MLB500

B/R MLB 500: Top 35 Catchers

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterSeptember 3, 2014

B/R MLB 500: Top 35 Catchers

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    With the B/R MLB 500 having gotten underway with a look at first basemen, it's now time to head 90 feet back down the line for a look at the guys wearing the armor.

    Catchers will be scored like so: 25 points for Approach/Hitting, 30 points for Power, just five points for Baserunning and 40 points for Defense for a total of 100 points.

    The Approach/Hitting category involves not only looking at how good guys are at putting the bat on the ball and how they hit the ball, but also things like patience and plate discipline. 

    The Power category is not so much about raw power. It's more of a look at how much power guys have in actual games, which involves looking into how they tap into their power for extra-base hits.

    The Baserunning category is one that could be complicated, but we're going to keep it simple by focusing on how good guys are at stealing bases, taking extra bases and avoiding outs on the bases.

    As for Defense, we'll focus on three essential skills: receiving, blocking and throwing. Since receiving is what catchers do most and their talent at it can gain and lose strikes for their pitchers, it gets extra-special consideration.

    One thing we're not doing this year is a category for health. Rather than handle them separately, any health concerns we do have will be applied to a specific category that could be impacted. 

    Please note that a score in the middle (i.e. 12/25 or 20/40) denotes average, not failing. And while the discussion will be centered on 2014, we also have one eye on 2015. Part of that includes B/R prospect guru Mike Rosenbaum providing some scores and scouting reports for a couple MLB-ready catchers.

    Lastly, any ties will be resolved with the following question: "If we could pick only one, who would it be?"

    When you're ready, you can read on.

A Note on Links and Sources

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    Before we begin, there are some things you should know about the links and stats that lie ahead.

    First and foremost is that CLICKING ON THE LINKS IS NOT MANDATORY. The links are there in case you're curious where a given point (or points) is coming from.

    They're not from the same place. The links will take you to Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, BaseballSavant.com and BaseballProspectus.com. All have different data to offer, the combination of which was the backbone for the researching of this project. 

    However, just because this project was heavily informed by stats doesn't mean you're about to be hit over the head with sabermetric jargon in this space. There are really only a couple of terms to know.

    Two are terms I dreamed up to determine receiving talent. With a cut-off date of August 15, I used BaseballSavant.com to find that catchers are getting called strikes on 90.4 percent of the pitches received in the zone (Z-Strike%and 15.4 percent of the pitches received outside the zone (O-Strike%). By comparing catchers' rates to these benchmarks, we can narrow down how good their receiving skills are.

    Another to know is XBT%. That stands for "extra bases taken percentage," and it's Baseball-Reference.com's way of tracking how often players advance more than one base on singles and doubles. It's a crude way to get a picture of how aggressive players are on the basesand you'll have to pardon us for being a day behind on the percentagesbut it'll have to do.

35. Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets (Prospect)

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    Hitting

    11/25

    The right-handed hitting Plawecki’s greatest strength is his ability to make consistent contact, which requires him to utilize the entire field. Such an approach has also led to a favorable strikeout-to-walk ratio throughout his career, as a majority of his plate appearances result in a ball in play.

    Power

    9/30

    Though he’ll always be a consistent source of doubles thanks to his solid gap power and aforementioned approach, Plawecki doesn’t project to clear many fences at the highest level. Beyond the fact that he has a compact, line-drive swing, Plawecki tends to hit more ground balls than fly balls, which doesn’t bode well for his chances of a power spike in the major leagues.

    Baserunning

    1/5

    As a catcher, Plawecki figures to offer little on the basepaths, especially in terms of stealing bases. However, his ability to put up 20-plus doubles annually suggests that he’s a non-zero runner who might be able to grab an extra base here and there.

    Defense

    16/40

    Defensively, Plawecki’s ability as a receiver goes beyond what numbers suggest, as his strong instincts and feel for sequencing allows him to anticipate pitches both in and out of zone, putting him in a good position to block balls the dirt. Both his arm strength and catch-and-throw skills are only average, but he gets the most out of his natural ability and does a respectable job controlling the running game.

    Overall

    37/100

    Plawecki may not be the best catcher in the minor leagues on either side of the ball, but he’s a well-rounded player with tools and secondary skills that project at the major league level. His defense requires further refinement and may never develop beyond the league average, but Plawecki's knack for making consistent contact should always help to outweigh some of those specific concerns.

34. Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Hitting

    14/25

    After spending 2013 swinging for the fences, Navarro has cooled it and gone with a more contact-oriented approach this year. It’s served him well, as neither lefties nor righties have clear options for getting him out while he’s carried on being a solid line-drive hitter. The trouble is that he’s been expanding the zone more and doesn’t help himself with his shift-friendly ground-ball habit as a lefty.

    Power

    11/30

    Navarro’s power has declined in a big way in 2014, and it’s no accident. Whereas seemingly every fly ball he hit last year was a deep drive, they’ve been more infrequent in 2014 as he’s focused on making contact. With him now being on the wrong side of 30, it’s not a good look. But if he can at least maintain some of this year’s gap power from the left side, he’ll be OK.

    Baserunning

    0/5

    You definitely don’t equate Navarro with good speed and are not about to. Though he actually has a steal this year, it’s more telling that his XBT% has gone from 9 percent last year to just 13 percent in 2014. With him turning 31 in 2015, that number is more likely to go down than up.

    Defense

    13/40

    Navarro has been slightly worse than average at policing runners the last two seasons, and that’s as good as it’s going to get with his slow release and fringy arm. He’s more at home blocking wild pitches but doesn’t complement that with good receiving. With an 86.1 Z-Strike% and 14.9 O-Strike%, he’s below average at getting strikes both inside and outside the zone. He has trouble in particular with low strikes, which is no small issue.

    Overall

    38/100

    Navarro’s transformation from an aggressive swinger into more of a contact hitter is admirable. But it has cost him some power and walks, making his hitting less of a strength. That’s bad given how iffy his defense is, particularly when it comes to getting strikes for his pitchers.

33. Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels

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    Hitting

    7/25

    There’s nothing wrong with Conger’s approach, which is reasonably patient and disciplined, but he’s really only been able to hit hard stuff from right-handers in his platoon role. And not very well at that, which is what happens when you’re little more than a mistake hitter who’s gotten worse at hitting hard stuff on a line. Then there’s how pull-heavy he is, which just about completes this list of complaints.

    Power

    7/30

    After offering some solid power in 2013, Conger has had less to offer in 2014. This is somewhat surprising in light of how his fly-ball rate has actually risen, but not overly so knowing that his ability to give the ball a ride is basically restricted to right field. And even in that direction, long drives are relatively infrequent, and he doesn’t make up for it with an excess of line drives.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    Conger’s not going to come off the bench and steal any bases, but he’s not too shabby when it comes to actually rounding them. His 33 percent XBT% is up from last year’s 30 percent, and he hasn’t had the same problem running into outs that he had in 2013, either.

    Defense

    25/40

    Conger’s not especially good at blocking or throwing, the latter having to do with how his quick mechanics can only make up for so much of his fringy arm strength. But he has our attention because of his receiving, which is top-notch. I put his Z-Strike% at 93.3 and his O-Strike% at 17.4, both of which qualify as elite while also putting fellow Angels backstop Chris Iannetta to shame.

    Overall

    42/100

    With his hitting inconsistent and his power dried up, Conger has essentially been a one-talent player in 2014. But since that one talent involves some of the best receiving skills in the game, he deserves our attention.

32. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies

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    Hitting

    5/25

    You might say Rosario’s made progress, as he’s dropped both his swing and chase rates while also making more contact this year. But he’s not going to be able to convince pitchers to throw him more fastballs if he keeps upping his swings at their slow stuff, especially not with his troubles hitting breaking balls still ongoing. Oh, he’s also now an extreme ground-ball hitter.

    Power

    20/30

    With so many of his batted balls going on the ground, it makes sense that Rosario’s power has dried up. It also doesn’t help that he hasn’t been driving the ball to right field at the rate he did in 2013. But Rosario’s power probably hasn’t declined as much as it appears, as some of his deeper drives this year have just missed. And as scary as wrist injuries are for power, it's better for a righty hitter like him that his right wrist is hurt than his left wrist.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Rosario fine-tuned his base-stealing habit in 2013, but he hasn’t continued the process this year. To boot, his XBT% has fallen again. After dropping from 50 percent to 47 percent in 2013, it’s now dropped to 35 percent. Where there was once a good baserunning catcher, there is now an ordinary one.

    Defense

    15/40

    One thing that can be said in defense of Rosario is that his throwing game probably isn’t as bad as his declining caught-stealing rates make it look. Rosario's transfer isn’t especially quick, but his pop is fine and his arm is strong. Aside from that, though, he still hasn’t cleaned up his passed-ball issues and is a subpar framer to boot with an 89.2 Z-Strike% and 13.5 O-Strike%.

    Overall

    42/100

    We can say that Rosario’s power hasn’t regressed as much as it first appears, so he still has that going for him. But his bat comes with more question marks than ever, and what’s been suspect defense for a while now is still, well, suspect.

31. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins

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    Hitting

    11/25

    Give Salty credit for drawing more walks and for keeping last year’s insane line-drive rate from plummeting too far. The trouble is his swing-and-miss habit has reversed course after trending downward, righty pitchers can still easily beat him with heat up and in and he also hasn’t been able to hit righty slow stuff. He hasn’t gone back to being his old self, but he’s not far off from doing so.

    Power

    22/30

    Because he’s a solid fly-ball and line-drive hitter from both sides of the plate, Salty gives himself plenty of chances to hit for power. And though results have been harder to come by this year, Marlins Park has been a factor. His power itself appears fine, as he’s shown he can still drive the ball to left and right as a lefty hitter with good pull power as a righty hitter.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    The four stolen bases Salty produced in 2013 now look like a free-agent salary drive thing, as he’s gone back to staying glued at first base when he gets there. His aggressiveness is also trending downward, as a 53 percent XBT% in 2012 fell to 36 in 2013 and 23 this year. With him hitting 30 in 2015, I wouldn’t expect a turnaround.

    Defense

    8/40

    The best skill here is Salty’s ability to block wild pitches. But controlling the running game is still very much a problem, which will happen when you’re sluggish out of the crouch with a slow release. Then there’s his receiving, which an 86.5 Z-Strike% and 14.6 O-Strike% says is beyond bad. He has issues getting strikes at the knees and even a little above the knees, and that needs fixing.

    Overall

    43/100

    Saltalamacchia has upped his walk habit and kept the good power coming, but his bat hasn’t been nearly as consistent as it was in his career 2013 season. He’s also little more than a warm body behind the plate, as he has issues throwing out runners and struggles mightily to frame pitches.

30. John Jaso, Oakland A's

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    Hitting

    13/25

    Jaso is still a platoon hitter, but the walks that were there in 2012 and 2013 have vanished because of a much more aggressive approach. Pitchers have done their part to force this with more pitches in the zone, and right-handers have further been able to keep him in check with slow stuff. That Jaso has remained a good line-drive hitter is the bright side, but you do wonder if pitchers have him figured out.

    Power

    18/30

    If you’re not going to boost your OBP with walks, you better hit for power. Jaso has gotten that message, mainly thanks to a higher fly-ball rate than what he had the last two years. He hasn't had much pop the other way, but anything to center or right is fair game, and Jaso goes those directions often enough to take full advantage. For a part-time player, he’s turned into a good power supply.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    This is where Jaso shows he’s a solid athlete as far as catchers go. He’s typically good for a couple of stolen bases every year, and his 44 XBT% is very strong by catching standards. But since that’s down from 58 percent last year and Jaso’s now on the wrong side of 30, there’s a limit to how high this score can go.

    Defense

    10/40

    Let’s just say it’s a good thing Jaso has his strong bat. He probably allows too many wild pitches for a part-time catcher, and his slow pop, slow transfer and fringy arm strength don’t help him stop would-be base stealers. Worse is his receiving, as I have his Z-Strike% at 86.9 and his O-Strike% at 14.0. In particular, he needs to work on getting strikes on the outside corner on his arm side.

    Overall

    44/100

    Though Jaso’s walk habit is missed and his hitting fails to impress, you have to appreciate how he’s kept the power coming. That helps make up for his defense, too, which is weak from blocking, throwing and receiving standpoints.

29. Welington Castillo, Chicago Cubs

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    Hitting

    8/25

    The discipline Castillo had against breaking and off-speed pitches in 2013 is gone now, and poor production is his punishment. Pitchers also seem to get that he’s weak against inside heat. He’s also overly pull-heavy and is making it tougher on himself to hit for average by hitting more fly balls. So it’s a good thing he’s at least reasonably disciplined, without too bad of a swing-and-miss problem.

    Power

    21/30

    The extra fly balls Castillo is hitting aren’t going totally for naught. He has used them to boost his power production, with his ability to drive the ball to all fields being a factor there. And because not all his long drives have gotten results, it’s fair to wonder if maybe Castillo will collect on some unpaid good luck in 2015. It wouldn’t be a shocker if he turns into a 15- to 20-homer catcher.

    Baserunning

    1/5

    Baserunning was a quiet strength of Castillo’s in 2013, as he stole two bases and posted an impressive 49 XBT%. Castillo hasn’t been the same this year, as he hasn’t bothered with steals while dropping his XBT% all the way to 12 percent. You wonder how much of this is linked to the knee surgery he had last September. If that convinced him to take it easy on the bases, this could be the new normal.

    Defense

    15/40

    Though he’s been roughly average throwing out runners this year, Castillo’s better than that. He’s not especially quick out of the crouch but has a quick release and a good arm. He also has an ability to keep the ball in front of him, but where he really needs work is with his receiving. He has an 86.5 Z-Strike% and 13.8 O-Strike%, with both high and low strikes being a major problem.

    Overall

    45/100

    Castillo’s bat has declined from where it was in 2013 for good reasons, though one thing that hasn’t been so bad is the power he’s shown. He’ll need to keep that coming in 2015, as his bat must make up for defense that’s limited by what’s been very poor receiving in 2014.

28. Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels

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    Hitting

    15/25

    Pitchers have forced Iannetta to swing the bat, coming at him with more pitches in the zone. He’s answered the call well, putting himself on track to finish with a career-high average on balls in play. He’s strictly a fastball hitter, however, and the degree to which his whiff rate on off-speed has skyrocketed since 2012 suggests he has to cheat on fastballs. That's a troubling thought for a guy who’s 31.

    Power

    15/30

    Iannetta doesn’t have much trouble getting the ball in the air, but his home run power only applies against lefties. Not so coincidentally, it’s only against them that he’s been able to drive the ball to his pull side. That’s a natural cap on what’s decent raw power, as he faces mostly right-handers, and his ability to drive the ball against them is pedestrian by comparison.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Iannetta’s having his best season stealing bases since 2011, and he’s also upped his XBT% from 17 percent in 2013 to 28 percent. But with all this happening in the wake of two straight subpar baserunning seasons and in the shadow of his age-32 season, it’s hard to trust in the idea of a repeat performance.

