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Highlighting top catcher prospects for 2013

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The 2012 season did a pretty good job of clearing out the minor-league catcher pool. Wilin Rosario, Jesus Montero and Yasmani Grandal all established themselves as bona fide major-leaguers while Devin Mesoraco, Derek Norris and Ryan Lavarnway at least gave it a shot.

So now, other than the few holdovers from 2012, the position consists of the next wave of catcher talent -- which is, by and large, years away from reaching the majors and still defined more by projection than production.

Translation: Some of the numbers you'll see here aren't pretty. You've been warned.

That's not to say genuine talent isn't here. It's just that once you get to a certain point in these rankings, you'll have to use your imagination to see it. Dynasty league owners should be good at that by now.

Just imagine if Travis d'Arnaud hadn't torn a knee ligament when he was on the verge of a promotion last year. Remove him from this list and ... wow.

Note: This list has been adjusted for Fantasy purposes. Though long-term potential is a factor, it's arguably less important than the player's expected role in 2013. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy right now.

1. Travis d'Arnaud, 24, Mets
Where played in 2012: Triple-A
Minor-league stats: .333 BA (279 at-bats), 16 HR, .975 OPS, 19 BBs, 59 Ks

You know how every June or so, that one prospect arrives with such a bang that the owner who had the foresight to stash him at the beginning of the season almost has an unfair advantage the rest of the way? For most of 2012, d'Arnaud looked like he'd be that guy ... well, the one who came after Mike Trout and Bryce Harper anyway. He was hitting over .300 with an OPS over .900 -- achieving those marks for a second straight step up the organizational ladder -- and his 16 home runs ranked third in the Pacific Coast League. That was in June. Unfortunately, the month ended not with a promotion, but with a torn posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, sidelining him for the rest of the season. Talk about a missed opportunity. Fortunately, the next one should be in short order with his new team, the Mets. As the prize of the R.A. Dickey deal, d'Arnaud will get an opportunity to start behind the plate at some point in 2013. The only question is whether or not it'll be on opening day. His only real competition for the job is John Buck, who has hit .213 over the last two seasons. Still, if the rebuilding Mets want to delay d'Arnaud's arbitration clock, they might send him to the minors for the first couple months. Clearly, the 24-year-old has nothing more to learn there. He's on the verge of becoming the next great catcher in Fantasy, whether in April or June. If you want to be the owner who had the foresight to stash him, you better target him late in mixed-league drafts.

2. Mike Zunino, 22, Mariners
Where played in 2012: Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .360 BA (161 at-bats), 13 HR, 1.137 OPS, 23 BBs, 33 Ks

For the Mariners to draft a player in 2012 who would effectively render last offseason's big addition, Jesus Montero, nothing more than a DH for the foreseeable future, he'd have to be a special talent. That Mike Zunino is, winning both Baseball America College Player of the Year and the Golden Spikes Award in 2012. A well-rounded hitter with a keen batting eye and plus power, he wasn't the least bit intimidated in his first professional season, hitting .360 with 13 homers in only 161 at-bats as he advanced all the way to Double-A Jackson. The minor leagues don't look like they're going to be much of an obstacle for Zunino, which is probably why the Mariners preemptively cleared a spot for him by trading John Jaso to the Athletics this offseason. Regardless of whether the Mariners intended for the 22-year-old to be on the fast track, he's on it, which means Fantasy owners should look for him to arrive at some point in 2013. And if his transition to the majors is anything like his transition to the minors, he'll make winners out of the Fantasy owners who invested a late-round pick in him.

3. Gary Sanchez, 20, Yankees
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .290 BA, 18 HR, 85 RBI, 15 SB, .829 OPS, 32 BBs, 106 Ks

With the Yankees' decision to trade Jesus Montero last offseason and inability to re-sign Russell Martin this offseason, Sanchez suddenly has a wide-open path to the majors. Unfortunately, at age 20, he's not at a point where he can take advantage of it. Sure, he's done just fine in the minors so far, demonstrating the expected power and getting his batting average back up to .290 with an improved two-strike approach, but he didn't advance to high Class A Tampa until the second half last year. He's still a work in progress, and as a work in progress, he doesn't have a chance of reaching the big leagues until some point in 2014. Clearly, he's the player the Yankees want behind the plate long-term, though, so they likely won't delay him much longer than that. As he continues to evolve as a hitter, he'll be able to tap into his plus power even more, potentially becoming as highly regarded as Travis d'Arnaud by the time he's ready to do debut. If you miss out on d'Arnaud and Mike Zunino in a long-term keeper league, Sanchez isn't a bad consolation prize even though isn't ready to contribute just yet.

