay. ChiSox catcher prospect Zach Collins has been on the last three lists with a chance to make his 4thwhich will be unveiled in January.
Toronto had four different players named on the list on four consecutive years: Max Pentecost (2015), Reese McGuire (2016), Hagen Danner (2017), and Danny Jansen (2018). Pentecost was also on the 2014 list.
Before the Dodgers had two catchers on the same list in 2018 with Ruiz and Smith, there were 3 other years where a single team had two catchers:
Phillies – 2016– Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp, currently the Phillies top two catchers on their ML roster. Okay the only two on their 40 man roster.
Phillies – 2012– Tommy Joseph and Sebastian Valle – Neither player has ever caught a ML game. Joseph made it to the Show but as a 1B/DH. Valle never got the call.
Reds – 2011– Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal – Mesoraco has been a starting catcher for the Reds and Grandal has been the Dodgers starting catcher since 2015 and is considered the best framer in MLB. He was #2 MLB catcher in 2018 using WAR as the criterion (behind Realmuto). It appears that Dodger fans and MLB GM’s are not as enthused.
Catchers who have been considered starting catchers in the past 8 years and were listed somewhere on the top ten catcher’s list.
Austin Barnes (LAD)
Yasmani Grandal (LAD)
Wilson Contreras (Cubs)
Gary Sanchez (NYY)
Austin Hedges (SD)
Blake Swihart (Boston)
Kevin Plawecki (NYM)
Travis d’Arnaud (NYM)
Mike Zunino (Rays)
Devin Mesoraco (Reds)
Kyle Schwarber was on the list in 2014 but he is not a ML catcher. Derek Norris, Wilin Rosario, Christian Betancourt, were all productive catchers at the ML level.
The Mets were so enamored with their two top 10 catcher prospects, Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki, that they signed Wilson Ramos to a two year $19MM contract. Ramos gets 2 years at $19MM while Grandal turned down $17.9MM for one year. This does not look like a good off-season for Yasmani.
Catchers are probably the most difficult position to project. It is a defensive position first, but most fans look at the offensive numbers while evaluating. Many on the current top ten are defense first catchers, and their offensive skills are lacking. The one catcher that I would look at and think is a cannot miss is Joey Bart. He will move quickly and begin to press Buster Posey by the start of 2020. He has all the tools. Does any of this have any basis for determining whether Ruiz or Smith will become productive ML catchers much less All Stars? Absolutely…Not.
I think Smith falls into the defense first mold, and hopefully his offense will come along. But IMO he is closest to becoming a suitable backup catcher. Ruiz has outstanding hand/eye coordination for bat to ball skills, but because of his age and experience he has not yet fully matured defensively. Even with his outstanding offensive skills, he is still lacking the full development as he doesn’t yet have the power to go along with the hand/eye coordination. In his recent AFL season, in 56 PA, he had 14 hits for a .286 BA. However, of the 14 hits, 13 were singles and 1 was a double. I do think those slugging numbers will improve, because in those same 56 PA he walked 6 times and struck outTWICE. That was against some of the best pitching in MiLB. Ruiz has all the baseball skills to rise to AS level, but he needs to physically mature and improve his defense with game experience.
This was just an exercise to show that just because one is considered a top catcher prospect, does not always equate into a top ML catcher. So for those thinking that Ruiz and Smith will become starters in 2020 (much less productive in 2019) that might be just a tad optimistic. They will become ML catchers, but when and how good is still to be determined. I guess we will find out sometime within the next 6 weeks what Andrew Friedman thinks.