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Catcher prospects for 2014

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Prospect Reports: Cs | 1Bs | 2Bs | 3Bs | SSs | OFs | Ps

Catchers are notoriously slow to develop.

They're half of the pitching equation, after all. With so much of their emphasis on the blocking and the framing and the game-managing and the pitch-calling, the hitting kind of goes by the wayside.

So more than at any other position, you'll find players whose numbers don't measure up to the scouting reports. And more than at any other position, you'll find players who seem to come out of nowhere.

Looking at you, Josmil Pinto and Max Stassi.

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 2014. These prospects don't all profile as superstars, but they're the names most worth knowing in Fantasy now.

1. Travis d'Arnaud, 25, Mets
Where played in 2013: Rookie, Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .286 BA (105 at-bats), 3 HR, 13 2B, .934 OPS, 25 BB, 23 K
Major-league stats: .202 BA (99 at-bats), 1 HR, 3 2B, .548 OPS, 12 BB, 21 K

It's finally happening. After years of maybes, eventuallys and if-onlys, d'Arnaud is finally set to become a full-fledged big-league catcher. Of course, with him, you can never be too sure. Opening day hasn't arrived yet, so he could still break his foot or tear his PCL or relive any of the other maladies that have delayed his arrival this long. In case the use of "finally" not once, but twice doesn't give it away, d'Arnaud has loads of potential, particularly for Fantasy purposes. Don't let his underwhelming late-season trial convince you otherwise. He was still working to get his swing right after missing the first four months and didn't get enough at-bats for it to mean anything anyway. While calling him another Buster Posey probably gives him too much credit, d'Arnaud's ability to hit for both average and power could make him an early-rounder in Fantasy someday. Right now, the hype has died down enough that you can probably get him late in single-season formats. He may not get drafted at all in leagues that require only one catcher per team, which makes him a definite sleeper for those willing to exercise a little faith.

2. Josmil Pinto, 25, Twins
Where played in 2013: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .309 BA (456 at-bats), 15 HR, 32 2B, .882 OPS, 66 BB, 83 K
Major-league stats: .342 BA (76 at-bats), 4 HR, 5 2B, .963 OPS, 6 BB, 22 K

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Pinto is that curious sort of prospect who doesn't get any love from the rank lists despite stellar minor-league numbers, which normally means those numbers are a mirage that won't hold up against major-league pitching. But a .342 batting average and .963 OPS in a late-season trial would seem to suggest otherwise. Defensive shortcomings might also explain why so few prospect hounds had heard of Pinto before last September. He plays a position where it's kind of important, which is why the Twins are reluctant to turn over full-time catching duties to him even with Joe Mauer moving to first base. Ultimately, though, dollars figure to win out there. Pinto is cheap and didn't look so terrible behind the plate in his late-season trial, throwing out nearly half of would-be base-stealers. The Twins have far more to gain by developing him than by resorting to a placeholder in what will probably be a lost season. Obviously, Pinto still has to prove those 76 at-bats weren't a fluke, but in leagues that require two catchers per team, he's a worthy late-round gamble even if he doesn't win the job outright and has to split his time between catcher and DH.

3. Max Stassi, 23, Astros
Where played in 2013: Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .277 BA (289 at-bats), 17 HR, .529 SLG, .863 OPS, 19 BB, 68 K
Major-league stats: .286 BA (7 at-bats), 0 HR, .661 OPS, 0 BB, 2 K

Stassi, we hardly knew ye. The 22-year-old backstop took a Tanner Scheppers fastball off the face seven at-bats into his mid-August call-up, preventing him from joining All-Star Jason Castro in an alternating catcher-DH tandem. Of course, he's healthy now, so barring a flurry of activity this offseason, nothing is stopping the Astros from trying him in that role again. He'll need a big spring, in all likelihood. The Astros aren't contending anytime soon, so they wouldn't want to force the issue. Judging by the way he took off at Double-A Corpus Christi, though, Stassi isn't far from being a finished product. A non-entity in the minors up to that point, the former Athletics farmhand exploded for a .318 batting average and 16 homers in only 176 at-bats after the All-Star break, prompting his promotion. While he's not quite that good, Stassi has legitimate middle-of-the-order power -- the kind that would profile at DH as well as catcher -- which makes him an intriguing Fantasy option for the long haul. He may still be a couple years from meeting his full potential, but the Astros' willingness to use him last year makes him a worthwhile pick in AL-only leagues.

