Yankees vs. Red Sox: Catching Prospects

Comparing what the Yankees and Red Sox have at each position in the minor leagues, we take a look at the crop of catcher prospects in each system. Which system is deeper? Which prospects have the most power? The highest ceilings? Take a look at this comparison between the two AL East farm systems.

The Two Farm Systems: There is little doubt that both organizations have long-term potential difference makers at the catcher's spot among their respective prospects right now but the Yankees clearly have a lot more depth at the position.

Help widening the gap between the two organizations was the promotion of defensive stalwart Christian Vazquez to Boston in 2014. Perhaps a little unfairly knocked for a seemingly pedestrian offensive game, the fact is this Puerto Rico native can handle the bat in solid fashion, showing good plate discipline and adequate gap power, and defensively he ranges from above average to plus in all facets of the game. With 175 big league at-bats this past season, however, he is no longer rookie eligible and subsequently his null and void prospect status hurts Boston's overall catching depth at the minor league level.

Further dampening Boston's depth at the position was the arrest of Jon Denney, last year's third round pick out of high school. Placed in a rehabilitation program of sorts, he was suspended by the team back in Spring Training for the incident and did not play in any games this season. Tools-wise he offered one of the more solid all-around games in either farm system at the lower levels, showing above average to potentially plus power, above average hitting potential, and above average to plus arm strength, but he is more of a question mark now, especially makeup-wise, after missing the entire season and with no estimated timetable for his potential return.

It's not as if the Yankees didn't lose some depth of their own at the position too though. A mid-season trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees for Martin Prado saw Peter O'Brien head out west. Perhaps on the other end of the defensive spectrum in comparison to Vazquez, O'Brien was bombing his way through the minor leagues with the Yankees, hitting a ridiculous 33 home runs in just 372 at-bats before the trade. While there were some long-term question marks about his ability to remain behind the dish, the loss of his power potential took a hit on the overall Yankee depth at the position.

What both organizations still have at the position are some real potential long-term difference makers in the form of Boston's Blake Swihart and New York's trio of Gary Sanchez, Luis Torrens, and J.R. Murphy.

Swihart, Boston's first round pick out of high school in 20011, was always known as a burgeoning consistent bat even in his amateur days and he has begun proving it the past two years. The switch-hitter batted a combined .293 with 26 doubles and 13 home runs between Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. While the power doesn't grade out as plus, his plate discipline does and the power fits solidly in between the average to above average range. On the defensive side, however, is where he has made the most progress. Always possessing plus arm strength, he has developed his release into the plus range, popping 1.8-1.9s on his throws consistently, and he has nimble feet. Throw in great makeup and professional receiving skills, he is a two-way threat for the Red Sox.

Despite the national media's insistence, there isn't much of a drop-off in the physical tools department between Swihart and New York's Gary Sanchez. The Dominican native had a solid season in Double-A Trenton this year, hitting .270 with 13 home runs. He isn't exactly the same ultra-disciplined hitter that Swihart is but he too shows an ability to be a consistent hitter for average and the power grades out better, ranging from above average to plus. With plus arm strength of his own too as well as a similarly quick release and accurate throws, he can do a lot of the same things defensively. Maturity-wise and work ethic-wise, however, Sanchez, who is eight months younger than Swihart, isn't on the same level yet. If he can step up the maturity he has the chance to be his defensive equal.

Perhaps a more congruent comparison to Swihart is New York's Luis Torrens. Both mentally and physically, this Venezuelan native compares to Swihart in nearly every way outside of not being a switch-hitter. A right-handed batter, Torrens shows similar highly advanced pitch recognition, a consistent swing path, average power potential with room to get better, and the top-shelf defensive game in all phases that makes him one of the better two-way catching threats. Keep in mind that Torrens, still just 18 years old, has two professional seasons under his belt already and Swihart was 19 years old when he began his career so there could be a similar jump in production as Torrens gets older.

The forgotten man in either organization is New York's J.R. Murphy. Seemingly around forever, while Swihart continues to get most of the attention by the national media as one of the elite "young" catching prospects in the game, Murphy, a former second round pick back in 2009, is actually just one year older than Swihart and he too shows a lot of the same traits; above average to plus defensive skills, plus plate discipline, average to potentially slightly better power potential, and off-the-charts makeup. Don't disregard his potential, he has 'sleeper' written all over him.

