The importance of the catcher to a major league ballclub is without parallel. The catcher is largely responsible for handling the entire pitching staff and he also shoulders the load for most of the team's defensive miscues.
Here are each MLB team's top catching prospects for next season.
Measurables: 5'9", 200 pounds
Signing on with Arizona as a non-draft pick in 2006, Perez was named the Diamondbacks' top defensive catcher by Baseball America last January.
He is a bit undersized for his position, but his surprisingly strong arm and quick release make up for what he lacks physically. His switch-hitting bat appealed to many scouts over his four seasons in the minors, but he clearly has yet to develop his power. Last season in High-A ball, Perez batted .287 with 44 runs, 41 RBI and notched six stolen bases.
He's only 22 years old and is already a seasoned minor league talent, but his ceiling is obviously limited with Miguel Montero already holding down the fort for Arizona.
Measureables: 6'2", 190 pounds
The Braves have a plethora of up-and-coming youngsters in their system that will be ready to make big contributions to the club in the next few seasons, and Bethancourt is one of those such players.
A free-agent pickup in 2008, Bethancourt has multiple minor league seasons under his belt, and was recently named to the 2011 Arizona Fall League's All-Prospect team for his outstanding performance this past fall, batting .306 with 5 HR, 13 RBI, 14 R and a .880 OPS. His size and quick bat speed will make him a lethal offensive tool once he breaks through to the majors, not to mention his overwhelming arm strength and pure ability to throw out base runners.
Don't expect the Braves to push him too fast through their system— they'd much rather have him develop his attributes while Brian McCann remains the starter for the next few seasons.
The Baltimore Orioles are extremely dry at the catcher position throughout their minor league system, and with 25-year-old Matt Wieters now the full-time catcher for Buck Showalter, they quite frankly have no need for any top-tier catching prospects.
Measurables: 6'4", 225 pounds
When you want to talk about fundamentally sound catchers at the minor league level, look no further than Lavarnaway.
At 24 years old, the Yale product has three outstanding offensive seasons to his credit, most notably last season between double-A and triple-A ball where he hit a combined .290 with 32 home runs and 93 RBI and a .939 OPS. If all goes as planned, he should be Jason Varitek's replacement once the veteran decides to call it a career.
He has a very durable and accurate arm that should serve him well for many years to come. Couple that with his superb hitting and the Red Sox have their catcher of the future.
Measurables: 6'4", 240 pounds
Chicago's 11th-round selection in last April's draft, Smith is everything a scout looks for in a young catcher and more. He obviously has great size and plate coverage defensively, as well as a above-average arm, but he can also hit.
In his first professional season, the Pitt product managed a combined .355 BA, nine home runs, 48 RBI, 22 doubles and a .626 slugging percentage in the White Sox's two rookie affiliates. With that type of offensive production, it's hard to imagine him still playing in the minors even three seasons from now, as A.J. Pierzynski is nearly at the end of his rope.
Measurables: 5'10", 200 pounds
Castillo has made a number of appearances at the major league level with the Cubs over the past few years, but for all intensive purposes, he's still classified as a prospect.
He may not be ideal size for a catcher, but his superior arm strength have had scouts raving for quite some time. Castillo also has a noticeable amount of pop at the plate, batting .286 with 15 home runs, 35 RBI and a .516 slugging percentage in 60 triple-A games last season.
It shouldn't be too much longer until he takes over the reigns at full-time catcher for the Cubs.
Measurables: 6'1", 220 pounds
While there's no doubting the Reds have found their catcher of the future in Mesoraco, there are, however, a few question marks concerning the youngster moving forward.
For one, he's had trouble defensively over the past few seasons. He is able to somewhat make up for his lack of grace with his superb arm strength and pick-off abilities, but there's no ignoring that there is work to be done behind the plate.