4. Gary Sanchez, 21, Yankees
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .253 BA (454 at-bats), 15 HR, .736 OPS, 41 BB, 87 K

Sanchez is not all the way there yet. That much is obvious. What should be just as obvious is that he's going to hit in the majors someday. You won't find a scouting report that says otherwise. So even if his minor-league numbers leave a bit to be desired, apart from a decent home run total, owners in long-term keeper leagues would be wise to show a little faith in the process. Owners in single-season leagues shouldn't pay him a second thought. Again, he's not all the way there yet, either offensively or defensively. But when Sanchez is ready to take over as the Yankees' full-time catcher -- possibly in 2016, right about the time Brian McCann is ready to shift to first base or DH -- he projects to have middle-of-the-order, perhaps even 30-homer power. The question isn't whether he'll make it to the big leagues, but whether he'll be more Wilin Rosario, Matt Wieters or Evan Gattis when he does. And for some, that's a fine line anyway. Sanchez isn't the perfect catcher prospect, but he's a good bet to return your investment and then some.

5. Jorge Alfaro, 20, Rangers
Where played in 2013: Rookie, low Class A, high Class A
Minor-league stats: .265 BA (404 at-bats), 18 HR, 18 SB, .809 OPS, 32 BB, 122 K

In terms of pure upside, Alfaro ranks up there with any other player on this list, but like most 20-year-olds who have yet to reach Double-A, his future presents a wide range of possible outcomes. He should hit for power and has shown he can run a little bit, but his free-swinging approach could come back to bite him as he works his way up the ladder. The good news is he's so raw defensively that he'll have plenty of time to refine his stroke. He may have three or four more years in the minors before the Rangers gets antsy to call him up. Of course, as long as his bat develops as expected, he could always shift to an outfield corner, which would only hasten his timetable. Either way, Alfaro's offensive potential makes him worth your while in long-term keeper leagues. Just understand that you don't know exactly what you're getting or how long it will take.

6. Christian Bethancourt, 22, Braves
Where played in 2013: Double-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .277 BA (358 at-bats), 12 HR, 11 SB, .741 OPS, 16 BB, 57 K
Major-league stats: .000 BA (1 at-bat), 1 K

Bethancourt has been regarded as one of the Braves' top prospects since signing as a 16-year-old in 2008, but last year was the first time he showed any glimmer of offensive potential, hitting 12 homers in 358 at-bats. And considering the breakthrough happened at Double-A, which is widely considered to be the biggest step up the minor-league ladder, you can trust that it's legitimate. Of course, double-digit homers with poor plate discipline and a suspect batting average does not an All-Star make. Any discussion about Bethancourt still begins with game-changing defense, which doesn't do much for Fantasy owners, but if nothing else, it ensures he'll catch full-time in the big leagues someday. That day could come in 2014 if Evan Gattis slumps his way out of the picture or if injuries open up a spot for him elsewhere. Most likely, though, Bethancourt will begin the season at Triple-A. His power could continue to develop to the point that he's a fringe contributor in mixed leagues, but for now, you should think of him as more of an NL-only option.

7. Tom Murphy, 22, Rockies
Where played in 2013: low Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .289 BA (357 at-bats), 22 HR, 31 2B, .948 OPS, 41 BB, 103 K

Though Murphy wasn't so highly regarded coming into 2013, the third-round pick in the 2012 draft showed he might have a future in the big leagues by hitting 22 homers with a .948 OPS in his first full professional season. Granted, most of that production came at low Class A Asheville, which is notorious for making fringy prospects look like burgeoning superstars, but he was similarly productive after his promotion to Double-A Tulsa (a two-level jump, mind you), hitting .290 with three homers in 69 at-bats. Soon to turn 23 and already seasoned from his time at the University of Buffalo, Murphy could advance quickly for the Rockies. He presents them with a ready-made alternative to Wilin Rosaro, whose bat they want in the lineup but whose defense hasn't come along as hoped. Depending on how he performs in the upper levels of the minors, Murphy could even reach the majors at some point in 2014. You'll likely have advance notice of such a move, though, so he's not a high priority in NL-only leagues. Long-term, he projects to hit for power, particularly at Coors Field, but his ceiling isn't as high as, say, Sanchez's.