Outside of Swihart there is little in the way of potential impact catching depth for Boston until [if/when] Denney gets reinstated. Dan Butler, an undrafted free agent signed back in 2009 out of the University of Arizona as a college senior, is the requisite in-house, defensive specialist 'org guy' who has the ceiling of a big league backup and the catching situation has gotten dire enough for Boston that they've even recently converted this year's eighth round pick out of the University of Alabama, outfielder Ben Moore, to behind the plate to see if they can get some use out of a solid, albeit less than powerful approach at the plate. Already 22 years old, there isn't much ceiling with him either.

The Yankees on the other hand have a few 'what if' options outside of their big three [Sanchez, Torrens, and Murphy, headlined by 'sleeper' prospect Alavaro Noriega and recently signed top International free agent Miguel Flames. Noriega, a Colombian native, is the defensive equal that either Boston or New York can throw out there right now. An elite catch and throw guy already, the Yankees are hoping this recently turned 20-year old can make the offensive progression in the coming years. He shows a good approach at the plate and developing power behind the scenes but for now his offensive production is a wait and see proposition.

Flames, a recently turned 17-year old Venezuelan native, signed for a reported $1.1 million on July 2nd and is nearly the polar opposite to Noriega. More in the Peter O'Brien mold as a slugging type with a bit more hitting potential, defensively, while the arm strength is plus, he has work to do on his overall agility and receiving skills to become a more viable option behind the plate in the coming years. The offensive potential is akin to Gary Sanchez, however, so the ceiling is clearly there.

Both Eduardo De Oleo [21] and Isaias Tejeda [23] bring some intriguing offensive potential to the position too; De Oleo just clubbed a career-high twelve home runs for low-A Charleston and Tejeda just racked up a career-high 21 doubles for short-season Staten Island. Both are Dominican natives and both are okay defensive options with room to get better, but both are getting a little too old for their levels so they have limited long-term chances if they don't begin to move a bit quicker soon. And Kyle Higashioka [24] is in a similar category right now as one who should not be completely written off yet given his defensive prowess but he's getting real close to being a Dan Butler clone if the bat doesn't come around soon. The fact that he's missed essentially the past two seasons with Tommy John surgery has certainly stalled his offensive development.

How Do They Compare In...

Power: With the departure of O'Brien to Arizona this season, this race gets a little closer but Boston has very little depth, especially since Flames helps fill the O'Brien power void. Since Boston can't count on Denney just yet, only Swihart projects to have average or better big league power among their catching prospects and the Yankees can stroll out the likes of Sanchez, Torrens, Murphy, and Flames, all of whom grade out average to plus power-wise. Advantage: Yankees

Hitting For Average: While Swihart is clearly the better hitter right now, the disparity between he and the likes of Torrens and Murphy, and even Sanchez to some degree, is not nearly as wide as many in the media make it out to be. Again, the Yankees have too much depth here. Advantage: Yankees

Defense: Just like the 'average' category, Swihart's impressive defensive progress notwithstanding, his great defensive game isn't exactly ions better than the Yankees' big three behind the plate. In fact, a strong argument could be made that Torrens is better at a similar stage in their careers. Throw in the advanced defensive abilities of both Noriega and Higashioka, collectively this is a 'no contest'. Advantage: Yankees.

Speed: Individually there is no real discernible difference between the various catchers in the two organizations in this department but collectively the Yankees have just a bit more right now. Advantage: Yankees.

Overall Potential: Getting Denney back would make this a bit closer but even if he does come back and makes the desired progress on both sides of the ball. the fact is the Yankees have three legit starting big league catching prospects right now and two more who could be even a year from now. Advantage: Yankees.

Highest Ceilings: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Blake Swihart (Red Sox), Luis Torrens (Yankees), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Miguel Flames (Yankees)

Best Power: Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Miguel Flames (Yankees), Blake Swihart (Red Sox), Luis Torrens (Yankees), J.R. Murphy (Yankees)

Best Average: Blake Swihart (Red Sox), Luis Torrens (Yankees), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Miguel Flames (Yankees), Gary Sanchez (Yankees)

Best Defense: Luis Torrens (Yankees), Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Alvaro Noriega (Yankees), Gary Sanchez (Yankees)

Best Speed: Blake Swihart (Red Sox), J.R. Murphy (Yankees), Luis Torrens (Yankees), Gary Sanchez (Yankees), Jordan Weems (Red Sox).


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