Within our Top 50, there was a legitimate debate about who is the game’s top catching prospect between Rangers prospect Jorge Alfaro and Pirates prospect Reese McGuire (apologies to Kyle Schwarber fans, but while there are many who believe he can catch part-time, there are few who believe he’ll be an everyday player behind the plate). It’s a legitimate debate about who teams prefer, as Chris Crawford pointed out when he Polled the Industry. Tucker Blair and I have seen both prospects, yet come in on opposite sides of the debate.–Jeff Moore
Tucker Blair: I love the potential Alfaro offers; elite arm strength with plus raw power and the potential to be average with the hit tool and defense but it's far from that at this current time. The aggression he displays in all phases of his game is overkill. He’s very athletic for a catcher and he runs like a bulldozer, but he can be aggressive to the point of foolish on the base paths. It gets him in trouble sometimes, but that’s fixable. The bat has some violence in it, as the hands shift around too much during the load causing his swing path to alter. His swing can get loopy when he wraps the hands or drops his back shoulder. His hips fly open frequently because he tries to murder every pitch. I haven't seen him temper this at all. He's an unsurprisingly impatient hitter, but he has strong hands and wrists and is at least able to control the barrel so that he’s not completely giving up at-bats. I might be the high man on the glove, but for a big guy he has quick feet and the athleticism certainly shows. I don't think he is great at blocking, and he does have some trouble getting the body down or over in time to block balls in the dirt, but I think he's good enough to stick there for the time being.
Jeff Moore: Reese McGuire is the exact opposite in almost every way. He has tremendous defensive abilities and because of such has a significantly higher floor. In fact, he’s the best defensive catcher in the minors. His raw arm strength may not be what Alfaro’s is, but it’s quite strong and he’s even more effective with it. I personally got him on a 1.76 pop time to second base in a game, and consistently got him in the 1.8-1.9 range. That’s an elite arm, even without the 80 strength. He could catch in the big leagues right now and be just fine. The ceiling may not be as high because there isn’t nearly the power potential with McGuire that there is with Alfaro, but he’s already a more refined hitter with a better idea of the strike zone. The limited power profile has also allowed him to stay within himself better, which has led to significantly better contact rates. He shows a traditional, compact left-handed swing and a strong swing path through the strike zone. The bat stays in the zone a long time, which leads to high contact rates.
Mauricio Rubio Jr.: Alfaro has the elite arm strength but there are concerns that his defensive work behind the plate might never mature enough to warrant a full time role as a catcher in spite of the 80 arm. Do you think his defense improves enough to start full-time?
Blair: Alfaro gets knocked for his defense, but he’s far from the worst defensive catcher in the minors, even among legitimate prospects. Compared to Gary Sanchez, Alfaro moves pretty well back there. He won’t be better than average, but he’s not a dud back there.
Moore: Yeah, but is comparing guys to Gary Sanchez really saying anything?
Blair: It’s just a risky profile that needs to all come together to be what we project. But if it happens, he’s a star. And he’s a cocky [redacted]
Moore: I’m certain that he’ll hit enough to be an everyday catcher because of how low the offensive bar is at the position. I believe there’s a good chance he hits enough to be in the top half of catchers offensively because of his hit tool and the lack of power at the catcher position. Even if he doesn’t hit, the floor is that of an every day player because of his glove and arm.
Rubio: Let’s go back to comparing the two players directly. Is there any overlap in their OFP profiles? If they both hit their ceiling, who is the better player?
Moore: It’s a tough comparison, even though they are both catchers, because one is high risk/high ceiling and one is high floor/more of a sure thing. I’ll grant you the higher ceiling for Alfaro without batting an eyelash. McGuire won’t hit for anything near Alfaro’s power, but there’s a good chance he’s a better all-around hitter and a better all-around defender. The bar is exceptionally low right now all over baseball, and it’s even worse at catcher. He may not be an impact bat, but compared to other catchers, he’ll be just fine. He has very strong contact rates, and I really like the swing. Additionally, he’s already an incredibly smart player.
Blair: So it comes down to preference in ceiling versus floor.
Rubio: What kind of realistic ceiling are we talking about with Alfaro?
Blair: Alfaro is still a 60 OFP catcher at this stage of development. I see a player that can provide average to above-average value from both sides at a premium position. There is risk involved, sure, but I think the narrative that he hasn’t improved is being vastly overstated.
Moore: Alfaro has the chance to be an all-around force but there is still development left and the injury obviously makes it a little more challenging. He really has to put it all together both offensively and defensively in order for him to be a big leaguer of any kind,and there’s a chance Alfaro ends up in right field. The gap between the floors is greater than the gap between the ceilings.
In the end, the sure thing won out in our rankings, though the debate was remarkably close, both within the Prospect Team and with scouts who provided input on this decision. There’s no denying Alfaro’s talent, but ultimately there are enough questions about both his approach at the plate and his refinement as a defender that swung the pendulum in McGuire’s direction. If this were another position, it might have been different, but at the game’s most important defensive position, the more refined defensive player won out in our rankings.
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