Friday, March 2, 2018

Beyond the Astros Top 30: Catchers

As the old year fades away and the new season approaches, it's time to start looking at those players of interest who are beyond the Astros Top 30 (or 32 ... see below). These players may not ever make a Top 30 list (or they may), but a combination of projections, actual results, incremental improvements and intangibles keep them in the mix as interesting players to watch. I am not including any players in these posts who have already made their major league debuts since, presumably, anyone reading my blog is already very familiar with those players.

Now that all of the major players (Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, MLB Pipeline and Baseball America) have weighed in with their Astros Top Prospect Lists, I've integrated all of the rankings into one consensus top prospect ranking that includes 32 Astros players (16 were ranked on all four lists, nine were on three of four and the final seven were on two of four). I highly recommend checking out the included links for all of the great information provided.

[UPDATES TO FINAL 2018 PRE-SEASON RANKINGS SHOWN IN RED.
BA= BASEBALL AMERICA, BP = BASEBALL PROSPECTUS,
FG=FANGRAPHS, MLB = MLB PIPELINE]

CATCHERS IN THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Garrett Stubbs - April 2017
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Nathan Perry (L/R) - BP #11+
Drafted by the Astros in the fifth round in 2017 out of Bassett High School (VA), Nathan Perry was ranked as a Baseball Prospectus "Next 10" prospect. They were high on his defensive abilities, but less sold on his offensive upside, particularly since he was limited to 27 games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League in his first pro season (hitting .229/.325/.357) but liked his approach, raw power and on-base potential. Although it was a limited sample size, Perry did show improvement at the plate as his short season progressed, hitting .333/.486/.556 with eight walks to six strikeouts in his 12 games in August and September. Defensively, Perry only played in 12 games behind the dish and caught two of 10 on the base paths. Perry will turn 19 on July 7th.

Chuckie Robinson (R/R) - MLB #27, FG #28+
I'm a bigger fan of Robinson than most so I was happy to see him debut at #27 on the MLB Pipeline prospect list and receive a mention in the FanGraphs write-up as well. Robinson, drafted in the 21st round in 2016 out of the University of Southern Mississippi, had a very nice second professional season at the plate with the Low A Quad Cities team, hitting .274/.330/.463 with 32 doubles, two triples, 15 home runs and 77 RBI in 108 regular season games. In the postseason, he hit .256/.293/.590 with one double, four home runs and eight RBI over nine games. The biggest question marks about Robinson are whether or not his long, aggressive swing will translate at the higher levels and how much he can improve on his receiving skills, but he's a hard worker with excellent strength, good bat speed and raw power, and a very nice arm; Robinson's caught stealing rate in 80 games behind the plate in 2017 was 41%. Robinson turned 23 in December. Side note: Robinson is a third generation catcher whose grandfather spent time in the White Sox organization in the 60's and whose father spent time in the Royals and Cubs farm systems.

Garrett Stubbs (L/R) - BP #11+, FG #15,  BA #18, MLB #24
Stubbs, the Astros 2015 eight round pick out of USC, is probably the best all-around defensive catcher in the Astros system with plus receiving skills and arm strength. Stubbs was ranked by all four of the prospect listings (noted in the above intro) with a high ranking of #15 by FanGraphs and a low of #24 by MLB Pipeline. Universally, Stubbs's detractors single out his small stature (and thus questionable durability) as the biggest obstacle to his emerging as a front-line catcher in the MLB. And Stubbs, unfortunately, was working through some injuries in 2017 which did nothing to quiet those doubts. His offensive output in 2017 did take a hit (.236/.324/.331 in 75 games in AA Corpus and .221/.341/.286 in 23 games in AAA Fresno), but one pundit attributed that as much to the old trying-to-do-too-much syndrome as it did to injuries. His caught stealing rate fell off as well (32% in 2017), but he still has a 44% lifetime rate. Stubbs, however, is extremely smart and a very hard worker; I feel confident that he will continue to make the adjustments necessary to get the most out of his stature and his abilities. If, as others say, his ceiling is as a back-up backstop in the majors, that's not a bad thing, but I wouldn't count him out just yet. Stubbs will be 25 in May.

