MLBPipeline.com's 2014 Top 100 Prospects list will be unveiled on Thursday, Jan. 23, on MLB.com, as well as on a one-hour show on MLB Network, airing at 10 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLBPipeline.com takes a look at baseball's Top 10 prospects at each position.
Only one catcher from the 2013 Top 10 catchers list -- Mike Zunino of the Mariners -- graduated from the prospect ranks last year, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any other turnover. While the name at the top -- Travis d'Arnaud of the Mets -- stayed the same, there are four newcomers to the list.
1. Travis d'Arnaud, Mets: If it hadn't been for injuries, d'Arnaud would be off this list. Despite missing time with a knee injury in 2012 and a broken foot in '13, he made his Major League debut in August. Traded twice for Cy Young Award winners, he is ready for a full-time gig in the big leagues. The 24-year-old has the chance to be an outstanding offensive player with the ability to hit for average and power. He's not a slouch behind the plate, either, with more than enough catch-and-throw skills to be an everyday player. All d'Arnaud needs is health, because he has the skill set to be one of the best all-around catchers in the National League.
2. Austin Hedges, Padres: After a 2013 season in which he went to the Futures Game, reached Double-A and played in the Arizona Fall League, Hedges is ready for a full-time shot at the upper levels of the Padres system. Wherever he goes, the 21-year-old's calling card will be his defense. Hedges has an unbelievably quick release and an accurate arm, he moves well behind the plate and works very well with pitchers. His bat isn't as advanced as his glove, but he should hit enough to be an outstanding everyday big league catcher.
3. Jorge Alfaro, Rangers: Just a teenager when he was assigned to full-season ball in 2012, Alfaro repeated the level in 2013 mostly because he had missed development time due to injury. His two best tools -- a power bat and power arm -- were on display again, and he finished up the year by playing very well against older competition in the AFL. Alfaro has power to all fields, and as he refines his approach, he should become a better all-around hitter. He has one of the strongest arms of any catcher in the Minor Leagues, but he still has work to do on the other parts of his defensive game. Agile and athletic, Alfaro has the potential for those skills to develop, as well.
4. Gary Sanchez, Yankees: Sanchez is still regarded as a potential catcher of the future for the Yanks, though the signing of Brian McCann clouds that at least for the time being. Since receiving a hefty bonus to sign in 2009, Sanchez has drawn raves for his bat, one that should produce both a high average and plenty of power. He's always had a huge arm, and while his overall defense has made strides, it's still a work in progress. Sanchez's best improvement may have come in terms of his attitude, something he used to get knocked for. Just 21, he has plenty of time to develop into the outstanding offensive-minded backstop the Yankees envisioned when they signed him.
GRADING THE PROSPECTSHere are the scouting grades* of the Top 10 catching prospects:
5. Blake Swihart, Red Sox: While he's still relatively new to catching full-time, Swihart's development, particularly in 2013, points to a long career as an everyday big league backstop. The switch-hitter can really swing the bat from both sides, and he has the chance to be an above-average hitter with at least average power. He runs better than most catchers, and that athleticism should help him eventually become a solid defensive receiver, one with an above-average arm. The 22-year-old New Mexico high school product, who was Boston's first-round Draft pick in 2011, has plenty of time to refine his skills in the Minors.
6. Christian Bethancourt, Braves: The departure of McCann leaves the door wide open for this prospect from Panama, and after the strides he made in 2013, playing in Double-A at age 21, he might not be far off from being ready to step through it. Bethancourt has long been known for his defensive work, with one of the best arms behind the plate in the Minors, to go along with good agility and athleticism. The potential to have Major League-average hit and power tools has been there and he improved in that area last year, giving him every chance to be an everyday backstop in Atlanta soon.
7. Reese McGuire, Pirates: The second of two first-round picks by the Bucs, and the first catcher taken, in the 2013 Draft, this Pacific Northwest product had a tremendous pro debut in the Gulf Coast League that led to a late promotion to the short-season New York-Penn League. The left-handed-hitting McGuire has the chance to hit for average with at least average power. He runs very well for a catcher and should be an above-average defender with a strong arm.
8. Andrew Susac, Giants: Taken by the Giants in the second round of the 2011 Draft out of Oregon State, Susac reached Double-A in his second pro season, then capped it off with a strong Arizona Fall League showing. Susac's numbers, especially in terms of power and on-base skills, improved with the move to Double-A. He's always had a strong arm, and he threw out 40 percent of would-be basestealers in 2013. There isn't a starting gig open in San Francisco, obviously, but he could soon be ready to back up Buster Posey.
9. Nick Ciuffo, Rays: Ciuffo was the 21st overall pick in the 2013 Draft, the second catcher taken behind McGuire. Like McGuire, Ciuffo is a left-handed-hitting catcher, one who could end up with a bit more power than his counterpart. While Ciuffo has a very strong arm and outstanding leadership skills, his other defensive tools need refinement, though most see him as being better than average, glove-wise, once he's ready for the big leagues.
10. Tyler Marlette, Mariners: Not every catching prospect was a high Draft pick or big international signing. The Mariners nabbed Marlette in the fifth round in the 2011 Draft, and he's slowly developing into an intriguing power-hitting prospect. He has the chance to hit some long balls and for a decent average. He has good arm strength and his other defensive skills have started to catch up a bit. Marlette could put up some silly numbers in the California League this year on his way up the ladder.
Max Stassi had been flying under the radar a bit, both because he had been just so-so after the A's drafted him in 2009 and because he joined an Astros system -- by way of the Jed Lowrie trade -- that was flush with high-end prospects. But Stassi's breakout 2013 season in Double-A and his Major League debut, albeit shortened by injury, has many curious to see what he does for an encore in 2014.
Kevin Plawecki earned a promotion during his first full season in the Mets organization, showing a knack for hitting for average and getting on base at both stops. If he displays a little more power and continues to prove to people that he can stay behind the plate despite his big frame, he could be a big league regular someday.