    Defense

    15/40

    Iannetta’s had a better year throwing out runners than he did in 2013, but it’s not a trustworthy performance given how he doesn’t seem to have a quicker pop or a faster release. He’s also not among the best at blocking pitches, but his real weakness is his receiving. With an 89.3 Z-Strike% and 13.5 O-Strike%, he costs Angels pitchers precious strikes when he catches.

    Overall

    47/100

    Iannetta’s had a fine season from an offensive standpoint, but there are enough cracks in his hitting to make you wonder if it’s repeatable. His power also isn’t without question marks, and his defense is dubious as well due to iffy throwing and more-than-iffy receiving.

27. Tyler Flowers, Chicago White Sox

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    Hitting

    8/25

    Flowers has made progress in 2014, toning down his aggressiveness while also making better contact against hard, breaking and off-speed pitches. However, he’s still way too aggressive, with a swing-and-miss habit that’s a big problem, particularly with high fastballs. He’s also still hitting more ground balls than a catcher should. As such, more progress is needed.

    Power

    16/30

    That Flowers hits so many balls on the ground makes it tough for him to tap into his raw power consistently, and it’s not a good look that his power production is trending downward. But it’s also not as bad as it looks, as he can drive the ball to all fields and has been pulling the ball with authority more consistently since the All-Star break. That’s something to carry into 2015.

    Baserunning

    1/5

    That Flowers doesn’t steal bases doesn’t make him a lesser baserunner by catching standards. Instead, what’s costing him here is how his XBT% has fallen from 35 percent in 2013 to 21 percent, and he’s also made more outs on the basepaths. That’s not a good combination.

    Defense

    23/40

    Flowers’ best defensive talent is his ability to control the running game, which he makes possible largely by having a lightning-quick pop and release. Aside from that, however, he’s had issues with wild pitches in 2014 and is at best a decent receiver. His 91.8 Z-Strike% means he’s getting the easy strikes well enough, but the 13.6 O-Strike% is well below par.

    Overall

    48/100

    Flowers has some good power to offer, and he has the ability to slow down the opposition’s running game. But his receiving skills need some refining, and the work he’s put in to make his hitting more consistent isn’t enough. He’s still too wild a swinger who hits nothing but air too often.

26. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Hitting

    15/25

    Ruiz has been far more disciplined than before and drawing more walks because of it. He’s also bought some extra fastballs and continued to increase his line-drive rate against the hard stuff. But he hasn’t had such an easy time hitting hard stuff faster than 90 miles per hour, which isn’t surprising given that he’s 35 and had iffy bat speed to begin with. So excitement for the future should be limited to a degree.

    Power

    8/30

    Ruiz has never been much of a power hitter outside of back in 2012, and another spike in power doesn’t appear to be forthcoming. His power the other way is as absent as it’s ever been, and by his standards he hasn’t put a charge into too many balls to left field. Given that he’ll be 36 in 2015 and is already having some issues catching up to fastballs, I’d expect things to get worse.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Ruiz has sneaked in a couple of stolen bases in 2014, but I wouldn’t expect a repeat of that in his age-36 season next year. In the meantime, he hasn’t increased his aggressiveness to go along with the steals, dropping his XBT% from 54 percent in 2013 to 37 percent. That's not horrible by any means, but it's once again hard to count on a soon-to-be 36-year-old catcher keeping his legs churning.

    Defense

    23/40

    Ruiz is one of the best in the majors at blocking pitches in the dirt, and he still controls the running game well enough thanks to being quicker than you’d expect out of the crouch, with an accurate arm to boot. He’s not a good receiver, however, posting an 88.3 Z-Strike% and 14.5 O-Strike%. For a guy who has a reputation for handling pitchers well, you’d think he’d be better than that.

    Overall

    48/100

    The more disciplined approach Ruiz has shown off in 2014 has worked wonders, but his bat isn’t without red flags and his power looks like it’s drying up with age. And through Ruiz is strong at blocking pitches and controlling the running game, his receiving just isn’t very good.

25. Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins

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    Hitting

    24/25

    Suzuki’s always been a patient hitter with a keen eye, but what we’ve seen from him in 2014 is a total transformation into an elite contact hitter. And he’s gone about doing so the right way, doing a better job of laying off slow stuff while hitting hard offerings and making use of the whole field. He’s legitimately become a better hitter and will continue to be one if he can keep it up in 2015.

    Power

    8/30

    Suzuki’s power peaked several years ago, and his transformation into a contact-oriented hitter hasn’t helped revive it. Some of that is owed to how he’s gone back to being more of a ground-ball hitter, and it doesn’t help that he only has power to his pull side that’s hardly of the explosive variety. He’s more of a doubles guy, so it’s a good thing his pull power is at least good enough to keep those coming.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Suzuki was one of the league’s more athletic catchers when he was younger, but those days seem to be long done. He hasn’t bothered with stolen bases in 2014, and his 29 percent XBT% is likely to be the worst full-season mark of his career. Basically, he’s running like a 30-year-old catcher.

    Defense

    15/40

    Suzuki’s best strength on defense is his ability to block pitches. But after that, his slow pop and release make it tough for him to police baserunners, and he’s one of the worst receivers among everyday catchers. With an 87.7 Z-Strike% and a 14.1 O-Strike%, he’s easily below average in both departments. His big issue is getting the low strike for his pitchers, which needs to be fixed.

    Overall

    49/100

    The improvements Suzuki’s made with his hitting are absolutely worth noting, as he’s turned himself into one of the game’s top contact hitters. But he doesn’t have much power to offer, and his defensive value is hit hard by his mediocre throwing and poor receiving.

24. Rene Rivera, San Diego Padres

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    Hitting

    5/25

    Rivera’s as overaggressive a swinger as he’s ever been without being particularly good at making contact. He’s also really only useful against hard stuff, and that comes with the caveat that anything away from him is likely to get him out. Add in his all-or-nothing ground-ball/fly-ball style, and you have a guy who’s going to have a tough time hitting for average and racking up a high OBP.

    Power

    14/30

    As is usually the case, one good thing about hitting a lot of fly balls is it means more chances at extra-base hits. Rivera’s a good example, especially given that he’s solid at pulling fly balls to left field for homers and doubles. An almost complete lack of opposite-field power is an issue, however, and then there’s the other big one: how much playing time he can get to boost his power numbers.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Rivera’s one and only career steal happened all the way back in 2006, when he was all of 22 years old. He’s now 30 and as much a station-to-station catcher as most of his peers. If not more so, as he has just a 23 XBT% and was last seen going first to third in 2011.

    Defense

    30/40

    This is the big reason why Rivera’s on our radar. Beyond being good at blocking balls and throwing out runners with his quick transfer and strong arm, he’s been one of the best receivers in the business as well. I have his Z-Strike% at 93.1 and his O-Strike% at 18.6, the latter being about as good as it gets. Though his defense is only a part-time thing, it’s definitely an asset.

    Overall

    51/100

    With the exception of his solid power, Rivera’s bat is littered with question marks ranging from iffy plate discipline to zone coverage. But he’s very much in his element defensively, adding excellent receiving skills to blocking and throwing talents.