CATCHERS BEYOND THE TOP 30 (in alphabetical order)

Anthony Hermelyn - May 2016
Photo by Jayne Hansen

Jose Alvarez (R/R)
Signed out of Venezuela in July 2016 for $195,000, Alvarez made a splash in his very first professional game behind the dish in 2017 by catching four would-be base stealers. When first signed, Oz Ocampo of the Astros praised Alvarez's receiving skills and his strong, accurate throws, as well as his solid hitting ability with good bat speed and swing path. Alvarez only played in 20 games as a catcher in his first season (21 at first base) and had a caught stealing rate of 50% (20 of 40), but let's not talk about those 12 passed balls ... yet. After all, he won't be 18 until June! Offensively, Alvarez started off the season well but tailed off dramatically later in the season, ending with a .204/.324/.217 line, walking 25 times to 34 strikeouts.
Keys: Since he won't be 18 until June, it's a little early to be talking about keys for Alvarez, but I'll give him two things to work on in 2018 -- start developing more of the gap power that Baseball America projected him to have and keep those passed balls in check. If he can improve to the point that he gets a promotion to the States by the end of the season, that will say a great deal about Alvarez's potential.

Anthony Hermelyn (R/R)
Hermelyn, who played his 2017 season with High A Buies Creek, has largely flown under the radar, but made enough progress in 2017 to keep himself in the mix. Although he had a somewhat uneven season at the plate, he ended it with a very respectable .242/.337/.333 with 15 doubles, three home runs and an improved walk-to-strikeout rate of 38 walks to 55 strikeouts in 74 games (43BB:95K in 87 games in 2016). He also improved to a 40% caught stealing rate (16 of 40), and was charged with only three passed balls and zero errors in 51 games at the position. Hermelyn was drafted in the fourth round in 2015 out of the University of Oklahoma. He turned 24 this past November.
Key: With the trade of Jake Rogers in July, Hermelyn has been given an opportunity to step up and that's exactly what he will need to do. If he can continue to make incremental improvements, both offensively and defensively, and do so while continuing to climb the ladder to the higher levels of the organization, he could definitely hang around for a while. [UPDATE: Well, I was definitely wrong on this one. Hermelyn was released prior to the 2018 season.]

Michael Papierski (S/R)
Papierski, drafted by the Astros in the ninth round in 2017 out of LSU, hopes to challenge for the title of best defensive catcher in the Astros system. With good receiving and framing skills, a solid arm and the smarts to communicate well with his pitchers, he seems to be headed in the right direction. And although he only managed to hit .198 in his first his first 37 pro games with short season A Tri-City, his .377 on-base percentage and .380 slugging percentage seem to portend better things to come as he becomes acclimated to the pro ranks (particularly if he keeps demonstrating the plate discipline that resulted in a ratio of 30 walks to 29 strikeouts). Papierski's caught stealing rate in his first 35 games behind the plate was 29% (9 of 22 caught).
Key: Papierski is not expected to hit for high average, but I do expect him to put that .198 average from 2017 in the rearview mirror this season. He will need to show that he can hang in there offensively while solidifying his skills behind the plate. If he does that, he could move up the ladder quickly. Papierski turned 22 this past Monday.

Lorenzo Quintana (R/R)
Quintana is defintely on the older side for this list, having turned 29 just yesterday, but he will be making his U.S. pro debut in 2018 after spending seven seasons in Cuba, the last of which was the 2014-2015 season. He was signed by the Astros in October for a reported $200,000. Quintana hit .310/.377/.438 in 422 games in Cuba with 62 doubles, nine triples, 35 home runs, 204 RBI and 232 runs scored. Over those 422 games, Quintana walked 126 times while striking out 206 times, but in his last two seasons, he improved to a ratio of 58 walks to 52 strikeouts in 118 games. He has a lifetime 30% caught stealing rate and has been known to steal a base or two himself. In his 2013-2014 season, he stole 15 bases and was caught six times. Quintana is said to be a good contact hitter who uses all fields, but beyond that, I haven't seen much written about him. He is expected to start the season at Buies Creek.
Key: If Quintana can adjust to the U.S. system, he should fly through the organization quickly.

