Today marks the first of our 2019 pre-season fantasy baseball prospect rankings series that is designed to help get you all caught up and informed on MLB prospects for your fantasy baseball leagues. The Dynasty Team here at Pitcher List are going to be releasing pre-season top prospect lists for every position, and we will release our lists on the following schedule:
- Top 30 Catchers.
- Top 30 1st Baseman.
- Top 30 2nd Baseman.
- Top 30 Shortstops.
- Top 30 3rd Baseman.
- Top 50 Outfielders.
- Top 150 Overall Pitchers.
- Top 150 Overall Prospects.
Before we get started, I feel it is important to mention that we will be using the official MLB guidelines to determine rookie eligibility which is defined as the following:
To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the major leagues or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a major league club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
The other factor at play in regard to this article is service time and how it can impact the potential call-up date of each prospect. This is important as ideally the most impactful prospects to own are the ones that combine high-end talent with a terrific playing time opportunity. I wrote an in-depth article on the subject of service time if you want to learn more, but the quick version is that MLB teams can strategically decide to call up a player at certain points in the season to either gain extra team control over the player before he reaches free agency or delay a player’s salary arbitration process and therefore earning potential. Again, I highly recommend reading the article I wrote this past August. It goes into much more depth but these are the basics that you need to know that relate to potential call-up dates of each prospect.
We have included a rough prime projection for each player as well as an estimated ETA. Note that we place an emphasis on upside, namely power and speed guys, while also prioritizing closeness to the majors when the value is close. Feel free to ask questions or drop a comment; we are always happy to discuss. Without further ado, onto the list!
A former 16th-round draft selection back in 2013, Danny Jansen has risen from relative obscurity to become one of the very best young catchers in baseball. New prescription glasses ahead of the 2017 season unlocked a new level of performance and led to a breakout campaign in climbed from High-A to Triple-A while hitting a combined .323/.400/.484 with 10 home runs and 1 stolen base while walking more than he struck out. He then showed in 2018 that his breakout was for real as he returned to Triple-A and slashed a cool .275/.390/.473 with 12 home runs and 5 stolen bases over 360 plate appearances while continuing to show elite contact and patience skills.
I mentioned elite contact skills: Well, they are highlighted by a 13.6% strikeout rate at Triple-A this past season, which was supported by a truly elite 4.4% swinging-strike rate. Note that 10.7% was the league average swinging-strike rate in the majors this past year, so even with a ton of regression in the transition to the majors, Jansen still projects as a very good contact hitter. He also has a really nice approach, with a 12.2% walk rate and 3.98 pitches seen per plate appearance mark. For reference, Joey Votto posted a 4.02 pitches per plate appearance mark this past year. Add in a launch angle change, highlighted by a 41.7% fly-ball rate at Triple-A and 41.9% in the majors, and it makes it easy to suggest there may also be a 20-homer upside.
So you can see there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to Jansen. He also handled his MLB time well with a 115 wRC+ in his small sample and notably maintained his elite contact skills and much of his approach. With former starting catcher Russell Martin now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the avenue to everyday plate appearances is clear for Jansen to step in. The Toronto Blue Jays have every reason to give Jansen the majority of the reps, as he’s the catcher of the future, and that opportunity along with his high-level skills makes him the No. 1 catcher prospect in baseball.
ETA: Opening Day 2019. Prime Projection: .282/.368, 18 HRs, 2 SBs.
No 2: Francisco Mejia (San Diego Padres), Age 23, MLB
Acquired by the Padres in the Brad Hand to Cleveland deal this past year, Francisco Mejia is now in a position to see some meaningful MLB action as he will share the catching duties with Austin Hedges in 2019. He’s coming off a 2018 season where he slashed .293/.338/.471 between the Indians’ and Padres’ Triple-A teams with 14 home runs and two stolen bases in 468 PAs. He started off slow in 2018 at the Triple-A level, hitting just .187 in April and then .192 in May before breaking out in June, where he hit a ridiculous .455/.476/.717 before getting a call up to the majors shortly into July. All told, his time in the minors in 2018 was worth a 119 wRC+ and included a 5.3% walk rate and a 17.7% strikeout rate.