23. Martin Maldonado, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Hitting

    13/25

    It’s hard for Maldonado to get at-bats with Jonathan Lucroy swinging such a hot stick. That he’s been able to come off the bench and show such a disciplined approach is therefore impressive, and he’s further helped himself by making more contact and upping his line-drive rates. This has to be taken for what it’s worth given the small sample size, but it does look like Maldonado has figured some things out.

    Power

    7/30

    Sporadic playing time doesn’t help Maldonado here, either, as he’s only going to get so many chances to come off the bench and provide some pop. He does have good power to offer, however, as he has both an extreme fly-ball habit and an ability to hit for opposite-field power. As such, he really is limited by opportunity more so than ability.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    There’s only so much data to go off this year, but it’s basically been par for the course for Maldonado’s baserunning. Stolen bases have been out of the question, and his 20 XBT% is about what you’d expect from a (very) part-time catcher.

    Defense

    29/40

    Maldonado may not play that often, but would-be base stealers should fear him when he’s behind the plate. He has a gun for an arm and knows how to use it. He’s also quite good at keeping the ball in front of him and has clearly learned something from Lucroy about framing pitches. His 95.1 Z-Strike% and 17.3 O-Strike% both put him among the big boys at getting called strikes.

    Overall

    51/100

    Though finding playing time isn’t so easy for Maldonado, he can make an impact when he’s in there. He has a decent bat that has some pop in it, and his defensive skill set includes quality throwing, blocking and receiving talents.

22. Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox (Prospect)

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    Hitting

    12/25

    The switch-hitting Swihart’s approach is advanced from both sides of the plate, allowing him to track the ball deep in the zone and utilize the entire field. He’s particularly adept at driving the ball from line to line from the left side, which is critical considering he faces mostly right-handed pitching. He features more swing-and-miss from his natural right side, though a whole-field approach is still present. 

    Power

    10/30

    Swihart’s power emerged in 2014 at the Double- and Triple-A levels, as he reached double-digit home runs for the first time in his career while tallying his usual 20-plus doubles. Though he’s an extra-base machine from both sides of the plate, Swihart has shown more over-the-fence power as a righty, with a fly-ball rate that trails his ground-ball rate only slightly.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    Though it’s difficult to gauge a prospect’s baserunning ability based on minor league statistics, Swihart projects as an above-average baserunner for his position thanks to his athleticism and surprising speed. He won’t steal many bases at the highest level, but Swihart’s knack for piling up both doubles and triples throughout his career speaks to his surprising wheels.

    Defense

    27/40

    Swihart is one of better defensive catchers in the minor leagues. Besides throwing out more than 45 percent of attempted base stealers between Double- and Triple-A this season, Swihart is also yet to commit a passed ball, highlighting his strength as a receiver. He's also been widely praised for his feel for calling games and handling a pitching staff. Meanwhile, his athleticism and agility behind the plate make him an adept blocker, and he should only improve in that field with experience.

    Overall

    52/100

    Swihart has jumped to the top of prospect lists in 2014 behind a strong all-around season on both sides of the ball. This switch-hitter can do a little bit of everything at the plate, hitting for both average and power, and his defense should serve as a premium once he achieves the highest level.

21. Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox

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    Hitting

    9/25

    It’s early yet, but you can look at Vazquez and see a hitter who’s maybe more passive than disciplined and who’s good contact habit is wasted on ground balls. Also, it looks like he might have a hole in his swing with inside pitches. That he's demonstrated some level of patience while also showing off that ability to make contact, however, means he at least has a solid base to build on moving forward.

    Power

    5/30

    Power wasn’t Vazquez’s thing in the minors, and that much hasn’t changed since he’s been in the majors. Outside of some noteworthy line drives in the right-center gap, we haven’t really seen him drive the ball that much since he’s been in the majors. Based on this, his minor league track record and the frequency with which he’s hit the ball on the ground, there’s not much to hang your hat on.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Behold yet another area where we don’t have much data to go off, but it looks like Vazquez isn't going to be much to see on the basepaths.  He does have a solid XBT% rate of 33 percent in the majors, but it comes with zero first-to-thirds. He deserves a pass based on his youth, but Vazquez looks like just another station-to-station catcher.

    Defense

    36/40

    Even if Vazquez’s bat never develops, his defense looks more than good enough for the big leagues. He’s already sent a message to baserunners, gunning them down via a lightning-quick pop and a strong arm. He’s also good at blocking pitches and great at receiving with a 91.6 Z-Strike% and 17.4 O-Strike%. It sounds like Red Sox pitchers very much appreciate it after having to throw to A.J. Pierzynski.

    Overall

    52/100

    Exactly what sort of hitter Vazquez is going to be is up in the air, as he’s thus far displayed merely modest abilities and more than modest power. But his defense looks like the real deal, particularly regarding what looks like elite throwing and receiving talents.

20. Caleb Joseph, Baltimore Orioles

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    Hitting

    5/25

    Joseph has shown off a passably disciplined approach for a rookie, with a decent line-drive habit to go with it. But he’s had a tough time hitting breaking balls. Also, any pitcher who can put a hard one on the outer third of the zone stands a good chance of getting a whiff. With issues like these, consistency will be hard to come by.

    Power

    18/30

    The power Joseph showed in the minors the last couple of years has translated well to the majors. And not by accident, as he’s had no trouble getting the ball in the air and has displayed an ability to drive the ball to all fields. His power is mainly restricted to his pull side, however, and exactly how much playing time he’s going to get to display his power with Matt Wieters coming back in 2015 is a question mark.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    A merely occasional base stealer in the minors, Joseph hasn’t dabbled at all in the larceny of bags since arriving in the majors. He hasn’t been a station-to-station guy, however, rounding the bases to the tune of an XBT% rate of 35 percent with only one out on the basepaths. For a catcher, that will do fine.

    Defense

    27/40

    Joseph’s made it clear that it’s not a good idea to run on him, as he’s cut down runners at will thanks largely to an accurate throwing arm. He’s also shown good blocking skills, and his receiving is another talent. Though his 90.0 Z-Strike% isn't special, his above-average 16.2 O-Strike% helps make up for it.

    Overall

    53/100

    Exactly how Joseph is going to fit into Baltimore’s plans when Wieters returns in 2015 is uncertain. But due to the power and defensive talents he can offer, we could see him go from being a good fill-in to one of the league’s better backups.

19. Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers

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    Hitting

    10/25

    Avila is still an ultra-discerning hitter, keeping his swings in check and rarely expanding the strike zone. This helps him get his walks. But he has a worsening swing-and-miss problem that features an ever-climbing whiff rate against hard stuff. Also, he’s merely a mistake-fastball hitter and invites shifts with so many ground balls to the right side. He may only be 27, but these are some old-man hitting concerns.

    Power

    18/30

    I wouldn’t call Avila a fly-ball hitter, but he has an uncanny ability to not waste fly balls. Many of his flies tend to be deep drives, and he can hit them to any part of the yard. He’s a threat to go deep anywhere because of that, and you never know when he’s going to use his strong line-drive habit to split the gap. For all of his hitting struggles, that he hasn’t lost his ability to make loud contact is the bright side.

    Baserunning

    1/5

    It’s easy to focus on Victor Martinez as Detroit’s worst baserunner, but Avila gives him a run for his money. He’s a one-base-at-a-time guy, and never more so than now with an XBT% of just 14 percent. That’s down from 23 percent last year, 29 percent in 2012 and 39 percent in 2011. You get the idea.

