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Get to Know: Catcher Prospects
Here’s a real look at how writing the intro for this sad, sad collection of players went:
And so, credit where credit is due. I’m going to make this as interesting as I can, and truly, there are some names for 2016 and beyond who could be relevant in fantasy leagues. But overall, this is ugly. Fantasy talent across the minors seems down a bit this year, and first base is the minor league’s shallowest position (catcher included).
We’re going to talk a lot about guys who might factor in to single-league play. We’re going to talk about some men who are less than shapely. We’re going to use the phrase “lacks a strong hit tool” often.
Let’s rip the Band-Aid off:
Names for 2015
Christian Walker, Orioles
Walker tore apart Double-A and held his own in Triple-A as a 23-year-old in 2014 before receiving a brief cup of coffee in the majors. There’s nothing here that screams “first-division regular,” but Walker’s emerged from relative prospect obscurity to profile as someone who’s going to stick around the majors for many years. If he gets at-bats in Baltimore, he could be interesting as a low-end CI/UT option or a solid AL-only asset, possibly as soon as the second half of 2015. Were this a BP Annual comments, I’d say he’s on his way to becoming the most notable Christian walker since Jesus.
Jesus Aguilar, Indians
TINO listeners will get a big kick out of this one, but Aguilar has earned his way onto this list. The 24-year-old hit .304/.395/.511 in 499 Triple-A PA last season, improving his walk rate and his average on the heels of a nice 2013 campaign in Double-A. Like Walker, Aguilar isn’t a first-division regular, but if he stays patient he can stick around the majors, albeit probably on a semi-permanent basis. He’s got little left to prove in the minors, so expect him to see some time in Cleveland in 2015. He’s unlikely to be the most notable Jesus since Jesus.
Travis Shaw, Red Sox
Shaw can hit the ball a long way when he’s up against a right-handed pitcher. He hit .304/.384/.542 versus righties last year, and while his line against lefties was pretty rough, Shaw has the potential to serve as the long side of a first base or DH platoon for a second-division team. It’s not a sexy profile, but given the sad state of first base fantasy prospects, it actually makes him one of the more intriguing names on this list. He’s not a great bet to see time in Boston thanks to Mike Napoli and Allen Craig, but if he’s dealt and gets the at-bats, he’s of note in 16-plus mixed or AL-only leagues.
Japhet Amador, Astros
Former BP writer, Red Sox Twitter guru and man with questionable taste in fake wrestling Marc Normandin, coined a great scouting phrase for guys like Amador: “you need to keep him away from snacks.” Amador clearly doesn’t read Normandin, as he looks like an extra in Wall-E, but the 27-year-old keeps raking in the Mexican League and could see time at DH for the Astros if enough people get hurt and/or he eats them. The Astros would be wise to invest in upgraded suspension for the shuttle that runs between Fresno and Houston.
Feel the excitement! Still, Ravelo hit really well in Double-A last season, so it’s worth keeping an eye on him. Moving from Chicago to Oakland is a bummer in terms of home park, but at least he doesn’t have to contend with Adam LaRoche and Jose Abreu.
Hunter Morris, Brewers
Look, he’s close and the Brewers aren’t deep at first base and anyone with usable power is sort of interesting in Miller Park. The Adam Lind acquisition hurts him, but it’s not like Lind is the picture of health. I’m trying here. Let’s move on.
Names for 2016 and Beyond
Dan Vogelbach, Cubs
Another first-ballot “keep him away from snacks” hall of famer, Vogelbach can flat out hit. The 22-year-old hit .268/.357/.429 in High-A last year in what was the worst season of his professional career, and he still managed to hit 16 homers. Vogelbach isn’t rated very highly on many traditional prospect lists because he brings as much to the table defensively as the Maginot Line, but he’s a nice fantasy prospect: for my money, he’s the best fantasy first base prospect. He’s probably going to have to be traded to the AL in order to DH, but he can hit for a good average with 20-plus bombs on a routine basis, and in today’s game that’s valuable.
Matt Olson, Athletics
Let’s get the big, obvious caveat out of the way: Olson was in the Cal League last season. That often leads to flashy numbers, but even with his favorable contextual factors it’s hard not to be impressed by what Olson did in 2014. The 20-year-old hit 37 bombs, walked nearly as often as he struck out and put up a .262 average, solidifying his status as one of the best first base prospects in the minors in a shallow class. I’m not sold on the hit tool yet, and there’s the potential for more swing-and-miss in Olson’s game, too. But he’s got legit power and a legit approach, and he could be a low-average, 25-plus-homer threat in a few years. If he fails to put up gaudy numbers in the Texas League right away and someone in your league loses heart, buy low.
Greg Bird, Yankees
The BP Prospect Team gave Bird 6 potential power and 5+ potential hit tool grades in their Yankees Top 10 writeup, and a player with those skills who figures to call Yankee Stadium home is interesting for our purposes. Like the vast majority of the players on this list, Bird doesn’t really profile as a first-division regular, though he has more of a chance than any of the 2015 guys listed above. But he doesn’t have to, as his contextual factors and power give him a chance to be fantasy-relevant even if he’s not an MLB star. Bird will face a big test in Double-A this season. If he passes it, he’ll be a no-doubt top-100 dynasty prospect. That being said, he’s not as good as Matt Adams, so that old adage about Birds in hand being better than those in a Busch is clear malarkey.
Dominic Smith, Mets
Smith is the anti-Vogelbach to me in that he’s a better MLB prospect than a fantasy one. I don’t want Bret Sayre to fire me, so I’ll tread lightly here, but Smith simply doesn’t have the power to profile as someone who will routine challenge for top-15 fantasy first baseman finishes. He doesn’t need to have a sexy profile to make a sad list like this, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. Smith has a promising natural hit tool and could be a defensive asset, which means he’d be likely to rack up playing time. But right now, he’s too far away and with too low a ceiling to be a terribly exciting fantasy proposition. For Bret’s sake, I hope his fantasy value doesn’t go the way of Pepsi One.
A.J. Reed, Astros
It didn’t take long for Reed to put his impressive power on display at the professional level. The Kentucky product hit 12 homers in just 285 PA between Low- and Single-A in 2014, and as a college bat he’s poised to do some damage against low minors pitching. Reed’s got a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, but the power is real. If he sticks with the Astros and reaches the majors, Houston would be a great place to accentuate his natural talents.
Bobby Bradley, Indians
The 97th-overall pick in the 2014 draft, Bradley celebrating his start to professional ball by hitting .361/.426/.652 in rookie ball in 176 PA as an 18-year-old. Sure, small sample size and all that, but that’s a damn impressive debut, and it’s got Bradley on the fantasy radar. He’s eons away and a few hundred nice at-bats does not a new profile make, but he’s someone to watch this year, ranking in at no. 28 on Bret’s Top 50 Dynasty Signees list.
Ronald Guzman, Rangers
Guzman had a very uninspiring year in 2014, hitting just .218/.283/.330 in Single-A. I can’t advocate for him as a top-100 or really even a top-150 fantasy prospect, but he’s got too much natural talent to forget about altogether. If you roster 200 minor leaguers, consider taking a flyer.
We Hardly Knew Ye (Fantasy Value)