Greg Bird: Last year's fifth round pick had just twelve at-bats in his debut season with the Gulf Coast League Yankees in 2011 so the majority of professional exposure has been limited to mostly just two Instructional League camps this offseason. However, despite his lack of experience, nearly every scout believes his short, compact swing and power to all fields will allow him to develop into a potentially elite offensive prospect in due time.
In fact, Bird, as big as he is physically and as raw as he entered the organization defensively, projects to have the kind of bat that would be productive regardless of position. While he has a long way to go behind the plate, he has made some marked improvements in a short period of time and he does have the kind of natural athleticism to potentially make the long-term adjustment. For now the bat will carry him very, very far.
Gary Sanchez: Just like Bird, Sanchez is a young burgeoning power hitter whose offensive game is currently way ahead of his defensive abilities at catcher, but he too has shown some nimbleness and athleticism that leads many to believe he has the necessary foundation in place to develop into a very useful defensive catcher down the road.
He has his issues catching breaking pitches, framing pitches and receiving the ball consistently, and even with his transfers on throws to second base, but that's kind of expected from a teenage catching prospect. Offensively though he is a special bat in the making, clubbing 17 home runs in Charleston last year, matching the home run total of Jesus Montero when he was in Charleston and doing so in 224 less at-bats! He needs to grow up mentally and refine his defensive game, but the bat and power are plus tools that give him a sky-high ceiling.
Closest to the Majors
Austin Romine: The trading of Jesus Montero to the Seattle Mariners this offseason leaves the big league catching door wide open for Romine. Defensively he's ready for the big leagues, showing adeptness at blocking balls, high baseball acumen working with his pitchers, and his receiving abilities have gone from questionable at the lower minor league levels to rock-solid at the upper levels.
Offensively he hasn't quite yet produced the numbers he's capable of posting, hitting a solid .286 with six home for Double-A Trenton in 2011 and showing good plate discipline. He just turned 23 years old this offseason, however, and he has a lot more offensive potential than national pundits realize. He has double-digit home run potential and it's not that far off, thus giving him arguably the best all-around game of any catching prospect in the organization. He'll get his big looks once again in 2012 and immediately beyond.
J.R. Murphy: An argument could be made to put Murphy into the 'highest ceiling' category given his exceptional plate discipline, quick bat speed and compact stroke, and ever-improving defensive game, but he has become rather underrated in national circles because he has yet to produce the type of offensive numbers many scouts believe he's capable of posting.
|GETTING BETTER: Murphy has really developed his entire defensive game. (Photo: Patrick Teale/PinstripesPlus.com)|
Isaias Tejeda: The former third baseman and Dominican native had a terrific first season in the United States last year, hitting .331 with six home runs for the Gulf Coast League Yankees. He shows good plate discipline, a quick bat, nice line-drive power to all fields, and a knack for coming up with big hits. Like Bird and Sanchez, his offensive game is further ahead of his defense right now.
He shows some real ability behind the plate, making quick adjustments in his blocking and receiving game, and showing an average arm behind the plate. He is so new to catching though that he simply needs more experience and repetitions to get more comfortable defensively. Should his defensive game catch up to his hitting potential though, the now 20-year old could wing up sneaking up on talent evaluators in the coming yers.
Need to Make Their Move
Mitch Abeita: A defensive-minded backstop, Abeita's bat has always lagged behind his great makeup and leadership skills. He hit just .221 with the Tampa Yankees last season and now the soon to be 26-year old has the concrete look as more of an organizational player going forward. He's running against the sands of time at this point.
Francisco Arcia: The Venezuelan native has always been a bit of a 'sleeper' prospect over the years, showing a nice combination of defense and hitting ability despite his smaller frame, but he missed most of the 2011 season due to injury. Now 22 years old, he finds himself buried on the catching depth chart and he really needs a breakout season to keep pace with the hard-charging talented catching prospects coming up behind him.
Jeff Farnham: The 24-year old is looking more like an Abeita type as a long-term organizational player, albeit there are some differences. More offensively gifted than defensively, he shows a decent bat with surprising power but his biggest problem is getting the necessary reps with so many talented catching prospects at the A-ball level. He could use a change of scenery to get a chance at more playing time.
Kyle Higashioka: 'Higgy' is the biggest 'sleeper' in this category because he has several positives in his corner; age [he will still be just 22 years old in 2012], power [he hit 8 home runs in just 294 at-bats last season], superb plate discipline, and his defensive game is big league ready right now. However, after hitting just .227 over the past two seasons, he really needs to beef up the average to continue being in legitimate prospect discussions.
Jhorge Liccien: The Venezuelan native is an excellent catch-and-throw backstop. In fact, like 'Higgy', defensively he's ready for the big leagues in nearly every way. Offensively though, he remains a real work in progress. He hit just .157 with Staten Island last year after hitting just .215 with the GCL Yankees the year before. He needs to show he can be remotely productive with the bat or else fall victim to wasting his great defensive abilities.
Damian Taveras: Taveras is the exact opposite of Liccien in that his offensive game has always been way ahead of his catching abilities. The former third baseman has struggled with his transition behind the plate, so much so that he caught just one game with the GCL Yankees in 2011. At 22 years old though, he is running out of time and is quickly getting buried by the depth of more talented catching prospects. His batting potential should keep him around a little while longer.
Jackson Valera: Seemingly around forever, the fact is he will be just 20 years old for the entire 2012 season and his game has shown slow and steady progress since he was signed out of Venezuela as a 16-year old. His plate discipline is outstanding, he shows good long-term power potential, and the former infielder continues to show real progress defensively. He is a potential breakout candidate but he needs exactly that to have any hope of holding his own against younger and more talented catching prospects.
The Jury is Still Out
Eduardo de Oleo: The former outfielder has made a seamless transition to catching in quick fashion, going from very raw to a plus catch-and-throwing guy pretty much overnight. He still has to gain more experience defensively, and offensively he has shown good plate discipline and a solid swing. However, not physically gifted, there are some long-term power question marks in his game and that will have to play out before he's considered one of the better catching prospects.