He struggled in his exposure to the majors, managing just a .179 batting average and posting a 30.6% strikeout rate supported by a rough 15.1% swinging-strike rate. Long known for his plus contact skills that first put themselves on the map when he authored a 50-game hitting streak back in 2016 for Lynchburg in the Carolina League (High-A) as part of the Indians organization, many anticipate he’ll be able to make gains at the plate with more experience, and San Diego has the time to let him gain that experience and learn on the job.
As a lesser defender compared with Hedges, it’s likely that Mejia will lose out on a significant amount of playing time in the short term, therefore capping his upside and likely limiting him to nothing more than a catching streamer in most leagues for 2019. Still, there’s promise in his bat that makes him worth a heavy investment from a dynasty league perspective.
ETA: Opening Day 2019. Prime Projection: .283/.334, 17 HRs, 2 SBs.
Not sure if people realize how special of a year Keibert Ruiz had as a 19-year-old in the Texas League. As the second-youngest player in the league, a full 4.9 years younger than average, Ruiz not only held his own with a 100 wRC+ but also showed elite contact skills to project fantasy success on. He hit .268/.328/.401 with a 6.3% walk rate and an incredible 8% strikeout rate. That 8% strikeout rate led the Texas League, and he supported it with a 6.8% swinging-strike rate, which was the fourth-best mark in the league.
That contact ability along with a single-season best 12 home runs hint at a high-floor catching prospect who should be playing at Triple-A this year at just 20, which is incredibly rare. New Milwaukee Brewers catcher Yasmani Grandal may have left the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency, but their catcher of the future isn’t far away from the majors and contributing to your fantasy team.
ETA: 2020. Prime Projection: .285/.327, 16 HRs, 2 SBs.
The No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft out of Georgia Tech, Joey Bart is a power-hitting catcher who could be the heir apparent to longtime San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey. From a fantasy baseball perspective, his most impactful tool will be his power as it generally receives 60-65 grades from scouts. He proved that power by hitting 13 home runs this past year in the minor leagues over just 203 PAs at the Low-A level while hitting .298/.369/.613, good for a 166 wRC+. His 5.9% walk rate and 3.64 pitches per plate appearance marks at Low-A show a pretty aggressive approach at the plate, but his 19.7% strikeout rate and 10.7% swinging-strike rate show that he’s plenty capable of making enough contact.
An elevated 50.7% ground-ball rate at Low-A isn’t ideal for Bart in terms of maximizing his in-game power, but that’s something he can focus on developmentally at the plate as he climbs the minor leagues. It should be noted that Bart’s assignment to Low-A Salem-Keizer after being drafted was not aggressive compared with other early first-round college players and that he was actually only 0.1 years younger than league average. Given his pedigree and age, he should have been expected to dominate the level, and he did. A more stiff test is in order for 2019, and I’m curious to see how he handles it.
Depending on where the Giants start him this year, he could finish the season at Double-A, which would put him on track for a late 2020 MLB ETA, but 2021 seems like a more likely bet. Dynasty league owners should consider him one of the most valuable catching prospects in the minor leagues.
ETA: 2021. Prime Projection: .251/.317 21 HRs, 2 SBs.
A competitive balance selection (68th overall) by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the 2017 MLB Draft, Daulton Varsho possesses one of the most unique and potentially valuable skill sets for fantasy baseball among catching prospects. He’s an above-average athlete who posts 55-grade run times while also showing above-average contact skills and average raw power. Over 342 plate appearances playing for Visalia in the California League (High-A) in 2018, he produced a .286/.363/.451 slash line with 11 home runs and 19 stolen bases. He supported that with an 8.8% walk rate and a 20.8% strikeout rate, which are both solid, especially when you add in that his swinging-strike rate was an above-average 9.5%.
A 50.9% pulled-contact rate along with a 40.5% fly-ball rate highlight a pretty heavy pulled-fly ball approach, which should help him get to his power in games, perhaps hinting at some potential 20-home run upside, but may limit his BABIP as he rises through the minor leagues. That power/speed combo along with above-average contact skills makes him one of the higher-upside catching prospects for dynasty leagues.
ETA: 2021. Prime Projection: .271/.333, 16 HRs, 11 SBs.
