Top prospects by position- Catchers

In the first part of RaysDigest's series of breaking down the top prospects by position, here is our list of the five best catching prospects in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization.

Dioneer Navarro has locked up the starting catching position for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. As of right now, it appears that he is in the organization's long term plans for the position. Vanderbilt product Josh Paul is currently the backup, but several prospects in the Tampa Bay organization will be pushing for their jobs over the next few years. Shawn Riggans is currently our choice as the top catching prospect in the organization. Here is the complete list of the top catching prospects for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

Devil Rays Top Five Catching prospects

1. Shawn Riggans- Durham Bulls

College- Indian River CC

2006 Minor League Stats: .293 11 HR 54 RBI

Riggans, who nearly made the Devil Rays 25 man roster after an impressive Spring Training with the Devil Rays, is currently ranked by as the 12th best catching prospect in the minor leagues. He recently won the Al Lopez Award given to the top Devil Rays rookie during Spring Training. The Indian River Community College product finished Grapefruit League play with a .316 batting average and 5 2B in 17 games making a strong case to stay with the big league club. During the 2006 season at AAA Durham, Riggans was named the best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America. Ironically, it was Riggans' defense that scouts thought would hold him back from rising through the Tampa Bay farm system. Some scouts project Riggans to hit around .275 with 15 HR and 75 RBI in a full season at the big league level. If proven to be true, those numbers would clearly top the production of Dioneer Navarro or Josh Paul, the two catchers who are currently on the major league roster.

Riggans should be called up to Tampa Bay at some point during the 2007 season depending on a lot of different factors including lack of production or potential injuries to Navarro and Paul. Last season, Riggans appeared in nine games for the Devil Rays and finished his brief stint in the major leagues with a .172 batting average and 3 runs scored. Riggans was a 24th round selection in the 2000 draft out of Treasure Valley Community College. As with a lot of the top young players in the organization, one of his biggest weaknesses is his poor plate discipline. Through the first 8 games of 2007, Riggans is batting .172 (5-29) with only 1 RBI for the Durham Bulls.

2. Josh Arhart- Montgomery Biscuits

College- UCLA

2006 Minor League Stats- .301 15 HR 78 RBIS

Arhart, an alumnus of UCLA, had a breakout season during 2006 with a .301 average, 15 HR, and 78 RBIs for Class A level Visalia in the California League. He is currently listed as the 15th overall catching prospect in the minor leagues by After a strong performance during 2006, Arhart earned an invitation to his first Spring Training camp with the big league club in 2007. Arhart is currently the starting catcher for the Montgomery Biscuits. Through the first 11 games of the season, he is batting .265 (9-34) with 2 2B and 5 RBIS. After a standout career at UCLA, Arhart was surprisingly not drafted after his senior season where he hit .363 with 18 2B and 37 RBIS for the Bruins. Shortly after the draft, Arhart signed a free agent contract and he continues to surprise several scouts that overlooked him with his quick development in the Devil Rays' farm system.

3. John Jaso-Montgomery Biscuits

College- Southwestern Community College

2006 Minor League Stats- .309 10 HR 55 RBI

Jaso started his career as a shortstop in the Devil Rays organization after being drafted in the 12th round in the 2003 out of Southwestern Community College. He finished the 2006 season with a .309 batting average, 10 HR, and 55 RBIS for Class A Visalia. Jaso's bat is his clearly his best tool at the present time, but he has primarily filled a DH role over the past two seasons. Questions about his defense have hurt his development in the organization and he could soon be limited to DH duties only. Currently, Jaso is the everyday DH for the Montgomery Biscuits in the South Atlantic League. Through the first 7 games of the season, Jaso is hitting only .125 (3-24) with 2 RBIS. According to some talent evaluators, Jaso's has the potential to be a better hitter at the big league level than Riggans, but his inexperience at the catcher positions stunts his growth. He has a strong enough arm for the position, but he only threw out 21 percent of would be base stealers in 92 games as a catcher last season.

4. Nevin Ashley- Columbus Catfish

College- Indiana St.

2006 Minor League Stats .333 4 HR 28 RBIS

Ashley's stock has quickly risen in the organization since being drafted in the 6th round of last year's draft out of Indiana State University. After a stellar collegiate career, Ashley had a brilliant season for the Princeton Devil Rays in his first taste of professional baseball. However, he was much older than a lot of the other prospects in the rookie league and some scouts are still skeptical about the numbers he produced for Princeton. Nonetheless, Ashley finished the year with a .333 average, .440 OBP, 8 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, and 28 RBIS in only 47 games as the starting catcher for Princeton. This season should be a real indicator to see if his numbers from last season were really inflated from playing against younger competition. Ashley is currently starting behind the plate for the Columbus Catfish (Low-A). The Vincennes, Indiana native is already off to a brilliant start to the 2007 season. Through the first 14 games, Ashley is batting .327 with 3 2B, 3 3B, and 8 RBIS. Remember his name because Ashley is going to surprise a lot of people.

5. Christian Lopez- Vero Beach Devil Rays

College- Drafted out of high school

2006 Minor League Stats- .217 2 HR 34 RBIS (SW Michigan stats only)

Lopez is currently the everyday catcher for the Vero Beach Devil Rays. Through his first three full professional seasons, the Miami native has a career .244 batting average and .281 on base percentage. After two solid seasons where he hit .281 in 2004 and 2005 for Princeton and SW Michigan respectively, Lopez's average dipped to .217 (75-345) last season. Also, only 14 of his hits were for extra bases including 2 HR. Similar to Ashley, 2007 will be a strong indicator of what the future truly holds for Lopez. He is off to a strong start for Vero Beach and is currently hitting .306 with 5 RBIS through the first 10 games. Lopez's Vero Beach teammate, Sergio Pedroza, has appeared in 6 games so far in his first season since moving positions from outfield to catcher. Pedroza, ranked by as the # 15 prospect in the Devil Rays organization, should crack this list as he continues to gain experience at the position.

Other catching prospects in the Tampa Bay Organization (listed in alphabetical order)

Craig Albernaz- Columbus Catfish: Eckerd College product has one of the strongest arms of any catching prospect in the organization

Brooks Badeaux- Montgomery Biscuits

Raul Casanova- Durham Bulls: Riggans backup at AAA Durham.

Alex Jamieson- Vero Beach Devil Rays

Joshua Johnson- Durham Bulls

Thomas Lagreid- Hudson Valley Renegades

Ian Paxton- Hudson Valley Renegades

Sergio Pedroza Vero Beach Devil Rays

Matt Spring- Columbus Catfish

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