In the batter's box, though, he's one of the top catchers in all of minor league baseball. Last season in triple-A, Mesoraco batted .289 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI to go with a .848 OPS. As you can tell, he's able to get a significant among of torque into his pre-swing preparation. He'll one day be a sumptuous add-on to Cincinnati's already-deadly lineup.
The Indians have a number of notable catchers in their system, but none that are clearly the "top" catcher down on the farm.
Measurables: 5'11", 200 pounds
It's fairly easy to tell why Baseball America ranked Rosario as the Rockies' fourth-best prospect just two months ago. He has a great feel for the game and exudes confidence every time he takes the field.
That said, there's more than enough to love about his actual game. Rosario has great awareness behind the plate as well as the willingness and arm strength to consistently throw out base-runners at a proficient rate.
On top of that, he has the chance to be a special bat in Colorado's lineup possibly as soon as next September. He has a smooth swing that will translate well at the next level. Tearing his ACL two seasons ago clearly took it's toll on his game, but the youngster has really showed signs of improvement.
Measurables: 6'2", 205 pounds
Detroit's third-round pick in 2010, Brantly doesn't even have two full seasons under his belt yet Detroit News recently ranked him as the Tigers' fifth overall prospect for next season.
At 22 years old, the Cal-Riverside product shredded opposing pitching between class-A and advanced-A ball, batting a combined .274 with 10 home runs and 62 RBI. He also scored 58 times and registered a .724 OPS, and maintains a reputation as a solid glove behind home.
It is believed that Brantly could be Alex Avila's backup by as early as 2013. He certainly has a shot, given his impressive numbers up to this point.
The Astros are improving down on the farm, but have no clear-cut top catching prospect in their system.
We would have put Wil Myers here, but the Royals have made it official he has made the transition from catcher to the outfield.
Not much catching talent in a deep Kansas City farm system.
Measurables: 6'1", 220 pounds
The Angels' first-round selection in 2006, Conger now has six years worth of minor league experience to his credit and is ready to make the jump to the majors next season.
He can bat either left or right, which is a bit unorthodox for major league catchers. He has a very balanced approach at the plate and great pre-swing framework and quiet bat, allowing him to get a notable amount of force behind his swing.
Maintaining the prototypical MLB catcher's body and framework, Conger has a strong, accurate arm that will be a staple in Mike Scioscia's lineup for years to come.
Measurables: 5'11", 200 pounds
Federowicz found his way to the Dodgers' system in the deal that sent Erik Bedard to the Red Sox as part of a three-way deal with the Mariners at the trade deadline last July.
At 24 years old, he already has six seasons' worth of professional experience, and has showed to be one of the top defensive catching prospects in the minors. This past year with the Red Sox's double-A affiliate, Federowics threw out 37 percent of would-be base runners thanks to his extremely quick release and strong arm.
In 25 games with the Dodgers' triple-A affiliate, he amassed a .325 BA, six home runs and 17 RBI. If I had to place a wager on it, I'd say he'll be up in the majors as a September call-up in 2012.
Measurables: 6'1", 190 pounds
It's not often when a 20-year-old cracks an organization's top 10 prospect chart, especially with only one season worth of experience, but Realmuto seems to be the real deal for the Marlins.
Miami's third-round selection in the 2010 draft, Realmuto has all the offensive and defensive tools to become the Marlins' catcher of the future. Last season in class-A ball, he batted .287 with 12 home runs and 49 RBI. He also notched 13 stolen bases and a .801 OPS.
Scouts took note of his strong arm and baseball instincts as a high school shortstop and converted him to catcher, where he's showed a tremendous amount of potential after just one season.
Mesaurables: 6'1", 225 pounds
The Brewers are dry at just about every position throughout their minor league affiliates, and catcher is no exception.
Signing on with Milwaukee as a free agent in 2007, Maldonado is probably the one catcher who is most qualified to be named as the Brewers' top catcher. Having spent four seasons in Milwaukee's system, Maldonado has been mediocre at best at the plate. However, he showed signs of improvement in triple-A last season, batting .321 with eight home runs, 25 RBI and a .948 OPS.