    Defense

    24/40

    Avila has cleaned up his act since leading the league in passed balls in 2012, and he’s a virtual lock for a caught-stealing percentage over 30. What he doesn’t do as well is frame pitches, as his 15.3 O-Strike% is a tick below average and his 88.6 Z-Strike% is way below average thanks to his issues framing both high and low strikes.

    Overall

    53/100

    Really, the only thing keeping Avila’s hitting afloat is his excellent batting eye, so it’s a good thing he has some quality power to offer. And even despite his iffy framing talent, he still throws and blocks well enough to pass for a good defender behind the dish.

18. Brian McCann, New York Yankees

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    Hitting

    6/25

    The good news? McCann can still make contact. The bad news? Basically everything else, ranging from increased aggressiveness to a shift-feeding ground-ball habit to a hard time pulling hard stuff in the air to a hard time hitting anything over 90 miles per hour, period. Most concerning of all is how, with the exception of the first half of 2013, this is how things have been for the last three years.

    Power

    15/30

    McCann hasn’t totally lost his bread-and-butter ability to drive the ball to his pull side. His batted-ball map makes that clear enough. But it’s distressing how his actual power production in that direction would be severely lacking without Yankee Stadium, as his power has been virtually nonexistent on the road. If McCann is only going to be a power threat in half his games...well, that’s just not good.

    Baserunning

    0/5

    McCann was capable of stealing the occasional base in his younger days, but those are well in the past. Now on the wrong side of 30, he’s a true station-to-station runner who’s following up just a 3 percent (!) XBT% in 2013 with a 13 XBT% in 2014. Even by catcher standards, that’s dreadful.

    Defense

    36/40

    This is where we can stop the doomsday talk. McCann is having a fantastic year throwing out runners, one that feels overdue given how his throwing mechanics have always featured a quick pop and transfer. He’s also as good as ever at keeping the ball in front of him, and his 92.2 Z-Strike% and 16.6 O-Strike% highlight his receiving skills. His bat may be sharply declining, but his defense is fine.

    Overall

    57/100

    Given how things have been ever since 2012, there’s really no denying that McCann’s hitting is going south in a hurry. But while that’s going to spark chatter about what the Yankees should do with him, moving him out from behind the plate shouldn’t happen just yet. His defense is too valuable.

17. Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres

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    Hitting

    8/25

    Grandal has rediscovered his patient and disciplined approach following season-ending knee surgery in 2013. But he’s been swinging through more pitches and has had a rough time hitting fastballs. When he has made contact, he’s been getting under a lot of balls, many of which have been lofted harmlessly to left field. So beyond the approach, there’s much to worry about.

    Power

    18/30

    Because last year’s surgery was on Grandal’s right knee, it’s not surprising to see him struggling to generate power as a righty. But he’s doing fine as a lefty hitter. He doesn’t waste the fly balls and line drives he pulls to right field. And despite the harmless flies, he’s not entirely without pop to left field. So even if he only hits for power from one side, it is good enough.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Grandal has cracked the stolen-base column for the first time in his career, and has also been more active taking bases compared to the standard he set in 2012. He posted an XBT% of 19 percent that year, making this year's 25 XBT% look OK by comparison. His knee troubles make it hard to expect better, but a young guy like him should be able to keep up what he's done this year.

    Defense

    29/40

    Given that he’s sluggish out of the crouch with a slow transfer from glove to hand, it’s not surprising that Grandal struggles to control the running game. He also hasn’t had the easiest time with passed balls this season. But he makes up for these struggles with truly top-notch receiving, putting himself among the league's elites with a 94.5 Z-Strike% and 17.2 O-Strike%.

    Overall

    57/100

    Grandal’s return from last year’s knee injury hasn’t gone especially smooth, as he’s looked lost at the plate for much of the year. But his power from the left side is fine, and his excellent receiving skills help make him a strong defensive player despite his shortcomings with blocking and throwing.

16. Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals

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    Hitting

    20/25

    Ramos manages to be hyperaggressive without being too undisciplined, and he’s a good fastball hitter despite being weak against them outside the inner third of the zone. Even easier to admire is his Derek Jeter-like opposite-field approach, and he’s only becoming a better line-drive hitter. The sheer oddness of how he goes about his business is easy to be skeptical about, but it’s hard to deny that it works.

    Power

    16/30

    That Ramos basically doesn’t bother with fly balls is one thing holding his power back, and his unwillingness to consistently use his pull side is another. But because he rarely misses when he does pull the ball and is also capable of driving the ball the other way, he’s able to save his power potential from total ruin.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    It’s worth noting that Baseball Prospectus has Ramos rated as one of Washington’s top baserunners, but I’d hold off on getting excited about that. He doesn’t steal bases, and his 24 XBT% is a far cry from the 40-50 range he occupied in 2011 and 2012. And given how much trouble he’s had with his hamstrings these last two years, counting on him to be a good baserunner going forward isn’t a good idea.

    Defense

    20/40

    Ramos is having a terrific season throwing out runners, and it’s no surprise given his quick and fluid release. But that only does so much to make up for his iffy receiving, highlighted by a 90.1 Z-Strike% and 15.0 O-Strike%. He’s not good at getting called strikes on the outside corner on his arm side (the outside corner for right-handed batters). That’s maybe the last place you want to be missing strikes.

    Overall

    58/100

    Quietly, Ramos has become one of the better hitting catchers in the league, with his ability to whack the ball to right field being the primary attraction. It’s a shame his power is hit or miss and that his strong defensive skill set is marred by receiving skills that need some work.

15. Stephen Vogt, Oakland A's

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    Hitting

    17/25

    Vogt basically only plays against right-handers, but he clearly sees them well. His plate discipline is a lot better than his subpar walk rate makes it look, and he’s an underrated contact hitter. That he’s hit most everything right-handers have thrown at him and used the whole field effectively are more feathers in his cap. He may only be a platoon hitter, but it’s a role he’s taken to very well.

    Power

    17/30

    Vogt’s power potential is helped by the reality that he’s primarily a fly-ball hitter. And though his power is mainly focused to his pull side, he has shown an ability to give fly balls a ride to center as well. That he’s also demonstrated an ability to find the left-center gap is a bonus. Knowing this, the biggest thing holding back his power is how much playing time he can get in Oakland’s three-catcher system.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    Vogt is more athletic than he looks, and this is one area where that shows. He’s not a base-stealing threat, but he’s following up a solid 40 XBT% in limited action last season with a whopping 71 XBT% in more regular action this year. A big part of that is how he’s actually rarely failed to go from first to third when given the chance, which is a good look.

    Defense

    22/40

    Granted, Vogt actually hasn’t been doing much catching this year. But it is his natural position and one he’s pretty good at. He has a solid 16.9 O-Strike% to balance out a less solid 89.1 Z-Strike% and is useful blocking balls and controlling the running game with his quick pop and release. He also gets bonus points for being an adequate, if not quite great, defender at first and in left and right field.

    Overall

    59/100

    There are other platoon hitters as good as Vogt is, be it from a hitting perspective, a power one or both. But as a defensive catcher who can also fill in at first and both outfield spots, he’s a unique weapon for Bob Melvin and the A’s.

14. Derek Norris, Oakland A's

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    Hitting

    20/25

    Issue can be taken with how Norris is way more effective against lefties than against righties, how pull-heavy his approach is and how lucky he’s been on ground balls. However, you’re also looking at a hitter who's quietly becoming more advanced. He’s only getting better at drawing walks and making contact. That and his ability to hit anything lefties can throw him reflects how well-suited he is for his platoon role.