No. 6: Ronaldo Hernandez (Tampa Bay Rays), Age 21, Single-A
One of the bigger breakout stories among catching prospects in 2018, Ronaldo Hernandez was highly impressive in the Midwest League, hitting .284/.339/.494 with 21 home runs and 10 stolen bases over 449 PAs. His 6.9% walk rate along with a 15.4% strikeout rate highlights an aggressive approach with quality contact skills. What makes that strikeout rate more impressive in my eyes is he accomplished it while having undergone a swing change that emphasized more airborne contact. Year over year, Hernandez’s ground-ball rate went from 45.1% in 2017 to 37.1% in 2018. The result was a lot more fly balls, which when added to Hernandez’s 60-grade raw power explains his 21-home run power explosion.
It should be mentioned that all of Hernandez’s home runs were of the pulled variety in 2018, and his extreme 55.6% pulled-contact rate does give scouts pause as more advanced pitching will be able to pitch him consistently away, therefore limiting his ability to do damage. The good news is he’s still young and has time to learn to go the other way with more regularity, but it is something to monitor.
Also, his 10 SBs on 14 attempts may suggest he can provide further fantasy value with his legs, but I don’t expect that to continue as he’s a below-average runner. Still, his 2018 growth was a big step forward, and he should now be considered one of the more intriguing catching prospects in dynasty leagues thanks to his power profile.
ETA: 2022. Prime Projection: .264/.311, 21 HRs, 3 SBs.
In an era of baseball in which the three-true-outcomes type of hitters are valued perhaps more than ever, Willians Astudillo stands out like a unicorn. He’s listed at 5-foot-9 and 225 lbs.; he has truly elite contact skills highlighted by a 4.6% strikeout rate and 6% swinging-strike rate at Triple-A in 2018; and he also walks very infrequently, managing just a 3.3% mark at Triple-A in 2018. This guy is going up to the plate looking to hit the ball all the time, and he does most all the time. He has raised his launch angle the past two years, which has helped him improve his ISO from .070 in 2015 as part of the Phillies organization over 418 PAs, to .192 this past year while playing for the Twins Triple-A affiliate Rochester.
He earned a call-up late in 2018 to the big leagues where he more than held his own, hitting .355/.371/.516 with 3 home runs over 97 plate appearances while continuing to utilize his highly aggressive/high contact rate profile. While playing time may be slightly uncertain short-term given Minnesota has both Jason Castro and Mitch Garver on the roster, Astudillo’s high batting average ways could make him a sneaky value to those in dynasty leagues. And who doesn’t want to own this guy?
ETA: Opening Day 2019. Prime Projection: .289/.319, 16 HRs, 3 SBs.
The 10th overall selection in the 2016 MLB Draft, Zack Collins has steadily risen through the minor leagues while displaying consistent three-true-outcome traits. He’s crazy patient at the plate and works deep counts as evidenced by a 4.35 pitches per plate appearance mark in Double-A this past year. For reference, only Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins saw more pitches in the majors last year. The result was a ridiculous 19% walk rate. With that patience comes many strikeouts, and he posted an elevated 29.8% mark last year. Much of that 29.8% strikeout rate though is a result of the extreme patience as his 11.5% swinging-strike is just barely below-average, which suggests that he could post better strikeout rates by being more aggressive in theory.
He’s got double-plus raw power too, and he gets to pretty much all of it with a launch angle that generates plenty of fly balls, 42.5% in 2018. He finished with a .234/.382/.404 batting line in 2018 at Double-A with 15 home runs and five stolen basess in 531 plate appearances, which was worth a 128 wRC+. He may not stick at the catcher position long-term given he’s a below-average receiver, but the White Sox have every reason to continue developing him there and he should play at least the early part of his career at the position. In dynasty leagues, he should be considered a power option that gets a bonus in OBP leagues.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .236/.357, 24 HRs, 1 SB.
While he may not be the true “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” this Will Smith is a power-hitting catcher prospect with pretty good contact skills, making him an intriguing option in dynasty leagues. Smith spent most of his 2018 season at Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League, where he slashed .264/.368/.532 with 19 home runs and four stolen bases in 307 plate appearances, which was worth a 141 wRC+. He is highly patient, commonly working deep counts with a 4.14 pitches per plate appearance mark at the Double-A level in 2018, and that led to an 11.7% walk rate. That patience lends itself to higher strikeout rates, and he did post a 24.4% rate last year at Double-A. His 10.6% swinging-strike rate was about average though and suggests that his contact skills are quite good.