Jamie Ritchie (R/R)
Going in to his fifth professional season, Ritchie is on the bubble with me. He's off-the-charts smart, has great athleticism and works incredibly hard, but he hasn't gotten past "potential MLB back-up catcher" in my mind. His 2017 season with Corpus Christi (.256/.382/.335 with eight doubles, one triple, three home runs and a 24% caught stealing rate) screams "average" at me. He does have really great plate discipline and on-base skills, but he's never going to be a power hitter and, although he's a solid receiver, his arm still projects to be average at best. The good news is that catchers usually get as many chances as it takes to make things work and Ritchie will do everything in his power to adjust and improve. Ritchie, who was drafted in the 13th round in 2014 out of Belmont University, will be 25 in April. [Author's Note: It hurts my heart to write anything negative about a great guy like Ritchie and I hope he makes me look like a complete ninny in 2018.]
Key: If Ritchie isn't going to be elite defensively (and I don't think he will be), he needs to up his offensive game and show that at the highest levels of the organization.

Nerio Rodriguez (R/R)
Rodriguez's father (also Nerio Rodriguez) spent five seasons catching in the minors before converting to pitcher. He played in five seasons in the majors for the Orioles, Blue Jays, Indians and Cardinals. The younger Rodriguez signed with the Astros in 2016 for $450,000 and played his first season with the Dominican Summer League in 2017. Rodriguez hit .203/.306/.346 in 44 games, peaking with a .282/.360/.518 line in 22 games in July. Although he is expected to project as a better offensive player than defensive player, he did manage a 54% caught stealing rate (14 of 26) in his 19 games behind the plate. Rodriguez has been on my radar since his July 28th game in which he caught five would-be base stealers and hit a home run, the combination of which reportedly no other player has ever accomplished in a pro game at any level ever! Rodriguez will be 19 in September.
Key: Rodriguez spent a lot more time at DH than at catcher in 2017. If the Astros intend to keep him at the position, he will need to get a lot more work in to stick at that position.

Others to Watch:

Gabriel Bracamonte (R/R)
I'll be watching Bracamonte as much because I like the guy (which, in turn, makes me root for him) as for any other reason. Bracamonte only caught 24 games in 2017 and has only progressed as far as 12 games at Low A Quad Cities in four professional seasons. Unfortunately, his bat did not translate well in those 12 games at the higher level. Overall, though, Bracamonte has shown the ability to catch up offensively; he'll just need to start doing it a lot more quickly since he turns 23 in May. His lifetime caught stealing rate is 38%.

Jose Carrillo (R/R)
Much like Bracamonte, my concerns with Carrillo are largely due to his slow progression up through the system. It took him until the end of his third professional season to make it to the States for eight games at the end of the 2017 season. He hit .250/.326/.296 in his 44 games in the Dominican Summer League prior to the promotion and managed a 56% caught stealing rate (10 of 18) in his 26 games behind the plate. He just turned 20 in January.

Orlando Marquez (R/R)
Marquez is yet another of these young Venezuelan catchers (like Bracamonte and Carrillo) who has shown promise, but is in danger of aging out of the system. In 28 games with the Gulf Coast League in 2017, he hit .268/.346/.380 and caught four of 10 would-be base stealers. However, he will be 24 in March and hasn't progressed beyond the rookie level Gulf Coast League in four professional seasons.

Brandon Benavente (S/R)
Benavente is the last of my Venezuelan catchers who haven't quite been able to break through. Benavente's great arm is evident in his astonishing 67% caught stealing rate in 2017 (36 of 54), and pundits were effusive in their praise for his defensive abilities when he signed for $262,500 in 2014, but he has never been able to break through with the bat. In his third pro season, Benavente was stuck below the Mendoza line and was also stuck in the Dominican Summer League after playing in a handful of games in the States in 2016. He will be 21 in September and time is no longer his friend.

Previous Posts:
Shortstop
Second Base
First Base

3 comments:

  1. Im really rooting for one of these guys to shine. Catcher seems to be the hardest position for the Astros to find. Thanks again Jayne.

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    1. I'm really interested in seeing what Lorenzo Quintana does. The Astros have done a really good job with their Cuban signings for the most part.

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  2. I agree The Astros seem to have a good connection to the Cuban players. I wish they could have signed Yuli's brother. Oh well you cant have them all

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