It’s never easy to develop impact catchers. When FanGraphs rolled out the recent mid-season Top 50 prospects list there were only three catchers represented on the list: Travis d’Arnaud, Austin Hedges, and Gary Sanchez. Cleveland is an organization that has certainly struggled to develop big league catchers. The 40-man roster currently features three catchers and all three were developed by other organizations: Carlos Santana (Dodgers), Yan Gomes (Blue Jays), and Lou Marson (Phillies). The club’s Top 20 prospect list didn’t feature a catcher until the announcement was made that Tony Wolters — who ranked ninth on the list as a middle infielder — was being converted to catcher.
The move has caused the California native’s value to skyrocket. His above-average athleticism has allowed him to smoothly transition into his new position. A talent evaluator I spoke with recently said Wolters has a good chance to be an everyday catcher at the big league level. “Tony has embraced it completely and every coordinator, scout or coach that has seen him catch has been extremely impressed with how quickly he’s taken to the position and how natural it appears to be to Tony,” he said. “He has shown more than enough potential to remain there.”
Wolters displays a strong arm that’s allowed him to nab 30% of base stealers, despite his inexperience. He also shows a lot of promise with his receiving and should develop into a very good game caller and field general. While playing in the High-A Carolina League, he’s had the benefit of working with manager David Wallace, who is a former minor league catcher. “Tony has been committed to the process and we can’t say enough about his desire to learn and improve,” the contact stated. “He recognized the benefit of having David Wallace with him and he takes advantage of that resource.”
Despite learning a new position and working with an entire staff of pitchers, which understandably demands a large amount of his focus, Wolters has managed to produce at the plate, as well. Although he’s repeating the level, the young catcher has hit more than .300 in both June and July (after struggling in April/May) and has a triple-slash line of .278/.353/.371 on the season. His value is increased even further by the fact that he hits from the left side of the plate and can hold his own against southpaws.
Martin Agosta, RHP, Giants: While working on the 2012-13 Top 15 prospects list for the Giants, Agosta was a name on the bubble. Surprisingly, he didn’t receive a lot of support and, ultimately, was left off. His ’13 numbers have been eye-popping with just 49 hits allowed and 97 strikeouts in 79.2 innings of work while making 15 starts. It’s more than a little surprising that Agosta, 22, has been left in Low-A ball all year but one has to put faith in the Giants organization given how successful they’ve been at developing pitching. It’s quite possible that they have him working on an off-speed pitch (ie. changeup) to help complement his low-90s fastball, slider and cutter.
Arismendy Alcantara, SS, Cubs: It’s easy to see why Alcantara, 21, has become a popular prospect in the Cubs system. He can play both middle infield positions, he’s a switch-hitter, he can swipe some bases and he possesses surprising pop for a player with a compact frame. The organization has a plethora of depth at second base, third base and shortstop but the big league squad will almost certainly find a way to work him into the everyday lineup — perhaps as soon as 2014. Alcantara doesn’t have a ceiling as high as fellow shortstop prospect Javier Baez, but he’s a safer bet to realize his full potential.
Jake Barrett, RHP, Diamondbacks: A third round selection in 2012 out of Arizona State University, Barrett was considered an advanced reliever that could move swiftly through the minor league system, and he’s done just that in ’13. The hard-throwing right-hander struck out 37 batters in 27.1 innings in the California League (High-A) before moving up to Double-A where he’s continued to throw well having allowed runs in only two of his 10 appearances. However, he’s struck out just three batters in 10 innings at that level, which is somewhat curious. Barrett has the potential to develop into a high-leverage reliever for The Snakes.
Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B, Reds: While making calls this past off-season while researching the Top 15 prospects lists, Mejias-Brean was a name that popped up as a potential sleeper for 2013. The third base prospect and 2012 draftee out of the University of Arizona is making good on that prediction, although caution is warranted given that he’s spent the season in Low-A ball at the age of 22. His lack of premium power hurts him but he’s shown an aptitude for consistently putting the barrel of the bat on the ball and he’s gotten better each month (OPS by month, April-July: .512, .740, .824, 1.211).
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