He has above-average raw power, and he gets to a lot of it in games because of a power-focused approach that includes a 40.8% fl-ball rate along with a heavy 56.3% pull-contact rate. While he’s making the most of his power upside with this approach, he is limiting his batting average as a result, and he’s likely going to be a low BABIP player going forward. Still, his power upside makes him worth investing in for dynasty leagues.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .242/.332, 18 HRs, 3 SBs.
Perhaps one of the least talked about upper-level performers among catching prospects, Andrew Knizner is coming off a 2018 season in which he hit .313/.368/.430 with 7 home runs across 374 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s a career .310 minor league hitter with plus contact skills highlighted by a 12.8% strikeout rate along with an above-average 8.2% swinging-strike rate at Double-A in 2018 over 313 plate appearances. He does have an aggressive approach with a 7.3% walk rate at Double-A in 2018 supported by a 3.44 pitches per plate appearance mark, which for reference would have ranked right between Javier Baez of the Chicago Cubs and Dee Gordon of the Seattle Mariners in the majors, both of whom are free-swingers.
His 46.9% ground-ball rate at Double-AA in 2018 is a little high and does limit his 50-grade raw power from getting into games with consistency, but there is 15- to 20-home run upside for Knizer if he can improve. He does utilize the whole field well, and he should be able to produce slightly above-average BABIPs going forward.
With the St. Louis Cardinals having moved Carson Kelly to the Arizona Diamondbacks as part of the Paul Goldschmidt trade, Knizer is now in a position to be the catcher of the future for the Cardinals. For dynasty leagues, he is a high-floor option who could provide value in batting average with modest power.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .283/.332, 14 HRs, 0 SBs.
A former college walk-on at Wright State, Sean Murphy worked himself into a third-round draft pick back in 2016, then continued to prove himself in the minor leagues, reaching Triple-A just two years later. Most of his 2018 season was spent at the Double-A level, where he hit .288/.358/.498 with eight home runs and three stolen bases in 289 plate appearances. All told, it was worth a 131 wRC+.
His best fantasy asset is his ability to make contact as evidenced by a 16.3% strikeout rate supported by an above-average 8.3% swinging-strike rate. While he’s a powerfully built at 6-foot-3, 215 lbs. and has above-average raw power, he doesn’t get to it in games frequently because of to a low-lying launch angle highlighted by a 48.8% ground-ball rate at Double-A in 2018. If he can raise his launch angle going forward, he could be a quality fantasy catcher, but at the moment, he’s a safe higher-floor/middlin-upside sort of player who has more value in deep dynasty leagues.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .273/.336, 14 HRs, 1 SB.
The younger brother of Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras, William Contreras is a highly interesting catcher prospect with above-average raw power. His 2018 was largely spent at Single-A Rome in the South Atlantic League, where he hit a cool .293/.360/.463 with 11 home runs and one stolen base over 342 plate appearances. He supported that batting line with an 8.5% walk rate along with a 21.3% strikeout rate, and all told, his time at Single-A Rome was worth a 136 wRC+. A below-average 13.3% swinging-strike rate does highlight a bit of swing and miss to his game, but he’s got a few high BABIP traits including an all-fields approach and a high line-drive rate that should allow him to overcome some slight contact issues.
I mentioned above-average raw power above: Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to all of it in games because of a a lower-lying launch angle. That’s something he can work on as he climbs the minor league ladder though. His overall profile doesn’t look too dissimilar from his older brother, and that sort of upside makes William a worthwhile investment in dynasty leagues.
ETA: 2021. Prime Projection: .257/.312, 16 HRs, 1 SB.
A second-round selection from the 2016 MLB Draft, MJ Melendez is one of the higher pure upside catching prospects from a dynasty perspective because of legit plus raw power. While he may not be massive physically as he’s listed at 6-foot-1 and 185 lbs., he has terrific bat speed and natural loft in swing including 39.9% fly-ball rate in 2018 that helped him get to his power in game. Like many sluggers, Melendez has contact issues, and his are pretty extreme, making him a risky prospect in whom to invest. He posted a 30.3% strikeout rate this past year at Single-A Lexington in the South-Atlantic League and supported it with a rough 18.7% swinging-strike rate. Notably, both of those were bottom-15 marks in the league among qualified batters. Despite those contact issues, he was able to produce a .251/.322/.492 batting line with 19 home runs along with four stolen bases in 472 plate appearances, which was worth a 128 wRC+.