8. Blake Swihart, 21, Red Sox
Where played in 2013: high Class A
Minor-league stats: .298 BA (376 at-bats), 2 HR, .428 SLG, .794 OPS, 41 BB, 63 K

Swihart is a leap-of-faith prospect if there ever was one. Yeah, he has hit for a decent average, but at least from a Fantasy owner's perspective, his minor-league contributions are lacking. Yet he remains as highly regarded as when the Red Sox selected him 26th overall in the 2011 draft. At age 21, he's still young enough to live up to those expectations -- Stassi is the perfect example of a prospect who suddenly had it click for him -- but if nothing else, Swihart doesn't look like he's reaching the majors anytime soon. Still, Baseball America rates him as a better prospect than both Garin Cecchini and Mookie Betts -- two Red Sox farmhands with the numbers to back it up -- pointing out that the power he shows in batting practice should translate to games as his pitch recognition improves. Yeah, maybe. But something tells me Fantasy owners aren't lining up to claim Swihart right now. In deep enough dynasty leagues, he's well worth owning -- catchers with plus offensive potential are relatively few and far between -- but he isn't as much of a priority as some prospects, including those other two Red Sox.

9. Austin Hedges, 21, Padres
Where played in 2013: high Class A, Double-A
Minor-league stats: .260 BA (300 at-bats), 4 HR, .390 SLG, .723 OPS, 28 BB, 54 K

Hedges is one of those prospects who'll show up higher in real-life rankings than Fantasy rankings because of everything he does behind the plate. In terms of receiving, blocking, throwing out base runners and every intangible that would apply to a catcher, he's the bee's knees. In terms of productivity ... well, let's just say he should get better. True, he's only 21, and catchers are notoriously slow to develop, but it takes a special brand of hitter to produce a sub-.400 slugging percentage in a year spent mostly in the heavy-hitting California League, even if he was the youngest full-time catcher there. Is it entirely indicative of his potential? Of course not. Scouts generally like Hedges' stroke and project him for average power, putting his upside somewhere in the neighborhood of A.J. Pierzynski. But while Pierzynski has had and continues to have a quality career, most mixed-league owners would consider him a fringy option. Hedges is a safe long-term keeper since he's sure to play full-time someday, but if Pierzynski is the best he can do, he's not a particularly exciting one.

10. Tony Sanchez, 25, Pirates
Where played in 2013: Double-A, Triple-A, majors
Minor-league stats: .282 BA (277 at-bats), 10 HR, .487 SLG, .845 OPS, 28 BB, 63 K
Major-league stats: .233 BA (60 at-bats), 2 HR, .400 SLG, .688 OPS, 3 BB, 14 K

You may have heard catchers are slow to develop. Sanchez is a textbook example. Despite going just three picks after Stephen Strasburg in 2009, he bombed when he first reached the upper levels of the minors, losing the contact ability that made him such an enticing prospect in the first place. He battled injuries, breaking his jaw more times than anyone with a thought of self-preservation should, and didn't exactly endear himself to management with a couple of off-the-field issues, one of which resulted in a broken jaw. But in his third crack at the upper levels, he finally produced numbers deserving of a call-up. He has improved power to thank, which isn't so unexpected for a player in his mid-20s, but it may end up being too little, too late. The Pirates have Russell Martin locked up for another season and consider him a big reason for their long-awaited return to the postseason in 2013. Sanchez will compete with Chris Stewart for backup duties in 2014. Maybe if he performs well enough in the role he'll get his shot in 2015, but it's not a likely enough scenario for you to bother with 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 .

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Player News
Rays pitcher Belisario out at least two weeks with fractured shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:56 am ET) Rays pitcher Ronald Belisario is expected to miss at least two weeks with a fractured left shoulder, reports the Tampa Bay Times. Belisario was involved in an accident before he reported to camp and has been seen with his arm in a sling.

Belisario posted a 4-8 record with eight saves in 2014 with a 5.56 ERA in 66 1/3 innings pitched.