    Power

    20/30

    The big catch with Norris’ power is that it’s exclusively pull power. Another is how much more likely he is to pull ground balls than he is line drives or fly balls. But his raw power to his pull side is fine, as anything he can elevate to the left field stands a very good chance of getting over the left fielder’s head or over the wall. As long as he can do that, he’ll have solid power to offer for a catcher.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    Norris is an example of a guy who’s more athletic than he looks. Though not as much as he was in 2012 and 2013, he’s a threat to sneak a stolen base or two. His XBT% is steadily declining, but only so far as from the 50 percent range the last two years to 38 percent this year. That’s still solid.

    Defense

    17/40

    While Norris’ offensive skill set is quite good, his defense is lacking. Both his blocking and receiving need work, and that’s especially true of the latter. His 16.5 O-Strike% is fine, but his 88.0 Z-Strike% is alarmingly low due to the problems he has framing low strikes. He’s also been easier to run on, which was bound to happen knowing that he doesn’t have a quick release or a particularly good arm.

    Overall

    60/100

    There’s nothing wrong with Norris’ bat. His disciplined approach is admirable, and he makes good use of his pull power. But due to his iffy receiving, blocking and throwing skills, he’s more a hitter who catches than a catcher who hits.

13. Jason Castro, Houston Astros

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    Hitting

    9/25

    Castro’s strengths include handling right-handed off-speed stuff and covering the outer third of the strike zone like a blanket. But his approach has gotten more aggressive, costing him walks and making his strikeout habit worse. He also hasn’t been making the hard contact he was in 2013 and has been way too pull-heavy. All told, he’ll have some issues to iron out in 2015.

    Power

    23/30

    That Castro has been so pull-heavy has hurt his power, too, as we haven’t seen him drive the ball to left field like he did in 2013. But his power in that direction hasn't completely dried up, and his pull habit indeed has led to more frequent visits to the right-center gap and right-field bleachers. His power potential is still strong, especially if he can find a better balance between opposite-field and pull power.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Castro was actually pretty active on the basepaths in 2013, but it’s not surprising that he’s toned it down after his troublesome right knee wore down at the end. His lack of aggressive baserunning is best pictured in his XBT% falling from a highly respectable 44 percent to a more modest 26 percent. Knowing what’s gone on with his legs, this will probably be par for the course from now on.

    Defense

    29/40

    Passed balls have been a problem for Castro in 2014, but otherwise his receiving is still sharp. With a 91.3 Z-Strike% and 16.3 O-Strike%, he’s getting his pitchers plenty of strikes. Also, his throwing isn’t as mediocre as his caught-stealing rate makes it look. He’s not especially quick getting rid of the ball but has a good, accurate arm.

    Overall

    63/100

    Castro will need to clean up his approach if he wants to get back to being the consistent hitter he was in 2013. Aside from that, however, he’s still a valuable player due to the power he provides and the well-rounded defense he plays behind the dish.

12. Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves

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    Hitting

    15/25

    A guy who hacks, expands the zone and whiffs like Gattis does has no business being a consistent hitter. But hitting the ball hard can make up for a lot, and Gattis deserves credit for getting a lot better at doing that against slow stuff. He also has more bat control than you’d expect, even showing an ability to aim ground balls to right field. He has his weaknesses, but his strengths help make up for them.

    Power

    30/30

    When it comes to pure raw power, Gattis can go toe-to-toe with anyone not named Giancarlo Stanton. He also has little trouble making it show up in games, as he’s an extreme fly-ball hitter who’s not entirely about pull power. He can hit the ball a long way in any direction. Health permitting—and there’s at least a slight concern there given his track record—he’s a 30-homer catcher waiting to happen.

    Baserunning

    1/5

    Gattis is slow even by catcher standards, and it shows when digging around in his numbers. His next stolen-base attempt will be his first, and what was a solid 31 XBT% in 2013 has fallen to 23 percent this year. He’s also run into more outs on the basepaths. So yeah. Sticking to trotting.

    Defense

    18/40

    It’s not without merit that Gattis isn’t known as a defensive stud. He has issues keeping the ball in front of him, and a slow wind-up contributes to just a decent ability to control the running game. Receiving is another issue. I have his O-Strike% at 15.4 but his Z-Strike at just 89.9. A key area for improvement in the latter department is getting calls on the right (from his point of view) edge of the strike zone.

    Overall

    64/100

    The premium this scoring system places on catcher defense doesn’t do Gattis any favors, and justifiably so given the things he needs to work on behind the dish. But wild swinger though he may be, he’s definitely dangerous with a bat in his hands.

11. Travis d'Arnaud

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    Hitting

    10/25

    It’s been a tale of two seasons for d’Arnaud, with the second being the encouraging one. He’s been more consistent since returning in late June, at least in part because he’s toned down his aggressiveness against slow stuff. In the process, he’s learned how to hit breaking balls. Now all he has to do is expand his zone coverage to include inside hard stuff and quit being so reliant on his pull side.

    Power

    25/30

    The one good thing that’s come from d’Arnaud being so reliant on his pull side is lots and lots of dingers. His demotion to the minors back in June is once again the key separating point, as he’s gone from basically not hitting anything well to left field to hitting everything well to left field. That his power to other fields is limited is a bummer, but he’s turned himself into a potential 20- to 25-homer catcher.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    Stealing bases isn’t likely to ever be d’Arnaud’s thing, as he didn’t bother with them much his last couple of years in the minors and hasn’t bothered with them in the majors, either. But he’s still at an age when he can run reasonably well, and his 33 XBT% is solid for a catcher.

    Defense

    28/40

    Passed balls stand out as the biggest issue d’Arnaud’s had behind the plate in his first full season, but his receiving is better than what those indicate. With a 92.5 Z-Strike% and a 16.5 O-Strike%, he gets his pitchers strikes. He’s also more equipped to slow down the running game than his caught-stealing percentage indicates, as he has a good arm to go with quickness out of the crouch.

    Overall

    66/100

    The demotion to the minors has had the desired effect on d’Arnaud’s bat, as he’s come back with a better approach and tons more power. These things bode well going forward, and then there’s the receiving and throwing he has to offer defensively.

10. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles

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    Hitting

    14/25

    Wieters was hitting everything on the nose before his season ended early, riding increased line-drive rates on hard and off-speed pitches to a huge 29.9 line-drive rate. He did all this with a more aggressive approach that killed his walk habit, however, and he was still only worth a darn from the left side on pitches he could extend on. In short: Don’t read too much into his .308 average.

    Power

    26/30

    Wieters topped 20 homers each year between 2011 and 2013 and was well on his way again this year with five homers in only 26 games. It helped that he picked up where he left off in 2013 in the fly-ball department, and he hit an impressive number of deep drives in a relatively short amount of time. That’s his easy raw power at work, and I’d expect it to be in fine form when he returns for his age-29 season.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Wieters didn’t get to show us much regarding baserunning before his season ended, but it didn’t look like he was about to get any better. His only steal attempt was unsuccessful, and he managed just a 10 XBT% with zero first-to-thirds in seven chances. But since he’ll still only be 29 in 2015 and a year off could be good for his legs, we’ll hold nothing against him.

    Defense

    25/40

    Wieters’ defensive reputation is built largely on his ability to keep the ball in front of him and control the running game, and rightfully so. But what gets ignored is that he’s well below par as a framer, including earlier this year with just an 89.6 Z-Strike% and 14.0 O-Strike%. Given the importance of getting those strikes, it's definitely a blemish on Wieters’ defensive reputation.