That’s perhaps more impressive when you consider that he was 2.4 years younger than league average. If he can take steps forward with pitch recognition and contact skills, the profile take off.
ETA: 2022. Prime Projection: .239/.290, 22 HRs, 3 SBs.
A first-round selection back in 2015 by the Cincinnati Reds, it has been a slow climb through the minor leagues for Tyler Stephenson, largely because of injuries early in his career. He was finally healthy in 2018 and began to make good on some of his potential by hitting .250/.338/.392 with 11 home runs and a stolen base over 450 plate appearances in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. A 10% walk rate supported by a solid 3.8 pitches per plate appearance mark highlight a quality approach. When you add in his 21.8% strikeout rate supported by a slightly above-average 9.8% swinging-strike rate, you start to see the foundation for a successful hitter.
He also has plus raw power, and he made efforts to get to it more frequently as his ground-ball rate rose from 48.3% in 2017 to 36.2% in 2018. To me, the peripherals were all there for success in 2018, so it is somewhat surprising to see him produce somewhat middling results. Perhaps we could see him break out in 2019 in the more hitter-friendly Southern League, and to me, that makes him a good buy-low option in dynasty leagues.
ETA: 2021. Prime Projection: .248/.328, 18 HRs, 2 SBs.
A $1.25 million international amateur free agent signing from 2015, Miguel Amaya has developed well and become one of the Chicago Cubs‘ top prospects ahead of the 2019 season. While he’s more known for his defense, where he projects as one of the best defending catchers in the minors, Amaya combines a plus approach with decent quality skills, which helped him to produce a 114 wRC+ at Single-A South Bend in the Midwest League in 2018. He hit .256/.349/.403 with 12 home runs and a stolen base over 479 plate appearances and supported it with a 10.4% walk rate and a 19% walk rate.
He has above-average raw power potential that he’s still growing into, but his 42.4% fly-ball rate along with an elevated 50.6% pull-contact rate suggests that he will start to see more fly balls go over the fence with further physical maturity. He’s a well-rounded catching prospect who should be considered one of the better combinations of floor and upside in the lower minors.
ETA: 2022. Prime Projection: .261/.319, 14 HRs, 1 SB.
No. 16: Bo Naylor (Cleveland Indians), Age: 19, Rookie Ball
A late first-round selection by the Cleveland Indians in 2018 and the younger brother of San Diego Padres prospect Josh Naylor, Bo Naylor is one of the most intriguing lower-level catching prospects for dynasty league owners thanks to some above-average hit and power potential. He has little professional experience yet, appearing in just 33 games in the Arizona Rookie League, where he slashed .274/.381/.402 over 139 plate appearances. A 15.1% walk rate along with a 20.1% strikeout are strong indicators of both a quality approach and contact skills already.
He’s also long been known for having some big raw power, and he has shown it off on the national stage by competing and finishing as the runner-up in the 2017 National High School Home Run Derby to St. Louis Cardinals prospect Nolan Gorman. This sort of upside with the bat as a catcher is rare, and that pushes him up our rankings despite his relative pro inexperience.
ETA: 2022. Prime Projection: .264/.336, 18 HRs, 3 SB.
No. 17: Francisco Alvarez (New York Mets), Age 17, Rookie Ball
Francisco Alvarez was a highly regarded prospect in the 2018 international amateur free agent class, one known for a compact and polished swing with a quality approach. The New York Mets were able to land him for $2.7 million which was the third-highest bonus in the class. He reportedly utilizes an all-fields approach, which if true should help him support above-average BABIPs going forward. He also reportedly has above-average raw power thanks to an ability to find the barrel and natural strength in his already mature 5-foot-11, 220-lb. frame.
While his offensive game is advanced, there are more question marks regarding his defensive game as he’s known as a poor receiver behind the plate. He’s incredibly young though and has plenty of time to work on that part of his game, and most anticipate he’ll be able to stick behind the plate.
ETA: 2023. Prime Projection: .272/.340, 18 HRs, 1 SB.
Similar to Alvarez above, Diego Cartaya was considered one of the top international amateur free agents in the 2018 signing class, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were able to sign him for $2.5 million. While known more for his defensive expertise, dynasty league owners should still pay attention to him because of reports of a strong ability to barrel baseballs along with an advanced approach, which has led evaluators to place above-average 55 grades on his hit tool. That along with a tall and projectable frame suggests that there may be future power potential in his bat.
