Who are the next wave of superstars in Major League Baseball? That’s what we are about to dive into, as we go position-by-position, looking for the best players who are 25-years old or younger (as of April 1, 2013). Obviously, things will be slightly skewed to those who have already reached the Majors and produced, but minor leaguers and their upside will not be ignored.
To kick things off, we will start with the talent behind the plate. The most grueling position in the game, it is often tough to find a player with tremendous offensive upside because teams will move them out from behind the plate in order to keep them healthy. That said, in recent years the game has seen an influx of young catchers with a few more on the way. Who is currently the best? Let’s take a look:
5) Mike Zunino – Seattle Mariners (22-years old)
The first of two Mariners on this list, Zunino is a prospect that is clearly on the rise. Many feel he is the best catching prospect in the game, though it is somewhat a 1 and 1a situation with the Mets’ Travis d’Arnaud. One of the differences, however, is that d’Arnaud is a near guarantee to debut in the Major Leagues by June 1. With Zunino, he may debut in 2013, but it is no certainty.
A first round draft pick in 2012, he recorded 161 AB between Single and Double-A last season hitting .360 with 13 HR and 42 RBI. Of course, he also benefitted from a .385 BABIP so we need to at least be a little bit cautious.
That said, there’s no questioning the potential. With the Mariners depth at the position (they just added Kelly Shoppach as well), they can afford to be patient with their young phenom. He has as much potential as anyone, though, it’s just a matter of when he arrives.
4) Travis d’Arnaud – New York Mets (24-years old)
He was on his way to a breakout campaign in 2012 (.333 with 16 HR in 279 AB) before a knee injury cut his season short. Granted, the numbers came in the PCL but it’s not like they are a total aberration.
At Double-A in 2011 he had hit .311 with 21 HR (and 33 doubles) in 424 AB. We need to watch the strikeouts (21.5% in ’11) and the average came courtesy of a .365 BABIP (and .374 in 2012). Those numbers have to scare us, and bring back flashbacks of Matt Wieters (who is just now developing into something resembling the offensive player we all projected him to be).
The talent is there, it’s just a matter of how long it takes to fully come out at the Major League level. Now in New York, he should get his opportunity rather quickly.
3) Jesus Montero – Seattle Mariners (23-years old)
The million dollar question is if he will remain behind the plate. The answer is probably no, especially with Zunino on the horizon, but for now the position is mostly his as the offseason additions seem to indicate (with Mike Morse, Kendry Morales, Jason Bay and Raul Ibanez in town DHing appears to be out of the question).
Throughout his minor league career it has taken him time to adjust as e moves up a level, so it definitely was good news to see him finish with a strong second half (.278 with 7 HR). There was a big improvement in his strikeout rate (22.9% to 12.3%), which may not be entirely realistic. That said, given his overall 24.6% line drive rate there is no reason to think he is a .260 hitter (.292 BABIP).
Throw in the fences being moved in at Safeco Field, likely helping his power (he hit 22 HR between Triple-A and the Majors in 2011) and what’s not to like? He has the potential to be very similar to Salvador Perez, at least given the numbers.
2) Wilin Rosario – Colorado Rockies (24-years old)
The kid has power, there just is no arguing that fact. He hit 28 HR in hs rookie season, though it is fair to wonder if he will be able to maintain that type of mark. Granted, Coors Field could help (he hit 18 of his HR at home in 2012) but it is hard to anticipate him repeating a 25.5% HR/FB rate. Could he increase his fly balls (36.5%)? Yes, and while that would help with the power potential it would just cause other concerns.
The main concern would be in hs average. Increased fly balls generally lead to a lower BABIP (he was at .289 last season, courtesy of a 17.3% line drive rate). Throw in a 23.2% strikeout rate, which was realistic given his 21.4% mark at Double-A in 2011, and it’s not unthinkable that he hits around .250.
Of course, if he hits close to 30 HR no one is going to complain, but it is something to keep in mind. It also isn’t impossible that he doesn’t fall into the fly ball trap, instead consistently hitting around .260 to go along with power in Coors Field. It’s the latter that we have to hope for, and that potential earns him the #2 spot on this list for now. However, if our fears are realized in 2013 he is going to fall a few spots. Just something to keep in mind…
1) Salvador Perez – Kansas City Royals (22-years old)
Perez did not arrive in the Majors with much fanfare in 2011, having shown a solid average though little power in the minor leagues (20 HR in 1,228 AB). However, when he has been healthy he has quickly proven that he is capable of becoming a Top 5 catcher, potentially as soon as 2013.
One thing working in hs favor is that he plays… A lot. He is a rare catcher tha seems capable of playing virtually every day, though it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets a few more days off the season in an effort to keep him healthy.
At 6’3″ and 245 lbs., it also isn’t surprising that he has begun to develop a power stroke. In 437 AB with the Royals he has ht 14 HR. He doesn’t put the ball in the air a lot (30.9%), though his line drive approach could still yield 20+ HR annually (and he should conintue to gain power as he matures).
Where he really has an advantage is in the average. He has hit .311 in his brief time in the Majors, courtesy of a .320 BABIP. Considering his line drive rate of 25.8%, it’s a number that is actually unlucky. If he keeps hitting the ball on the screws like this, he is going to routinely top .300.
A .300 hitting catcher (who also doesn’t strikeout, with a 10.2% strikeout rate), with 20+ HR potential? He sounds like a more powerful version of Joe Mauer, sans the runs scored, doesn’t he?
Honorable Mention – Yasmani Grandal – San Diego Padres (the PED suspension cost him a chance of making the list), Devin Mesoraco – Cincinnati Reds (he has the potential, but he needs an opportunity) and Derek Norris – Oakland A’s (could be an interesting power/speed catcher, though concerns over his average and playing time kept him short of the other options)
Make sure to check out our 2013 Top 10 Composite Prospect Rankings:
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