    Overall

    67/100

    Wieters should be able to bounce back from Tommy John easily enough. Assuming he does, the Orioles will be welcoming back a powerful catcher with good—if arguably overrated due to his receiving shortcomings—defensive talents behind the dish.

9. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

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    Hitting

    5/25

    It’s not pretty. Saying Zunino is overaggressive might actually be an understatement, and he has a swing-and-miss habit that’s equally bad on hard and slow pitches. Factor in how he’s not likely to hit anything that’s not center-cut. Factor in an extreme fly-ball style. Factor in how he tries too hard to pull everything. And so on. But hey, at least the 23-year-old can only go up from here.

    Power

    25/30

    The bright side of having a pull-heavy fly-ball hitter like Zunino is that such guys tend to be good home run hitters. So it is with Zunino, who’s teased himself as a 20- to 25-home run catcher pretty much exclusively with his pull power. And it really is that good, as any fly ball to left field has about a 50-50 chance of going out. If he ever adds some consistent power to center and right field, he’ll be lethal.

    Baserunning

    4/5

    Zunino hasn’t shown that he’s going to be a base-stealing catcher, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to be of use as a baserunner. The 48 XBT% he posted last year has turned out to not be some small-sample-size fluke, as he’s once again safely above 40 at 44 percent this year. That’s good for any player, much less a catcher.

    Defense

    33/40

    Zunino may be young, but he’s already making the grade as a receiver with a 93.8 Z-Strike% and 17.2 O-Strike%. The latter puts him in the company of the craftiest receivers in the game. Zunino has had less of a good year keeping wild pitches in front of him, but controlling the running game is another thing he does well. He makes up for a somewhat slow release with a quick pop and a strong arm.

    Overall

    67/100

    You’ll miss the good stuff if you focus too hard on Zunino’s batting average. He’s shown he can provide  above-average power by catcher standards, and his excellent receiving and capable throwing make him a big-time defensive asset behind the plate.

8. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    Hitting

    11/25

    Perez’s hitting has been getting more inconsistent by the year, and this season has seen him become his own worst enemy. He’s gone from being a somewhat aggressive hitter to a hack-at-everything hitter and has done so while also becoming a far more pull-heavy batter than he had been. It’s not easy to make a hitting style like that work, especially when pitchers are keying in by throwing you fewer straight pitches.

    Power

    22/30

    Perez’s power is one thing that hasn’t been hurt by his wild hacking, as he’s followed up a strong power showing in the second half of 2013 with another in 2014. This is the bright side of his insistence on being more of a pull-happy hitter, as rockets to deep left field for extra-base hits have been common occurrences. If this is indeed his trade-off for his inconsistency, well, fair enough.

    Baserunning

    4/5

    Hats off to Perez for being successful in his first career stolen-base attempt this year, but the more exciting stuff is happening elsewhere. He’s kept his XBT% firmly in the 30-40 range, with the highlight being a new career high for first-to-thirds. Knowing that Perez is still only 24, he may be coming into his own as a baserunner.

    Defense

    30/40

    Perez’s reputation as an elite defensive catcher isn’t totally off base. He’s good at blocking the ball, and his quick pop and strong arm make him a danger to base stealers despite what his declining caught-stealing rate says. He’s not a good receiver, however. His 92.1 Z-Strike% is good, but his 14.5 O-Strike% is less so. He’s not getting his pitchers as many strikes as he should.

    Overall

    67/100

    Despite his iffy receiving skills, Perez is still an asset behind the plate who has power to offer from an offensive standpoint. But offensive consistency has evaded him in 2014 and will likely to continue to do so in the future if he doesn’t fix his runaway aggressiveness.

7. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Hitting

    15/25

    Good health has definitely helped revive Montero’s bat in 2014. But a slightly improved approach and more contact (against all three pitch types to boot) have also helped, and Montero’s tough to defend because of how he can flip ground balls and line drives the other way. The catch is that it’s not overly difficult to beat him with heat in the zone, which isn’t the best look for a guy who’s now 31.

    Power

    19/30

    Montero is one of those guys with more pop than his numbers suggest. One look at his batted-ball map will tell you all about his ability to drive the ball to all fields, with an underrated talent being his ability to shoot line drives through the left-center gap. Given Montero’s age and the number of miles he has on his body, however, this might be as good as it gets.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Montero has attempted a career-high number of steals this year, but his goose egg in the successful-steals column should put an end to that. Aside from that, his 30 XBT% is solid for a catcher. You only wonder if it’s sustainable in light of his age and how big of a departure it is from what he did in 2012 and 2013.

    Defense

    34/40

    Montero is having a terrific framing season, compiling a 94.0 Z-Strike% and a 16.7 O-Strike%—both well above average. Another feather in his receiving cap is how he’s corrected the problem he had with passed balls in 2013. Aside from that, he’s been better than average at throwing out runners. Though he’s not among the quickest to get rid of the ball, he helps himself by delivering strong, accurate throws.

    Overall

    70/100

    Montero’s a better player than the surface stats indicate, which has a lot to do with how the surface stats don’t give him proper credit for his receiving skills. But even outside of that, good health has returned him to being a catcher who can get it done with his bat as well as his glove.

6. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

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    Hitting

    15/25

    Pitchers have done a better job of using Gomes’ aggressive approach against him. His whiffs against off-speed pitches are up, and any heater that’s above his knees is a potential whiff. But Gomes is still getting his money’s worth when he makes contact, squaring balls up better than he did in 2013 while still using the whole field. Hence how he’s been able to avoid a major regression after a breakout 2013.

    Power

    25/30

    Gomes’ power has also refused to regress, in part because he hasn’t gotten any worse at getting the ball elevated. It’s not all pull power, either, as he has the ability to drive the ball a long way to center and right-center. The only gripe is that Gomes’ gap power is surprisingly modest for a guy with an elevated line-drive rate. While definitely good, his power isn’t as explosive as it could be.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    Gomes has shut down his stolen-base habit after going 2-for-2 in 2013, but he’s a guy who’s something of a deceptively good baserunner. Beyond his 29 XBT% being solid for a catcher, he’s shown a knack for avoiding outs on the basepaths. And at 27, there’s no reason to think his baserunning is going to get any worse.

    Defense

    27/40

    Gomes hasn’t had the kind of success controlling the running game that he did in 2013, but he’s still a very dangerous guy to run on. He has an accurate arm and puts it to good use by getting rid of the ball perhaps quicker than any other catcher. He’s also a solid receiver, if short of great with just a 90.5 Z-Strike% to go with a 16.2 O-Strike%.

    Overall

    70/100

    So it turns out that Gomes really is as good as he looked in 2013 after all. His lasting ability to make contact has staved off regression even as pitchers have adjusted to him. He’s still an asset behind the dish thanks to strong receiving skills and even better throwing ones.

5. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds

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    Hitting

    17/25

    You don’t typically see extremely pull-happy hitters with whiff habits enjoy the success Mesoraco’s had in his first full season. His trick is rarely making soft contact, which is what happens when you’re able to square up all pitch types. And even despite the hole he has at the top of the strike zone, he’s still dangerous against fastballs. His has a bit of an all-or-nothing approach, but he makes it work.

    Power

    29/30

    You know that pull habit? That’s been Mesoraco’s avenue to establishing himself as one of baseball’s top home run-hitting catchers. He hasn’t been shy about hitting fly balls to left field, and the ones he does pull stand close to a 50-50 chance of leaving. Add in how he can lace line drives to left, and you have an elite pull-power hitter. That makes the reality that it’s pretty much only pull power the only real gripe.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Mesoraco hits for so much power that he often doesn’t have to "run” the bases, but he’s nothing special in the rare occasions that he does. His experience stealing bases should convince him to give it up going forward, and he only has a 19 XBT%. In so many words: He runs the bases like a catcher.