Yankees' Garrett Jones ready for position battle with Alex Rodriguez
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:51 am ET) New Yankees infielder Garrett Jones knows third base currently belongs to Alex Rodriguez. However, the 33-year-old is envisioning a scenario where he and A-Rod are both able to play equally throughout the season.

"That's what it comes down to," Jones said to NJ.com. "When he's getting his opportunity, he'll do his thing. And when I'm getting my opportunity, I'm going to do what I do. In a perfect world, we're both swinging the beat well and we're both in their on a regular basis."

Jones struggled to hit the ball well in 2014, hitting .246 with 15 homeruns and 53 RBI.

"It can mess with you," Jones said. "As a hitter, do I need to do extra? Do I need to change my swing? Do I not have as much power as I used to? A lot of things are going through your head. You try to not let it bother you but for a guy that's supposed to be driving the ball and having home runs, it's part of my game. ... I was trying to pull everything and it turned getting around too much on the ball and I just lost. I was getting pounded (with) sinkers away and I lost that approach to drive the ball to left-center."


Brewers' Khris Davis to work on being a patient hitter in 2015
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Brewers outfielder Khris Davis realizes he didn't show patience at the plate last year in his first full major-league season, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I built a reputation in the organization of being a patient hitter," Davis said. "I felt like I wasn't a patient hitter at all last year. I was a little eager, wanting to please too much, too early. I found out I'm human."

Davis drew just 32 walks in 549 plate appearances while posting a .299 OBP in 2014, a number far away from his career .392 OBP in the minors.

"He was different last year," manager Ron Roenicke said. "Everybody goes through different phases. Guys change. (His walk total) was too low. He's a guy I think should be fairly patient. He sees pitches well. When he starts getting anxious, he becomes more aggressive and chases more. He realizes it, which is the first step. If you don't realize it and don't listen to other people when they tell you that, then you have issues. You have to have good self-awareness to be a good player. Sometimes these players don't have good self-awareness. But if they had better self-awareness they'd be a better player."

Davis is determined to fulfill the potential that caused the organization to move Ryan Braun to right field before the 2014 season and plug Davis into the regular left-field role.

"I can't thank them enough for having patience with me," Davis said. "I'm going to work it out. When you get here, you want to stay. That's the toughest part at first. I don't think this league has seen the best of me yet. I'm ready to pull that out and prove it day by day. I learned so many lessons there are too many to name."

Davis hit .244/.299/.457 with 22 home runs and 69 RBI in 501 at-bats.


Indians' Francona keeping a close eye on Giovanny Urshela
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Indians manager Terry Francona has been keeping a close eye on third-base prospect Giovanny Urshela, who was only recently cleared for a full range of activities after tweaking his knee during winter ball, MLB.com reports.

"He has a tremendous reputation of being a really good defender," Francona said. "I think I've been more wanting to watch his gait, just to make sure he's not favoring that leg. He promised us that, if he was, he'd let us know, but I also know he's a young kid in his first major-league camp."

Urshela suffered the injury on Nov. 15 and has rehabbed the injured knee at the team's spring-training facility in Goodyear, Ariz.

"He's worked really hard to get himself to where he can go through a normal spring," said Indians' director of player development Carter Hawkins. "We're very excited about the spot he's in right now, given the possible outcomes of the injury."

Urshela saw his first action at the Triple-A level in 2014, hitting .276/.331/.473 with 13 home runs and 65 RBI in 395 at-bats with Columbus.


Reds' Brennan Boesch to see time at first base this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Reds manager Bryan Price indicated Friday that outfielder Brennan Boesch would see time at all three outfield spots as well as at first base as he competes for a roster spot this spring, MLB.com reports.

"We already know he's a terrific player," Price said of Boesch, who has never played first base professionally. "He kind of got banged up and lost his way a little bit, but I think he feels -- and we feel -- that he's back on top of his game, and maybe his best days are ahead of him."

Boesch said he doesn't see the battle for a reserve outfield role as a "competition."

"I only care about the competition against the pitcher, and that's really as basic as I keep it," Boesch said. "You aren't competing against other players. We're all on the same side here. We're all wearing Red jerseys. Let the chips fall where they may."