ETA: 2023. Prime Projection: .268/.336, 17 HRs, 2 SBs.
If solely looking at statistical performance, there’s a good case to be made for Austin Allen to be ranked a lot higher. He’s posted a wRC+ of at least 127 each of the past three years and is coming off a 2018 season at Double-A San Antonio in the Texas League in which he hit .290/.351/.506 with 22 home runs over 498 plate appearances. He shows average contact skills including a 19.5% strikeout rate supported by a roughly average 10.6% swinging-strike rate, and when combined with plus raw power, he’s certainly a higher potential hitting backstop.
The reason he’s ranked where he is though is because of his defensive limitations as a catcher that cause scouts to project him being forced out of the position at some point. He often receives below-average grades on both his fielding and arm strength, and his best fit defensively is probably first base, where his bat would not play as well. With the Padres having strong catcher depth currently and Eric Hosmer locked into first base long-term, he’s a hitter without much of a future defensive home, and that makes him a risky investment for dynasty league owners.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .267/.328, 20 HRs, 0 SBs.
Originally a competitive balance selection by the Atlanta Braves in 2016, Brett Cumberland was acquired by the Baltimore Orioles as part of the Kevin Gausman trade. He had a quality season at High-A in the Braves organization, hitting .236/.367/.407 with 11 home runs in 341 plate appearances, which was worth a 124 wRC+. A 15.2% walk rate along with his 24.9% strikeout rate and above-average raw power highlight a potential three-true-outcome type of profile for Cumberland. While that 24.9% strikeout rate may look high, it’s more of a result of his high-level patience as his 11.2% swinging-strike rate is actually just a touch below-average. An elevated 45.6% fly-ball rate plus his 49.8% pull-contact rate do help him get much of his power into games but at the expense of his BABIP and therefore average.
His 20-game sample at Double-A between the Braves and Orioles organizations did not go well, but there’s plenty of promise in his bat. Those in dynasty leagues looking for a power hitting catcher should consider him.
ETA: 2020. Prime Projection: .244/.327, 15 HRs, 0 SBs.
A former eighth-round selection in the 2015 MLB Draft, Garrett Stubbs is one of the more polished catching prospects in the minor leagues and is now on the doorstep of the major leagues. His 2018 season was spent at Triple-A Fresno in the California League, where he posted a .310/.382/.455 batting line with four home runs and six stolen bases over 340 plate appearances, which was worth a 120 wRC+. He has produced above-average swinging-strike rates at every level of his minor career, including a 9.9% mark in 2018, and also produced double-digit walk rates every level too, both of which really emphasize Stubbs’ high-floor skill-set.
While he may not have a ton of raw power, a launch angle change in 2018 that included his ground-ball rate falling from 39.3% in 2017 to 27.6% in 2018 gives him more of a chance to reach double digits in terms of home runs. A high line-drive rate coupled with an all-fields approach allows Stubbs to still post a quality BABIP despite the heavy fly-ball approach. He also has a touch of speed that should allow him to steal a couple of bases at the major league level.
He’s more of a deep dynasty league consideration because his tools aren’t particularly loud, but he’s got a well-rounded skill set that should allow him to contribute across the board modestly.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .266/.334, 8 HRs, 5 SBs.
A second-round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft out of UNC Wilmington, Ryan Jeffers is a bat-first catching prospect who showed very well in his professional baseball debut. Over 129 plate appearances in the Appalachian Rookie League, he was dominant, hitting .422/.543/.578 with three home runs while walking more than he struck out. It was worth a ridiculous 203 wRC+. Now, he was an advanced college bat who was actually 0.7 years older than league average, which means he should have been expected to perform well. Still, a 203 wRC+ is no joke.
The Twins rewarded him by sending him to the age-appropriate Single-A Midwest League, where he continued to hit well. His .288/.361/.446 batting line over 155 plate appearances at the level was supported by a 9% walk rate along with a 19.4% strikeout rate, and all told, it was worth a 132 wRC+. The contact skills stand out in the profile as his 9.2% swinging-strike rate is above average and suggest that he can handle more advanced pitching. When you add in that Jeffers features above-average raw power and gets to it well in-game because of a launch angle that produced a 38.3% ground-ball rate and 46.7% fly-ball rate at Single-A, you can see that the foundation for an above-average hitting catcher is here.
