Cubs' Contreras tops list, Yanks' Sanchez leaps to No. 2
By Mike Rosenbaum
MLBPipeline.com will unveil its 2016 Top 100 Prospects list on Friday, Jan. 29, on MLB.com. The Top 50 will be revealed during a one-hour show on MLB Network at 9 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.
MLBPipeline.com's list of the top 10 catching prospects last season featured six players who went on to reach the Major Leagues and become part of a legendary rookie class. Needless to say, the turnover at the position means this year's crop of top-ranked backstops has a much different look.
Replacing Blake Swihart atop the list is the Cubs' Willson Contreras, a converted catcher coming off a breakout campaign in Double-A, while Yankees slugger Gary Sanchez re-enters at No. 2 after not making the list a year ago. Beyond those two, though, the group features mostly younger talents who are years away from making an impact in the Major Leagues.
1. Willson Contreras, Cubs
One of the top breakout prospects of 2015, Contreras led the Southern League in both batting (.333) and extra-base hits (46), and he set personal bests in most offensive categories. Signed out of Venezuela as a third baseman in 2009, he moved behind the plate in 2012 and has continued to make strides defensively. Contreras' athleticism and arm strength give him a good chance of sticking at the position, though his receiving still needs work.
2. Gary Sanchez, Yankees
Sanchez resuscitated his prospect stock last season between the Double-A and Triple-A levels, and he made his big league debut in early October. He then showcased his huge power and cannon arm in the Arizona Fall League, pacing the circuit with seven home runs and a 62 percent caught-stealing rate. Despite Sanchez's improvement as a blocker and receiver last season, questions remain about whether he will be able to catch every day in the big leagues. However, there's little doubt that he's ready to make an impact at the plate.
3. Jorge Alfaro, Phillies
Alfaro's 2015 season was derailed by ankle surgery in June, but the injury didn't stop the Phils from acquiring him at the Trade Deadline as part of the Cole Hamels blockbuster. Signed by the Rangers for a Colombia-record $1.3 million bonus in January 2010, Alfaro stands out for his raw power and arm strength, and he's arguably the best athlete on this list. His game still needs a lot of refinement -- he's overly aggressive at the plate and raw as a receiver -- but there's still time for him to develop into an everyday catcher.
4. Reese McGuire, Pirates
McGuire's defense still ranks ahead of his offense at this point, but the 14th overall pick of 2013 he made strides with his approach during the regular season and finished with a strong showing at the plate in the Arizona Fall League. He has good bat-to-ball skills as well as a knack for using the entire field, and the gap power he's shown thus far should improve as he becomes more selective. Even if the bat doesn't develop, McGuire's defensive chops alone could make him a big league regular behind the plate.
5. Tyler Stephenson, Reds
Regarded by scouts as the top catcher available in the 2015 Draft, Stephenson, whom Cincinnati took 11th overall, flashed his upside on both sides of the ball last summer during an impressive pro debut in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. A 6-foot-4 right-handed hitter, his hit and power tools have the chance to be at least average, and he already displays an advanced approach. Defensively, Stephenson possesses a plus arm and moves well for his size, though he has a ways to go with his footwork and receiving.
6. Elias Diaz, Pirates
Signed out of Venezuela back in 2008, Diaz, after parts of seven seasons in the Minor Leagues, finally made his big league debut with the Bucs in 2015. The 25-year-old profiles as a plus defender at the highest level thanks to his high-end blend of athleticism, receiving skills and arm strength, and he's widely praised for his ability to handle a pitching staff. Once viewed as an offensive liability, Diaz is now pegged by scouts for an average hit tool based on the huge strides he's made in recent years.
7. Dom Nunez, Rockies
The recipient of an above-slot $800,000 signing bonus as a sixth-round pick in 2013, Nunez has a gorgeous left-handed swing and mature approach, which highlight his potential to hit for average and power once developed. He played both middle-infield spots during his pro debut before becoming a full-time catcher in 2014. The athleticism and agility Nunez showed in the infield have helped him make strides as a blocker and receiver in a short period of time, and his catch-and-throw skills should improve with experience.
8. Jacob Nottingham, Athletics
The 2013 sixth-rounder emerged as one of the top offensive catchers in 2015, hitting .316 with 17 home runs and 33 doubles across the Class A and Class A Advanced levels. The breakout performance put him on the A's radar, and they acquired him from the Astros at the Trade Deadline in the Scott Kazmir deal. Nottingham has good bat speed and generates above-average power from the right side of the plate, driving the ball with authority across the whole field. His defense lags well behind his bat, though, and his blocking and receiving skills will need to improve considerably for him to stick behind the plate.
9. Max Pentecost, Blue Jays
The Blue Jays made Pentecost the highest-drafted player in Kennesaw State history in 2014, selecting him with the 11th overall pick. Unfortunately, he's played only 25 games since signing, as surgery to repair a partially torn right labrum in October 2014 and a subsequent cleanup procedure the following spring cost him the entire 2015 season. It's unclear at the moment how the injury might affect his projection as an everyday catcher, but Pentecost is a good athlete and can move to another position, possibly corner outfield, if he can't stick behind the plate.
10. Aramis Garcia, Giants
A second-round pick out of Florida International in 2014, Garcia has some natural hitting ability and showed more power last year during his full-season debut in the Class A South Atlantic League. The 23-year-old backstop has work to do defensively, especially with his blocking and receiving, but the catch-and-throw skills are there, and his average arm strength consistently plays up because his throws are accurate.
The Orioles' Chance Sisco is one of the more intriguing offensive catchers in the Minors, as he's continually posted high batting averages and on-base percentages despite being one the youngest everyday players at every level. The 2013 second-rounder isn't nearly as advanced defensively, though at age 20, he still has time to improve.
Taylor Ward was the Angels' top pick in the 2015 Draft, selected 26th overall, and he impressed on both sides of the ball during his pro debut. Though he stands out for his rocket arm and excellent catch-and-throw skills, the Fresno State product has the tools to be at least an average defender in the big leagues.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.