4. Blake Swihart, 20, Red Sox
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .262 BA (344 at-bats), 7 HR, .702 OPS, 26 BBs, 68 Ks

Swihart's first full professional season was underwhelming at best. Drafted 26th overall in 2011 because of what Baseball America called "uncommon" offensive potential, he hit .262 with a .307 on-base percentage and .395 slugging percentage in 344 at-bats for Class A Greenville. But despite the lack of production, the Buster Posey comparisons persist. Obviously, Swihart doesn't have the polish Posey did coming out of Florida State back in 2008, and he may never have it. But the tools are there, and for long-term keeper prospects, tools are the priority. Having recently signed Mike Napoli and David Ross while already breaking in up-and-comer Ryan Lavarnway, the Red Sox don't need to see results from Swihart anytime soon, so the soon-to-be 21-year-old has plenty of time to marinate. By investing in him in a long-term keeper league, you're taking a leap of faith for sure, but if the scouting reports are any indication, it could be richly rewarded.

5. Tommy Joseph, 21, Phillies
Where played in 2012: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .257 BA (404 at-bats), 11 HR, 24 2Bs, .715 OPS

Right now, Joseph's biggest claim to fame is that he was the most notable prospect the Phillies acquired for All-Star outfielder Hunter Pence, who they themselves acquired for even more notable prospects Jonathan Singleton and Jarred Cosart. But chances are if Joseph hadn't come up in the same organization as Buster Posey, the disparity between the prospects wouldn't seem so great. True, in terms of overall offensive ability, Joseph isn't in the same class as Singleton, but he does have genuine power potential that should make him the successor to Carlos Ruiz when the proper time comes. Unfortunately, the demands of learning the catcher position -- and getting sidetracked from time to time at first base, thanks to Posey -- have prevented him from demonstrating his full potential in the minors so far. He did blast 22 homers in the heavy-hitting California League in 2011, but otherwise, Joseph hasn't given Fantasy owners much reason for excitement. If you're willing to trust in the scouting reports, though, he could reward you with a series of 25-homer seasons down the line, especially if he stays in Philadelphia.

6. Austin Hedges, 20, Padres
Where played in 2012: Class A
Minor-league stats: .279 BA (337 at-bats), 10 HR, 14 SB, 28 2Bs, .785 OPS

Hedges' defensive ability would rank him higher on most catcher prospect lists. But of course, offense is all that matters to Fantasy owners, and while he may not measure up to other second-tier prospects like Blake Swihart and Tommy Joseph in that regard, he's still a prospect worth noting in Fantasy. As a hitter, he doesn't have any one tool that stands out, but in his first full professional season, he showed the kind of well-rounded offensive ability that could make him a viable mixed-league option down the line, batting .279 with 10 home runs and a respectable strikeout rate in 337 at-bats at Class A Fort Wayne. In his prime, something in the range of A.J. Pierzynski or even Ryan Doumit sounds about right. If those kinds of numbers would make him a desirable long-term option in your dynasty league, Hedges is worth stashing now, while the price is still low.

7. Rob Brantly, 23, Marlins
Where played in 2012: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .298 BA (362 at-bats), 5 HR, .752 OPS, 20 BBs, 51 Ks
Major-league stats: .290 BA (100 at-bats), 3 HR, .832 OPS, 13 BBs, 16 Ks

When Brantly was rising up through the Tigers organization, he profiled more as a backup than a starter. But of course, he's with the Marlins now, and after the fire sale they just had, he's pretty much the only choice to start in Miami. He did fine in the role late last year, after coming over in the trade that brought Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante to Detroit, but he probably performed a little over his head with a .372 on-base percentage and, concurrently, an .832 OPS. He wasn't a particularly patient hitter in the minors, compiling a .336 on-base percentage despite a .280 batting average over three seasons. He'll make consistent contact and drive the ball into the gaps from time to time, but he isn't a power hitter. He might surprise with a higher-than-expected batting average, but chances are if he has a season much like the one John Baker had back in 2009, when he hit .271 with a .759 OPS, the Marlins would be pretty happy. Brantly doesn't have much long-term appeal, but he's worth targeting as a second catcher in deeper leagues.

