This article is part of our John Sickels' Column series.
The Top Catchers
Let's continue our look at top prospects. We've examined the top four right-handed pitchers and top four left-handed pitchers in previous articles. Today we switch to the other side of the battery and examine the top five catching prospects in the game.
Background: Ranked 13th on our RotoWire Top 100 prospects list, Wieters was drafted in the first round last year out of Georgia Tech, fifth overall, though many observers considered him the best position player available. He has yet to play regular season pro ball, but scouts anticipate that he will adapt very quickly, and he played well in the Hawaiian Winter League.
Tools and Skills: Wieters is 6-5, 230 pounds, born May 21st 1986. A switch-hitter, he features power from both sides of the plate and excellent plate discipline. Scouts expect he will hit for both power and average. His defense is also excellent, with a strong arm, good mobility, and superb leadership skills.
Performance: Wieters hit .283/.364/.415 in Hawaii, following up his strong campaign for Georgia Tech (.358/.480/.592 with 51 walks and 37 strikeouts in 218 at-bats.) College stats aren't directly transferable to the pros, but he thrived against a very high level of competition. His plate discipline stands out as a major positive.
Projection: Wieters will be an excellent major league catcher with strong offensive and defensive contributions. He could be ready as early as this September and by late 2009 at the latest.
Background: The 19th overall prospect on our RotoWire Top 100 list, Soto doesn't have the pedigree of the other top catchers, being an 11th round pick in 2001 out of Puerto Rico. Before 2007 he was regarded as a good defensive catcher with an OK bat, but he broke out with an outstanding season in Triple-A, continued to hit well in the majors, and should open '08 as Chicago's starting catcher.
Tools and Skills: Soto is 6-1, 200, born January 20, 1983, a right-handed hitter and thrower. He lost 30 pounds before 2007, and as a result he showed much greater agility last year. He retooled his swing as well, increasing his power. He has always shown good strike zone judgment. Soto's defense has always been well-regarded, but the weight loss improved that, too.
Performance: Soto hit .353/.424/.652 with 26 homers and 109 RBI last year for Triple-A Iowa, then .389/.433/.667 in 18 games for the Cubs. In past seasons, he showed good plate discipline but only mediocre power.
Projection: While it's unlikely he will be a consistent .300+ hitter over a full season in the majors, he should hit .260-.280 with good power, a strong OBP, and solid glovework. He is a leading Rookie of the Year candidate for 2008.
Background: Listed 23rd on our RotoWire Top 100 prospects list, Teagarden was drafted in the third round from the University of Texas in 2005. Tommy John surgery cost him almost all of 2006, but he rebounded with an excellent season in Class A and Double-A last year.
Tools and Skills: Born December 21st, 1983, Teagarden is a right-handed hitter and thrower listed at 6-1, 200 pounds. His defense is excellent and has been regarded that way since college. The surgery has cost him a bit of arm strength, but he's still a fine gloveman with good leadership skills. His bat has been excellent in the minors, with power to all fields and strong strike zone judgment standing out. Scouts praise his makeup.
Performance: Teagarden is a career .294/.422/.575 hitter in 148 minor league games, including a .294/.357/.529 mark in 29 games of Double-A last year. The only caution flag is a higher-than-ideal strikeout rate, which could eat into his batting average.
Projection: Teagarden's goal in '08 is to catch every day and put the surgery completely behind him. He should be ready in 2009, though it is unclear how the Rangers will get him in the lineup.
Background: The 25th player on our Top 100 list, Clement is well-known to scouts, having been a top high school player in Iowa and then a star for USC. After an injury-plagued 2006, he rebounded in '07 with a strong season in Triple-A.
Tools and Skills: Clement's calling card is power: he has a ton of it. Born August 21, 1983, his left-handed power is special for a catcher. He won't hit for a great average but should provide plenty of pop and a decent walk rate. His arm strength is average and he's not great against runners, but his other catching skills play well.
Performance: Clement had a difficult '06 but he rebounded in '07, hitting .275/.370//.497 with 20 homers and 61 walks in 455 at-bats for Triple-A Tacoma. He hit .375 with two homers in nine major league games, looking quite comfortable in the Show.
Projection: Clement projects as a decent defensive catcher with a very strong power bat, though he won't hit for a tremendous average. He's ready to play now but it's unclear where he slots into the Mariners lineup.
Background: The 35th player on our Top 100 list, Towles was drafted in the 20th round in 2004 out of North Central Texas Junior College. Injuries have bothered him at times, but he was healthy last year and thrived at three levels, including in the majors. He should win the everyday catching job this spring, giving the NL Central two strong rookie backstops.
Tools and Skills: Born February 11, 1984, listed at 6-2, 190, Towles is a fine athlete, faster than most catchers and with good agility. He has a strong arm but his footwork still needs some polish; he'll have to improve that on the job. His bat is impressive, with moderate power and good plate discipline giving him a good chance to hit for a high average. His home run power is still developing but should be above average with maturity.
Performance: Towles is a career .300/.393/.470 hitter in the minors, including .324/425/.551 for Double-A Corpus Christi last year. He hit .375 in 14 games for the Astros last year, showing a very quick bat.
Projection: Towles should be an above average major league catcher. The main risk here is durability, as he's had various nagging injuries which could slow his development. With little Triple-A under his belt, he could struggle initially, but in the long run he should be very good.
Article first appeared 2/28/08