A top prospect, former top prospect, two recent draftees, throw in for a trade and minor-league signing all walk into a bar... Okay, maybe not the story. Six catchers well set their feet in Tempe, Arizona with the Angels over the course of Spring Training, all fighting to show their unique skill set.
In the second installment of Non-Roster Invite Previews, Scout.com touches on these catchers and what to expect of them coming into the 2017 season. Any with knowledge of the Angels organization knows that in Mike Scioscia's tenure, the key asset to building a championship starts behind the plate.
For the Non-Roster Invite Preview on pitchers, click here.
Brought into the Angels' organization in November via a minor-league contract, Arcia has added depth to the catching position in the higher arcs of the minors. Originally signed by the New York Yankees during Eppler's time with the pinstripes, Arcia is now in the "journey man" stages of his career, seeing his third different team in three seasons. Between his nine years with the Yankees, and one with the Marlins, the 27-year-old Venezuelan has held a combined slash of .243/.319/.340 in 495 games, hitting just .228 with a .590 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A in 2016.
Arcia has logged 3,430 innings behind the plate, while throwing out 28.1% of runners in the process. Known for his receiving skills, Arcia should be a lock to return to the high minors and provide defensive depth. Don't place a high expectancy for his name to stick around through the majority of Spring, and see him fighting for a Major League spot.
2017 Expected Starting Point: Triple-A Backup
The first drafted of multiple college seniors taken by the Angels in 2016, Barash will get a taste of what it's like in the Major League spot light. It is also one of the first looks Mike Scioscia will get at one his potential future catchers. The receiving abilities are far ahead of the throwing or hitting abilities for the 22-year-old, which may see a change with coaching from the MLB staff. In Orem and Burlington following the draft, Barash hit a combined .276/.348/.386 while throwing out 17% of runners in 43 games.
2017 Expected Starting Point: Low-A Starter
At the time, Jose Briceno was known as the "throw in" of the trade that sent Andrelton Simmons to Anaheim. Over the course of the season, he showed he was much more than just that. Though the bat didn't do much to amuse, his defense behind the plate was arguably the best in the system. At the mid-point of the season, he had thrown out 61.5% of runners, had a 2.74 catching ERA, and had caught his second career no-hitter. The season slowed down slightly and saw his caught stealing percent fall to 49%, while allowing a passed ball every 51 innings.
The bat may keep him away from Triple-A to start the season 2017, but it won't keep him down for long. An aggressive hitter, the 24-year-old Venezuelan hit .232 with a .602 OPS in his first season with the Angels, with four home runs, well below his average output. If the power comes again, there could be a quick trigger to get Briceno to Triple-A and near a Major League role.
2017 Expected Starting Point: Double-A
The Angels pushed the envelope with their 20th-round pick in 2016, signing Jack Kruger for $395,000, putting them close to five percent over the allotted surplus which would have forced them a forfeited first pick in 2017. The 22-year-old from Mississippi State had a long season with the Bulldogs, finishing the year reaching base in 45.1% of his plate appearances. The Angels did not put him behind the plate in his first 30 games as a professional, but he continued to hit, seeing a .310/.354/.388 slash in Rookie Ball.
2017 Expected Starting Point: Low-A
A former fourth overall pick, Sanchez was once considered one of the top catching prospects in baseball. Tabbed to have quality tools across the board, it just never transferred, and his stints in the Majors have led him to once again be the third depth option. In 51 Major League games, the 28-year-old hit .259 with a .303 on-base percentage. His .351 on-base percentage in the minors leaves quite a bit to be desired.
Another highly regarded receiver, the arm trails, shown by his five caught runners of 30 that attempted to run on him in the Majors. However, the moment either Martin Maldonado or Carlos Perez begin to falter, Sanchez is in the shadows ready to lurk. With some blossoming into his prospect days, Sanchez could fight his way into late Spring and possible Major League spot.
2017 Expected Starting Point: Triple-A Starter
One of the top prospects in the Angels' system, Ward will make his way to Tempe with the big club for a second straight year. The team took the 23-year-old with the 26th pick in 2015, and the pick was criticized as a "reach." However, Ward went out and hit better than any first-rounder after the draft, all while showcasing his strong defensive attributes. The defense never left, as he threw out 38% of would-be-runners this past season
The bat did halt though in his first year of full-season ball. With Inland Empire, Ward hit .249 with a .659 OPS, but it was truly a tale of two separate seasons for the top prospect. In the first half, Ward reached base in just over 30% of his plate appearances. In the second half, he lifted that to 35%, while hitting eight of his 10 home runs for the year, all while keeping his strikeout rate the exact same. While constantly making adjustments, Ward is still one of the largest parts of the Angels' future plans.
2017 Expected Starting Point: Double-A