Boesch struggled in limited time with the Angels in 2014 but hit .332/.381/.636 with 25 home runs, 85 RBI and 10 stolen bases in 374 at-bats with Triple-A Salt Lake.


Dodgers' Mattingly: Turner has 'put a lot of time in and it shows'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Dodgers infielder Justin Turner earned a nonroster invitation to the team's camp last year and ended up leading the team in batting average, and he's been working on his body like a fiend over the winter, MLB.com reports.

"Going into last year, we felt if he played every day, he'd get in trouble, and we found that out, but this year maybe he can handle more," manager Don Mattingly said Friday. "He's really been diligent about his work, been at Dodger Stadium almost daily. He's put a lot of time in and it shows."

Turner credited strength-and-conditioning coach Brandon McDaniel for his workout success.

"Brandon did everything. He's been a one-man wrecking crew," said Turner. "He and his family deserve the credit. I've been able to establish a routine and train consistently. Before I signed a year ago, I was on my own, going to 24 Hour Fitness, had to coordinate everything myself."

Turner added that he lost 18 pounds this winter through a healthier diet. Mattingly said that he intends to use the infielder at the corner-infield positions and also potentially up the middle.


Nationals' Matt Skole: 'I'm eating healthy and working hard'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Nationals first baseman Matt Skole missed most of 2013 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled at the plate in 2014 but showed up to camp in better shape and will look to rebound in 2015, MLB.com reports.

"This offseason, I had a little more time to work on my body," Skole said. "I really got after it in the weight room. I ate right. I ate healthy. I think that was probably the biggest difference for me. I'm about the same weight as I was. I just leaned out a little bit. I'm eating healthy and working hard."

Skole worked with hitting coordinator Troy Gingrich for a month after the season and learned to keep his hands up in order to hit the ball consistently after having his hands too low during his down 2014 season.

"After taking a year off, it was more difficult than I thought it would be," the left-handed-swinging Skole said. "But coming back, I turned some corners, made some strides as far as getting to know myself as a player and know the things I need to fix. I think everything I did last year was a stepping stone for this year."

Skole hit .241/.352/.399 with 14 home runs and 68 RBI in 461 at-bats with Double-A Harrisburg last season.


Report: Dodgers sign center fielder Travis Witherspoon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) The Dodgers signed center fielder Travis Witherspoon to their organization, according to a report from Baseball America

Witherspoon has previously been in the Angels and Mariners organizations. In six years of minor-league ball, Witherspoon has posted a career batting average of .252 with 68 home runs. He hit a minor-league single-season best 15 home runs in 2014 with the Mariners' Single-A affiliate High Desert Mavericks. 


Phillies' Buchanan 'working on being a complete pitcher'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Phillies pitcher David Buchanan is "working on being a complete pitcher," manager Ryan Sandberg said, per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The team's coaches spoke with Buchanan in the fall about command and pitch sequencing, executing bunts and thwarting would-be base-stealers, and Sandberg noted while examining the players that arrived early that the pitcher had taken the advice to heart.

"My biggest goal [this spring] is to show our front office and our coaches that I can throw the ball over the plate," Buchanan said. "That's one thing I had success with last year. I wasn't walking guys. I was throwing strikes, and that's what I'm known for. That's why I succeeded in the minor leagues; I was throwing strikes. So that's what I want to do this spring training, is continue to do that, pound the zone, force early contact and keep the ball on the ground."

Buchanan is scheduled to pitch the team's Grapefruit League opener Tuesday against the Yankees.


Giants' Bochy: Hunter Strickland 'needs to get a little smarter'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/27/2015) Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland is ready to learn from his mistakes from the tail end of his 2014 season.

Starting strong once he was called up from Double-A Richmond, Strickland gave up six home runs in the postseason. Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the remedy to put Strickland back on track is simple. 

"He needs to get a little smarter," Bochy said, per MLB.com.  

Strickland will be competing for a spot in the bullpen during spring training. His fastball is a strength, though it's a matter of his command improving on the mound. 

"The failures are what make guys better, I feel like," Strickland said. "I feel like they made me better. Just being in tune with yourself and knowing who you are and what you've got to do. In this game, you're not going to make it too far if you don't have confidence. If you don't believe in yourself, who else is going to believe in you?"


 
 
 
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