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February 15, 2011

Future Shock

Five Potential All-Star Batteries

by Kevin Goldstein

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The weather is warming, snow is melting for those applicable, and the four best words of the week are clearly "Pitchers and catchers report." With that in mind, let's look at some of the best pitcher/catcher prospect combinations in baseball. Here are five potential All-Star battery mates.

New York Yankees: Jesus Montero/Pick a "B"
This would be a no-brainer if Montero were actually a catcher, but despite significant improvement over the years, he's advanced only from completely unacceptable to merely awful. His bat is absolutely big league-ready and provides middle-of-the-order potential, but despite saying all the right things publicly, the Yankees said everything they needed to about their confidence in Montero behind the plate with their $4 million check for the services of what's left of Russell Martin.

As for the much-ballyhooed B's of Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, and Andrew Brackman, it should really be a duo, as Brackman fits conveniently only thanks to the letter his last name begins with. There has been some talk about both Banuelos and Betances having their timetables accelerated because of the weaknesses that are the back of New York's big-league rotation, but despite tremendous upside, both remain unproven. Although both took big steps forward in 2010, neither topped 90 innings, and each has gone over triple digits in innings just once during his brief career. Therefore, 2012 is a more realistic expectation for the pair, and although both arms and Montero have All-Star potential, the latter most likely will be a first baseman or designated hitter by the time he reaches that level.

Toronto Blue Jays: J.P. Arencibia/Kyle Drabek
Not only is this an exciting combination, it's also the one with the best chance to break camp in the big leagues together. Drabek remains the top prize received from Philadelphia in the Roy Halladay deal, and although he has some big shoes to fill, he more than held his own in three big-league starts and is all but a lock to win one of the final rotation slots in Toronto. A first-round pick in 2006, Drabek has two plus big-league pitches: a low-to-mid 90s fastball and devastating curve. He should slowly develop into an All-Star talent. After Arencibia blasted 32 home runs in just 104 minor-league games and two more in his big-league debut, the Blue Jays have kept Jose Molina around only for competition, as Arencibia, an '07 first-round pick, is the overwhelming favorite for the top job. He's an impatient hitter who likely will never impress in the batting average or on-base departments, but athletic catchers with the ability to hit 20-25 home runs annually are stars in the current world where the average American League backstop in 2010 hit just .245/.312/.374.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Tony Sanchez/Jameson Taillon
This one is more of a long-term play, as least as far as Taillon goes. The second overall pick in the 2010 draft, Taillon is a 19-year-old kid who got $6.5 million to sign. At the same time, his name has yet to appear in a professional box score. Some scouts believe that he's the best high school right-hander to come along in nearly a decade, as beyond his 6-foot-7 power frame, he already has a mid-to-upper 90s fastball and an outstanding power curve.

Obviously, plenty of things can go wrong between now and Taillon reaching the big leagues, and even with an optimistic big league ETA of 2013, Sanchez might be just hitting his stride. He was thought to have a good shot at reaching the big leagues in 2010, but a pitch to the face ended those chances. He'll begin 2011 at Double-A with nothing really blocking his path. A potential plus-plus defender, Sanchez projects offensively as a player with a good on-base percentage and 10-15 home runs annually, but again, that's star-level for a backstop.

Colorado Rockies: Wilin Rosario/Tyler Matzek
This is another situation where the catcher will be in the big leagues well before the pitcher. Had his 2010 season not ended early with a torn-up knee that required surgery, Rosario would be competing for a big-league job this spring, as he was hitting .285/.342/.552 for Double-A Tulsa, gunning down more than 40 percent of opposing basestealers and generating scouting reports as impressive as the numbers. His season might be delayed a bit by the surgery, but he remains in line for at least a September look, and should put up massive numbers at Triple-A Colorado Springs. After Matzek was selected 11th in the 2009 draft, his pro debut was a combination of up-and-down velocity, here-and-there control, and equally inconsistent results, but when he had everything going, he was the most impressive arm in the South Atlantic League, a left-hander with plus velocity, a plus breaking ball, and a fearless approach to the game. He needs more innings to refine his stuff, but all the ingredients for stardom are there.

Cincinnati Reds: Devin Mesoraco/Aroldis Chapman
The Reds have a wonderful problem at catcher thanks to the emergence of Mesoraco. A first-round pick in 2007, Mesoraco entered the 2010 season on the verge of earning a bust label, but he showed up last spring in the best shape of his life, and the cliché actually meant something. He hit .302/.377/.587 across three levels with 26 home runs after entering the year with a season high of nine. The tools that made him the 15th overall pick have finally showed up and should get him to the big leagues in 2011, but even if he doesn't work out, the Reds have 2010 first-rounder Yasmani Grandal waiting in the wings. As for Chapman, the question that remains is whether either catcher will be handing his 100-plus mph fastballs in the first inning or in the ninth. Reds officials insist that Chapman's time in the minors is done, and their starting rotation picture is plenty crowded as-is. He'll relieve for now and could suddenly be on the Neftali Feliz career path, where he's so good in the role he's in that there could be a bit of a not-broke-don't-fix-it attitude toward his future, even though his skills could be used in a more valuable role.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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