    Defense

    23/40

    Mesoraco’s receiving needs work. His 91.5 Z-Strike% is fine, but his 13.9 O-Strike% says he’s downright poor at getting his pitchers extra strikes. He’s better when it comes to keeping wild pitches in front of him, however, and he does a decent job of controlling the running game thanks to how his quick pop and arm strength make up for a slow transfer from glove to hand.

    Overall

    71/100

    Mesoraco’s breakout as one of the game’s top hitting catchers has cemented him among the catching elite. The main thing keeping him from the top are his receiving skills, which are in need of some refinement.

4. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Hitting

    20/25

    Molina’s still an excellent contact hitter who uses the whole field, a useful talent to have when one dabbles mainly in line drives and ground balls. However, upward-trending line-drive rates on hard and breaking pitches have finally tapered off, and he's still not hitting good velocity inside like he did in 2012. Given that he's now 32, he might not be able to get back to doing that.

    Power

    10/30

    Molina’s power has continued to decline from its peak in 2012, with part of the problem being a big decrease in fly balls derived from an inability to get underneath slow stuff. Then there’s the matter of well-hit fly balls and line drives simply being infrequent. That this is happening while Molina is getting further past 30 is a concern, and this year’s thumb injury won’t help matters.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    It looks like Molina’s days as a base-stealing catcher are over. Attempts at stolen bases have been infrequent ever since he swiped a dozen in 2012, and he’s not making up for it by frequently taking the extra base. His 24 XBT% this year is worse than his career 27 XBT%. Given his age, this is likely the new normal.

    Defense

    39/40

    No perfect score for Yadier Molina? That’s his punishment for actually having a mediocre year framing pitches, with a subpar 14.8 O-Strike% dragging down a solid 92.4 Z-Strike%. He’s a better receiver than those numbers indicate, however, and you shouldn’t need me to tell you about his ability to smother balls and destroy would-be base stealers with his howitzer arm and lightning-quick release.

    Overall

    71/100

    As per usual, Molina’s defense is nothing to worry about. He hasn’t had a great year receiving-wise, but he’s typically as reliable there as he is in all forms of catcher defense. But his bat is not without some red flags, particularly when it comes to what appears to be quickly declining power.

3. Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Hitting

    22/25

    Martin has been going crazy with walks this year, and it’s not out of nowhere given that he’s always had terrific awareness of the strike zone. That his average has also skyrocketed is due to something new. He’s never been better at squaring all pitch types up for line drives, and he has a good up-the-middle and opposite-field approach going on. The catch? That would be that breaking balls still give him trouble.

    Power

    10/30

    As is usually the case, Martin reinventing himself into more of an average hitter has cost him some power. It doesn’t help that his fly-ball habit is continuing on a downward trend linked to a declining ability to get underneath hard stuff. He’s also hardly used his pull side for power, which is the only direction he has any real power. With all this happening on the wrong side of 30, a turnaround likely isn’t happening.

    Baserunning

    3/5

    Martin’s long been one of the league’s better baserunning catchers, and his 39 XBT% says he can still get around the bases very well when he has to. But he hasn’t been stealing bases with his usual success rate. And knowing that he’s 31 and that he’s added a leg injury to a growing list of aches and pains in recent years, expecting improvement isn’t such a good idea here, either.

    Defense

    37/40

    With a 93.5 Z-Strike% and a 16.5 O-Strike%, Martin hasn’t stopped being one of the league’s elite receivers behind the dish. He’s also still good at keeping passed balls and wild pitches from happening and is doing a terrific job of shutting down the running game for a second year in a row. That’s what you get with a catcher who has a quick pop and release to go with his arm strength.

    Overall

    72/100

    It’s a shame that Martin’s power has vanished and that his best baserunning days appear to be over. But his reinvention as a hitter and excellent well-rounded defense make him one of the better players in the game. Suffice it to say that he doesn’t get nearly the recognition he deserves.

2. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    Hitting

    22/25

    Among Posey's talents is simply putting the bat on the ball, and he further helps himself by being an all-fields batter who’s hitting plenty of line drives. But he’s also been less disciplined than usual in 2014, and he's been much less productive against pitches at the top of the strike zone. He's still excellent and is as hot as they come right now, but that shouldn't completely wipe away several months of inconsistency.

    Power

    25/30

    It’s looking like Posey’s 2012 season is his own version of Joe Mauer’s 2009 season: it teased that he had power that he really doesn’t. But goodness knows his power is hardly a lost cause. He doesn’t waste opportunities to tap into his pull power and is plenty capable of driving the ball to right field. Factor in how he doesn't get much help from AT&T Park, and his power is still legit even if 2012 was a tease.

    Baserunning

    2/5

    Posey’s no more likely to steal bases than most other catchers, and he's fairly predictable when it comes to how he's going to take bases. Since 2012, his XBT% has gone from 26 to 28 to 28 percent. As far as catchers go, he’s essentially normal.

    Defense

    32/40

    Posey’s best talent as a receiver is making sure his pitchers get the easy strikes, as he’s working on a 94.2 Z-Strike%. But his 15.9 O-Strike% is also above average, making him out to be a good guy to have behind the plate on a daily basis. Posey further helps out his pitchers by controlling the running game, as his arm strength more than makes up for the modest quickness of his pop and wind-up.

    Overall

    81/100

    Posey's hitting may not be without flaws and his power may never live up to what he did in 2012, but both his bat and his pop are still excellent by catcher standards. To boot, the quality of his receiving and throwing make it that much harder to campaign for him to be moved off catcher in the near future. The Giants would be missing out defensively.

1. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Hitting

    24/25

    Lucroy is only getting better at mixing patience and discipline with an ability to make contact. It’s good contact, too. He’s capable of hitting all fields with both line drives and ground balls, and his production has been helped by how he’s never been better at squaring up breaking balls. This makes his upward-trending whiff habit against off-speed stuff the only thing worth worrying about.

    Power

    25/30

    In addition to his solid home run power, Lucroy has been a doubles machine this year. That’s what happens when you can drive the ball consistently to all fields. And while asking for that doubles power to become home run power is probably too much—it’s not like Lucroy is some 25-year-old who’s just starting out—he definitely has the goods to at least duplicate it.

    Baserunning

    4/5

    It’s a shame that Lucroy hasn’t been able to repeat last year’s 9-for-10 effort on stolen bases. But he hasn’t needed to steal bases with all the doubles he’s been hitting, and the trade-off is that he’s never been more active taking the extra base. His XBT% is 49 percent, which is terrific by catching standards.

    Defense

    34/40

    Lucroy’s receiving skills have rightfully become almost legendary. I have his Z-Strike% at 92.4 and his O-Strike% at 16.9, both of which are easily above average. Furthermore, he’s also one of the best at blocking pitches. He’s not great at controlling the running game, though, as he has fringy arm strength that he can only hide so much with his habit of cheating out of his crouch as the ball travels to home.

    Overall

    87/100

    Even in what’s been his best season, I’m not sure Lucroy is getting enough credit. Beyond being a terrific hitter, he’s a quality baserunner and a guy who provides a ton of hidden value with his ability to get extra strikes for his pitchers. Right now, there’s no catcher in the game more well-rounded than him.

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