Our next stop is behind the plate, which has fluctuated a lot over this decade, from an area of depth and strength 6-7 years ago, to a weaker areas 3-4 years ago, and back to an area of reasonable strength as the teams has reinvested in the ever quixotic and elusive attempt to develop the catcher of the future.
The preamble/background that follows is identical to previous entries, so those familiar can skip to the next section. For each grouping, players are displayed on a chart according to both major league upside and experience level (an approximate proxy for risk). This is not an exact science, so take the positioning with a grain of salt, but it looks something like this:
Keep in mind that “reasonable upside” is not the same as likely or base case projection, and most players at the lower levels won’t come anywhere close it. Basically, if the player’s development goes well, this is what he could become. And conversely, it’s not an absolute ceiling either and there is potential for upside surprise. Kevin Pillar would be a prime example.
For the purposes of this exercise, I’m including not only players with rookie eligibility, but also younger internally developed players contributing or established at the major league level with multiple control years remaining to give a better sense of the total organizational depth. As a general rule, I’ve kept players included last year for comparative purposes.
The headliner here is obviously Danny Jansen, who continues to torch AAA pitching, consolidating his progress last year. There’s some knocks on his framing/handling behind the plate, but if all goes well he still ends up an above average regular. Conversely, Reese McGuire hasn’t followed up on his hot finish to 2017, further suggestive a future role as a defensively oriented backup...though Luke Maile is having something to say about that.
Beyond that are some interesting potential options. The obvious one is Max Pentecost, who is at least consistently behind the plate, if only semi-regularly. He’s not hitting, but the the bar at catcher is not particularly high.
Then there’s the pair of high 2015 draftees. Hagen Danner had a rough pro debut, but that’s far from definitive and has the second round pedigree. If he’s still not hitting a couple years from now, it wouldn’t surprise me if he went back to the mound. Riley Adams likewise is struggling with the bat after an aggressive assignment to high-A. That’s a bit more of an issue for an offensive-minded prospect for whom there was significant questions about his ability to stick.
Ryan Gold has been impressive offensively so far in his pro career, albeit with the impression that he was rougher behind the plate (I would have liked to have seen a full season assignment). But he’s a name to keep an eye on. Javier Hernandez has a cannon behind the plate, but hasn’t hit at all though is still on the youngish side.
Removed from last year: Ryan Hissey, Andres Sotillo, Michael de la Cruz (lack of performance/surpassed on depth charts)