8. Stryker Trahan, 18, Diamondbacks
Where played in 2012: Rookie
Minor-league stats: .281 BA (167 at-bats), 5 HR, 8 SB, .895 OPS, 40 BBs, 48 Ks

Trahan is beginning his professional career at just the right time. With Chipper Jones now retired, he's on the short list of contenders for coolest name in all of baseball. Of course, before he can earn that title, he'll have to -- pardon the expression -- make a name for himself. He figures to let his bat do the talking. With an excellent first showing in the Rookie league in which he collected 19 extra-base hits to go along with a .422 on-base percentage in 167 at-bats, he doesn't seem like he'll have any trouble transitioning to the pro game offensively. It's his glove that's the problem. Though he has the arm strength to catch, he lacks polish behind the plate and may ultimately move to a corner outfield spot. Fantasy owners would prefer to see him stay at catcher, of course, but a position change would likely shorten his timetable for reaching the majors by a couple years. At minimum, Trahan is a couple years from breaking into the big leagues regardless of what position he plays, so he's only worth targeting in long-term keeper leagues. His bat will likely profile at any position, but he's more projection than production at this point.

9. Tim Federowicz, 25, Dodgers
Where played in 2012: Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .287 BA (412 at-bats), 11 HR, .371 OBP, .832 OPS
Major-league stats: .333 BA (3 at-bats), 1 BB, 2 Ks

At this time a year ago, Tim Federowicz, who the Dodgers acquired in a three-team deal that sent Trayvon Robinson to the Mariners in 2011, looked like he might have the inside track on the starting job in Los Angeles. But longtime minor-leaguer A.J. Ellis filled the role admirably, providing a .373 on-base percentage that ranked sixth among full-time catchers. If, however, that performance proves to be too good to be true for the soon-to-be 32-year-old, as his second-half numbers suggest, Federowicz is a logical candidate to replace him. The 25-year-old offers a similar skill set -- a good batting eye with enough pop to hit double-digit home runs -- and, therefore, would be better suited for the Dodgers' star-studded lineup than whatever retread they could find in free agency. He doesn't have a ton of upside (and, seeing the way the Dodgers spend these days, they might be inclined to replace him even if he performs well), but if he gets a shot at regular at-bats in that lineup, he could surprise in Fantasy. Because he's the likely to be the backup to Ellis even if he doesn't replace him outright, Federowicz is worth drafting in NL-only leagues that require the use of two catchers.

10. Christian Bethancourt, 21, Braves
Where played in 2012: Double-A
Minor-league stats: .243 BA (268 at-bats), 2 HR, .566 OPS, 11 BBs, 45 Ks

Though long regarded as a top prospect, Bethancourt's bat hasn't progressed over his five seasons in the minors. If anything, it's gone backward. The .566 OPS he compiled over 268 at-bats at Double-A Mississippi was the lowest of his minor-league career. The performance was especially discouraging because he had such a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League just a few months earlier. So why is he a prospect at all? Potential, of course. Not only does he profile as a plus defender with a strong throwing arm, but many scouts maintain that he will, at some point, hit. He has plenty of raw power. He just needs to refine his approach. While Bethancourt has been around for so long that you might be tempted to write him off, keep in mind he's still only 21. Regardless of the progress he makes in the minors this year, he may have to continue his development in the majors next year, with Brian McCann potentially departing via free agency. Shoot, he may even get a look early in 2013, depending on how long McCann takes to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Bethancourt isn't the most enticing catcher prospect in Fantasy, but you shouldn't forget about him in long-term keeper leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Scott White at @CBSScottWhite . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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