He does have an array of defensive skills that many scouts are interested in, however the chances of him breaking through to the next level are slim to none at this point.
Even if the Twins did have a top-tier catching prospect, it's not likely they'd challenge 28-year-old Joe Mauer for the starting position.
Measurables: 5'11", 190 pounds
Every so often, scouts come across a true gem of a catcher with hardly any noticeable flaws to his game. Cordero is one of those such catchers.
Signed by the Mets as a non-draft pick back in 2008, last season marked Cordero's third complete campaign down on the farm. He batted .324 with six home runs while driving in 44 runs at the plate. However, a good portion of his hits were singles, and his .382 slugging percentage reveals his clear lack of power at the plate.
Defensively, though, you won't find a more sound catcher. He has superb footwork and great release that have had scouts raving for each of the past two seasons. If he can continue to improve at the plate, he'll be a call-up by 2013.
Measurables: 5'10", 200 pounds
Drafted fresh out of high school by the Athletics in the 2009 draft, Stassi is a very solid in all facets of his game, though is still very raw.
Scouts have taken note of his baseball background and true instincts for the game. He has an average arm but makes up for it with a quick release and accurate placement on pick-offs to second base as well as his above-average abilities to frame pitches.
He hasn't shown to be a power-type hitter in his first two professional seasons, but he's done enough to warrant a reputation for being relatively consistent. In 2010, Stassi posted a .229 BA, 13 home runs and 51 RBI. MLB Prospect Portal ranks him as Oakland's ninth-best prospect heading into this offseason.
Measurables: 6'3", 235 pounds
The hype that has surrounded Montero's game is no fluke. He is a once-in-a-generation talent offensively, and you'd better believe he's ready to make a substantial impact on New York's lineup from the get-go next season.
If there's one identifiable weakness to his game, it's clearly his bulky frame. He isn't able to get to a number of wild pitches that smaller, more agile catchers would normally get to. However, he does have a strong arm and is accurate with his throws. There is work to be done from behind the plate, nevertheless.
Now to the part that scouts drool over.
Montero's big frame and wide stance give him a great deal of power potential. In 109 triple-A games last season, he batted .288 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI, along with a .467 slugging percentage. He is, without a doubt, Joe Girardi's catcher of the future.
Measurables: 6'1", 170 pounds
The Phillies are loaded down on the farm, and Valle is one of the cornerstones to their minor league system.
Signing with Philadelphia as a free-agent at the ripe age of 16, Valle has now spent five productive seasons with the Phillies's farm system, each year sharpening his skillset considerably. He has a significant amount of power in his swing, which was evident in his 2010 campaign in which he blasted 16 home runs, 74 RBI and a .430 slugging percentage.
Scouts have said his defensive skills will need a bit more refinement, but there's no doubting he has what it takes to be a big-league catcher.
Measurables: 6'0", 215 pounds
With their first-round pick in the 2009 draft, Pittsburgh took their chances with Sanchez. So far, he's become a great addition to an already talented farm system.
The Boston College product has worked his way up the ranks of the Pirates' minor league affiliates in just two years in the system, in part due to his defensive prowess behind the plate. Between his solid-average arm and quick release, it's clear why Sanchez has moved through the system so swiftly.
He has quick hands at the plate which looks to translate well at the next level. In double-A ball last year, Sanchez batted .241 with five home runs and 44 RBI. He'll need to develop his power at the plate if he intends on making a major league appearance anytime soon.
Measurables: 6'1", 190 pounds
At just 19 years of age, Hedges (San Diego's second-round pick from last summer's draft) is the definition of "raw," but you'd be surprised to know Baseball America ranks him as the Padres' fourth-overall prospect heading into this offseason.
Why his he so highly revered by scouts across the country? For one, he is unbelievably quick to react from behind the plate. At last summer's Perfect Game Showcase, Hedges was one of— if not the— top catchers featured. He was clocked at having one of the strongest and accurate arms of anyone in the showcase. In short, he's as polished as they come, defensively.
