Rolling right along, Minor League Ball continues its position by position look at prospects ready for their MLB debuts in the coming 2019 season. Today we focus our attention to the catching position. But before we begin, get caught up on those already completed:
Catcher, as most of us know, is such a hard position to project. Some catchers are defense first and can’t hit a lick, while others are all bat. It doesn’t seem that there are many impact catchers ready to make a difference in 2019, but here are a few that have our attention (as always, feel free to add more in the comments).
Sean Murphy, Oakland Athletics
Murphy is the 24-year-old backstop out of Wright State that the A’s nabbed in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft. Just three short years later, it looks like they have a solid backstop on their hands.
Murphy entered 2018 as our own John Sickels’ No. 10 prospect on the A’s, with a very positive B- grade. Here’s why:
Age 23, third round pick in 2016 from Wright State University; hit .297/.343/.527 in 165 at-bats in High-A but slumped to .209/.288/.309 in 191 at-bats in Double-A; excellent throwing arm and a reliable defensive catcher, will get to majors on his defense alone but future will depend on the bat; flashes above-average power and will draw walks but uncertain what his batting average will look like against the best pitching, has never hit particularly well with wood; some caution with the hitting is advisable but overall I like him. ETA 2019.
So here’s the skinny. Sources, like Baseball America for example, have his arm labeled at an 80. He’s thrown out over 35 percent of base runners in his career and has allowed just 14 passed balls in 182 games behind the plate. And whatever ailed him in 2017 in the Texas League, he fixed in 2018.
Murphy slashed .288/.358/.498 with a modest 16.3 strikeout percentage and a very reasonable 8.0 walk percentage. He still hits way too many ground balls, but it seems like the power is there and he could be a 10 home run catcher at the next level. He has just eight at bats over Double-A, but with Josh Phegley the only catcher on the current 40-man roster, the job is Murphy’s for the taking.
Zack Collins, Chicago White Sox
Collins was one of the best power bats in the 2016 MLB Draft, and he homered in the College World Series almost immediately after the White Sox snagged him in the first round to prove it. He’s been a work in progress ever since, but is certainly ready for a taste of the bigs on a restructuring White Sox team.
The big — he’s listed at 6’3” and 220 and looks every bit of it — left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing backstop has two tremendous positives. He has monster power that goes to all fields and he has incredible plate patience that pays off in walks and in waiting for the right pitch to drive. Last season he may have struck out 158 times, but he walked 101, 24 better than his 2017 career-best. Despite the contact concerns, Collins still got on base at a .382 lick, so there is definitely value there.
Along with perfecting his contact skills, Collins, as most big catchers do, is still honing his craft behind the plate. His footwork is much improved and he has a cannon, albeit somewhat inconsistent. If he continues to work on framing his pitches, he could very well be a viable backstop for years to come.
Keibert Ruiz, Los Angeles Dodgers
Ruiz is a bit of a stretch, as almost every publication feels his ETA is 2020. That’s fair, considering the switch-hitting catcher is still a mere 20 years of age. But with only Austin Barnes on the 25-man and THE Kyle Farmer and Rocky Gale as the backups on the 40-man, well, why not?
The Dodgers have never been shy about playing their young prospects, and if injuries strike, Ruiz could at least get a quick cup of coffee in 2019. Here’s why Ruiz is so special. The Dodgers inked him as a defensive-first catcher... and he has been a solid hitter with nice speed. And the defense hasn’t suffered at all.
You can look at the fact that Ruiz has just 23 home runs in his career, but 18 have come since his July 2017 promotion to the California League. He has already shown an ability to make contact, and now his power is clearly developing. His batting average struggled this season, but he did show the most power of his young career as a 20-year-old in Double-A. He’s only thrown out 26 percent of base runners in his career, but he doesn’t make many mistakes with solid blocking skills and good mechanics behind the plate.
The Dodgers could wait until 2020, but without many options at the big league level, we may see Ruiz this year.
Another to watch:
Taylor Gushue, Washington Nationals: There are better catching prospects on the Nationals. Raudy Read will likely get the first shot and Tres Barrera may be a quick mover, but Gushue is ready for his big league debut too, at the very least, see what he can do. The power-first catcher is now 24-years-old and has been working in the Dominican Summer League so it’s safe to assume his MLB debut is close.
Chadwick Tromp, Cincinnati Reds: I don’t know anything about him, his stats aren’t very good, but the 23-year-old backstop has a fun name (keep your politics out of this please) and that is worth an MLB debut alone.