Dynasty league owners can likely acquire him cheaply considering his lack of pedigree, and he could move fairly quickly making him a pretty ideal target in deeper dynasty leagues.
ETA: 2021. Prime Projection: .254/.333, 16 HRs, 2 SB.
Perhaps most known for his unique switch hitting and switch throwing profile, the New York Yankees made Anthony Seigler the 23rd overall selection in the 2018 MLB Draft. He has a well-rounded skill set that could make him one of the top catching prospects in baseball in a few years’ time. He was highly successful in his first taste of professional baseball while playing in the Gulf Coast League, slashing .333/.429/.472 with one home run over 42 plate appearances. Six walks against seven strikeouts over that sample showed a strong approach, and he notably produced a 12.3% swinging-strike rate, which was the best on his team among anyone with at least 40 plate appearances.
His time in the Appalachian League wasn’t as successful, but he continued to display an impressive approach as he walked more than he struck out while posting a very good 4.7% swinging-strike rate. Add in future average raw power grades from scouts and you start to see the foundation for a good hitter.
To me, he has shown a number of skills that translate to more advanced levels, and he’s a catcher I’m investing in for dynasty leagues.
ETA: 2022. Prime Projection: .266/.338, 13 HRs, 3 SBs.
Yet another catcher in the Los Angeles Dodgers pipeline, Connor Wong had a power breakout in 2018 that makes him an interesting option in dynasty leagues. The power breakout was a result of a launch angle change in which his ground-ball rate went from 52.8% in 2017 to 34.7% in 2018. The result was 19 home runs in 431 plate appearances while hitting .269/.350/.480, which was worth a 124 wRC+.
With that launch angle change, though, came a lot more swing and miss as Wong’s strikeout rate jumped to 32% in 2018, ranking third-worst in the California League, and was supported by a rough 17.5% swinging-strike rate, which ranked second-worst. Back in 2017, Wong posted a 24.3% strikeout rate and supported it with an above-average 9.8% swinging-strike rate, so there is the possibility that a less extreme fly-ball approach going forward could help him make more contact again.
He’s shown both contact and power skills at various times throughout his minor league career, and if he can put them together with consistency, he could become a real nice hitting catcher with upside.
ETA: Late 2020. Prime Projection: .235/.293, 16 HRs, 4 SBs.
Alejandro Kirk had a terrific 2018 season in which he put himself on the map after authoring a .354/.443/.558 batting line with 10 home runs and two stolen bases at Bluefield in the Appalachian Rookie League. Perhaps most impressive, Kirk posted a 13.5% walk rate along with an 8.6% strikeout rate, really showing a strong batting eye and elite contact skills. In fact, his 8.6% strikeout rate ranked fifth-best in the circuit, and his 5.1% swinging-strike rate ranked second-best. All told, it was worth a 160 wRC+.
Now, he’s got a unique frame as he’s listed at 5-foot-9 and 220 lbs., and Fangraphs goes as far to compare his physique to one Chris Farley. With that height-to-weight ratio though comes plus raw power, and if he can learn to elevate more going forward (50.8% ground-ball rate in 2018), his profile could really start to take off as the approach and contact skills are already present.
He is still very far away from the major leagues, and so for dynasty league owners, he should be considered nothing more than a lottery ticket type of prospect, but he is a name to remember.
ETA: 2022. Prime Projection: .276/.340, 18 HRs, 1 SB.
Luis Campusano was the first catcher selected in the 2017 MLB Draft, going 39th overall to the San Diego Padres in the second round. He made his full-season minor league debut in 2018, competing in the Single-A Midwest League, where he posted a .288/.345/.365 batting line with three home runs over 284 plate appearances. He notably showed plus contact skills highlighted by a 15.1% strikeout rate along with an above-average 9.4% swinging-strike rate.
You’ll notice that a lot of that contact was of the weak variety though, and his .365 slugging% and .077 ISO is a good example of that. Right now, his low-lying launch angle is limiting his ability to hit for power, and he needs to improve upon his 50.7% ground-ball rate to do so.
He is a well-built catcher with plus raw power, so if he can take steps forward with his launch angle, suddenly his profile starts to really take off. Currently, he’s a lottery ticket type of investment for dynasty league owners but one who has a decent floor thanks to quality contact skills.