The one thing I've noticed is that he is extremely balanced at the plate and has a nice swing. This should translate well as he progresses through the minors
Measurables: 6'1", 200 pounds
Drafted out of high school by the Phillies in 2009, Susac turned down the opportunity to go play for Oregon State, and was subsequently taken by the Giants in last summer's draft. He batted .298 with five home runs, 32 RBI and a .492 slugging percentage in his sophomore year with the Beavers.
He has a decent bat and can really pull the ball but has trouble going to the opposite field. He has the potential to be in the middle-portion of a big league lineup with a few years of minor league experience.
Susac has a solid glove behind the plate with an average arm at best. His ceiling isn't terribly high, though, as Buster Posey will be holding down the fort up in San Francisco for a while.
Measurables: 5'11", 200 pounds
Seattle's fifth-round selection in last June's draft, Marlette is still obviously very young and possibly too young to evaluate his major league potential.
In 12 games in rookie ball last year, the 18-year-old batted just .156 and struck out 13 times, but that's hardly indicative of what he youngster has to offer at the plate. Granted, he'll need to get a bit stronger at the plate, but he has a functional swing with good mechanics and a respectable glove behind the plate.
The good news for Marlette is, with at least three years in the minors, he should be ready to be Seattle's catcher of the future.
Measurables: 5'11", 205 pounds
At 25 years old, Cruz is hardly considered a prospect by scouts after five full professional seasons under his belt.
Nevertheless, Baseball America ranks him as the Cardinals' top defensive catcher in their system. He has a solid arm with average defensive tools. Last season in with triple-A Memphis, he posted a .990 fielding percentage and threw out 29 percent of would be base runners.
He has a sound bat, but isn't anything to write home about. He has limited power and gets most of his hits off singles and will probably stay in the minors for the next few seasons.
We considered putting 23-year-old Mark Thomas here, but since he has yet to break through to double-A ball after five-plus professional seasons, he clearly isn't a "top" prospect.
Measurables: 6'2", 195 pounds
As we've already discovered, it's rare to find a young catcher with great defensive skills behind the plate as well as an above-average bat. Deglan incorporates both of those coveted assets to his game.
Taken 22nd overall by the Rangers in the 2010 draft, Deglan has a solid defensive skill-set with a plus-average arm. He's fairly athletic behind the plate, making way for a wide range.
However, his offensive capabilities are what really set him apart. He has a considerable amount of power and is surprisingly agile on the bases. Last year in class-A ball, he posted a .227 BA with six home runs and 39 RBI.
Measurables: 6'2", 195 pounds
The Blue Jays have a strong farm system and d'Arnaud is undoubtedly Toronto's top prospect.
A first-round pick back in 2007, d'Arnaud can hit for power and average, and his prowess at the plate was on full display last season in double-A where he batted .311 with 21 home runs, 78 RBI and a .542 slugging percentage.
Scouts have taken note of his confidence behind the plate and ability to control pitching staffs. This, as well as a strong arm and nice release, should bode well as he prepares to make the leap to the majors sometime next season.
Measurables: 6'0", 210 pounds
While Washington's farm system is dominated by all the Bryce Harper hype, there are more than enough prospects that are considered "top-tier" material. Norris is one of those prospects.
Taken in the fourth round of 2007 draft, Norris has everything scouts look for in a potential big league catcher. He has an above average, accurate arm at his disposal and is athletic enough to be a defensive star. Last year in in double-A ball, Norris posted a .991 fielding percentage and a 40% caught stealing percentage.
On top of that, he also is a major threat in the batter's box. In 2009 with single-A Hagerstown, he slugged his way toward 23 home runs, 84 RBI and a .513 slugging percentage. Last year, he batted .210 with 20 home runs and 46 RBI.
He has tremendous potential and should see playing time with the Nationals by the start of 2013.