06 January 2010

AL East Best Under-26 Team: Part 1 - Catcher

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On Monday we penned our introduction to the series. Today, MJ kicks off our series with a look at the Top 3 Under-26 Catchers in the AL East. Not surprisingly, baseball's most highly-touted prospect of 2009 tops the list. The full list with brief write-ups after the jump...

1. Matt Wieters / Baltimore Orioles (MLB)

Height/Weight - 6-5/230 / Born - 5/21/1986 / Bats/Throws - B/R
Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

Considered not only the top catching prospect in the division but also the best prospect overall according to Baseball America’s top-100 ranking for the 2009 season, Wieters is the rare combination of offensive and defensive prowess at a position known for players possessing one trait or the other but rarely both.

After a relatively slow transition to the big leagues following his promotion from AAA-Norfolk, Wieters came into his own once the calendar flipped to September, posting a .333/.395/.486 line to finish the year, as compared to his .267/.314/.379 slash stats from May-August. In 738.1 defensive innings, Wieters committed five errors, including three passed balls and only threw out 21 of 86 attempted base-stealers (24%) but gradually grew into his role as the team’s everyday catcher. As scouts have raved about his makeup, advanced knowledge of the strike zone and smooth catching skills (despite his atypical size for a catcher), Wieters profiles as a future All-Star behind the dish for years to come.

2. Jesus Montero / New York Yankees (AAA/Scranton)
Height/Weight - 6-4/225 / Born - 11/28/1989 / Bats/Throws - R/R

Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

As with Wieters, Montero is considered a very advanced offensive prospect, garnering comparisons to some of the game’s best sluggers and drawing raves for his natural power and ability to square up on the baseball. Some scouts have even graded him as an 80 on the 20-80 scale for hitting and power. After destroying advanced A-level ball to the tune of .356/.406/.583, Montero was well on his way to similarly dominating AA pitching (.317/.370/.539) before breaking his middle finger and being shelved for the remainder of the season.

Unlike Wieters, however, Montero’s future as a catcher is in doubt. Whereas some scouts project him as a poor defensive catcher with a ceiling of Mike Piazza’s skills behind the plate, others believe that the Yankees are prolonging the inevitable and that Montero will indeed either man first base or be a full-time DH upon reaching the big leagues. Scouts cite a lack of natural athleticism and poor footwork behind the plate, and, despite a strong throwing arm, nearly all those who have watched Montero behind the plate feel that he is no better than a below average defensive prospect.

3. Austin Romine / New York Yankees (AA/Trenton)
Height/Weight - 6-2/210 / Born: 11/22/1988 / Bats/Throws - R/R
Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

With Montero’s promotion to AAA after only 167 at-bats at AA, his former platoon-mate Austin Romine will be granted the full-time catching duties at AA-Trenton in 2010. Romine is considered an all-around catching prospect with above-average raw power and solidly above-average skills behind home plate, including a strong and accurate arm. Additionally, Romine is viewed as a good athlete with fair speed for a catcher, evidenced by his 11 steals (out of 16 chances). The 2009 Florida State Player of the Year,Romine – and not Montero – appears to be the heir apparent to Jorge Posada as the everyday catcher of the future for the New York Yankees.

HM. Dioner Navarro / Tampa Bay Rays (MLB)
Height/Weight - 5-10/190 / Born - 2/9/1984 / Bats/Throws - R/R
Stats - Fangraphs / Baseball-Reference / MinorLeagueSplits

Navarro makes this list as much by virtue of his birth date as for the fact that he has crafted a five year career as a catcher at the major league level. Although his skills and stats translate to a roughly average performer at the position, it is nonetheless reason enough to recognize Navarro as one of the division’s best catchers aged 26 and younger.

Travis d’Arnaud (Toronto Blue Jays) was also considered for this spot but Navarro was given preference based on his established major league track record, especially in contrast with d’Arnaud’s 2010 season likely opening at A-Adv. Dunedin.

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