ETA: 2021. Prime Projection: .256/.325, 16 HRs, 1 SB.
A surprise September call-up in 2018 after having spent his season at High-A Wilmington in the Carolina League, Meibrys Viloria has been a steady above-average minor leaguer with flashes of brilliance at times. He put his name on the prospect map back in 2016 when he dominated the rookie ball Pioneer League to the tune of a .376/.436/.606 batting line over 259 plate appearances, which was worth a 159 wRC+.
While he hasn’t been able to match that success in the years following, he is coming off of a 2018 season that included a .260/.342/.360 batting line with six home runs and two stolen bases over 407 plate appearances. He supported that line with a 9.8% walk rate and an 18.4% strikeout rate, and all told, his season was worth a 103 wRC+. His 10.1% swinging-strike rate suggests that his contact skills can translate to higher levels, and when combined with average raw power, you start to see the potential for deep league consideration in dynasty leagues.
ETA: 2021. Prime Projection: ..248/.314, 13 HRs, 1 SB.
Considered to be among the very best defensive catchers in the minor leagues, Jake Rogers seems destined to have a long MLB career that likely is more valuable for real-life baseball than for fantasy baseball. His 2018 season was spent at Double-A Erie in the Eastern League, where he produced a .219/.305/.412 batting line with 17 home runs and seven stolen bases while walking at a 10% clip and managing a 27.5% strikeout rate. That strikeout rate is kind of rough, and he supported it with a below-average 12.9% swinging-strike rate, which has me believing that he may always struggle to make contact.
The good news is he does have some power, often receiving average to above-average grades, and he gets to it well in-game because of a heavy pulled fly-ball approach. That approach lends itself to projecting a potential 20-home run upside, which plays at the catcher position and helps him make up for his contact issues. Those seven stolen bases are interesting as well, and while he did steal 13 bases the year before, he’s a 40-grade runner who likely won’t be able to contribute much in the way of speed going forward.
Overall, it’s a high-floor profile that is power-focused, and that’s worth consideration in deeper dynasty leagues.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .235/.322, 15 HRs, 4 SBs.
The former 12th-round draft pick back in 2015 has steadily climbed the minor league ladder, consistently hitting at an above-average rate in terms of wRC+, and yet Seby Zabala is a relative unknown in prospect circles. His 2018 season was split between Double-A and Triple-A, where he hit a combined .258/.317/.418 with 13 home runs over 423 plate appearances, which was worth a 106 wRC+. He was much better in his Double-A time though, posting a .271/.358/.472 batting line with 11 home runs over 232 plate appearances.
There is a fair bit of swing and miss to Zavala’s game as he posted 28% and 23% strikeout rates at Double-A and Triple-A respectively, and he has consistently posted below-average swinging-strike rates. On the plus side though, he has legit plus raw power that could mean 20- to 25-home run type of upside in the future, and his launch angle is conducive to getting to that power in games. He also utilizes the whole field pretty well, helping him produce quality BABIPs and maintain reasonable batting averages despite his contact issues.
His fringey defensive grades likely limit his future playing time at the major league level, but he has the type of power at the position that is worth chasing in deep dynasty leagues.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .240/.317, 18 HRs, 1 SB.
The former sixth overall draft pick by the Seattle Mariners back in 2014, Alex Jackson has since been traded and converted to catcher, where he offers rare power potential. While Jackson initially found success as a member of the Braves organization in 2017, 2018 turned out to be a difficult one for him at the plate as he managed just a .201/.286/.360 batting line with eight home runs across 377 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A. His time at Double-A included a 31% strikeout rate supported by a very rough 17.5% swinging-strike rate as he really struggled to make contact, leading to a well below-average 73 wRC+. His time at Triple-A was surprisingly better as he posted a 33.6% strikeout rate supported by a 13.8% swinging-strike rate that contributed to a 98 wRC+.
When it comes to Jackson, he can make enough contact then he could be a real valuable slugging catcher as he has legit 70-grade power, which is rare for the position. Unfortunately, it’s looking less likely that he will be able to make enough contact to be relevant, and he’s nothing more than a low-level flier at this point in most dynasty leagues.
ETA: Late 2019. Prime Projection: .227/.279, 20 HRs, 1 SB.
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)