MLBPipeline.com will unveil its 2017 Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday, Jan. 28, with a one-hour show on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.
Heading into 2016, MLBPipeline's two top-rated catching prospects were Willson Contreras and Gary Sanchez. You may have heard something about their exploits last year. Contreras took over the starting job on a Cubs team that won its first World Series in 108 years, while Sanchez tied an 86-year-old record for fewest games needed (51) to hit 20 homers.
Our new Top 10 Catching Prospects list doesn't feature anyone likely to make that kind of instant impact, though it does include several talented backstops. It starts with the Cardinals' Carson Kelly, a converted third baseman who just made MLBPipeline's All-Defense Team, and follows with the Indians' Francisco Mejia, whose breakout season last year was highlighted by an historic 50-game hitting streak.
Kelly and Mejia are far from one-dimensional, however, and the Phillies' Jorge Alfaro has all-around potential as well. After that trio, most members of this Top 10 list have offensive games that overshadow their defensive ability or vice versa -- underscoring just how difficult it is to find a complete catcher.
1. Carson Kelly, Cardinals
St. Louis has had one of the game's top catchers for years and has a worthy successor -- assuming Yadier Molina ever slows down -- in Kelly. He has the arm, receiving ability and leadership skills to win Gold Gloves, and his offensive game is coming around nicely as he gets more accustomed to working behind the plate.
2. Francisco Mejia, Indians
Though he didn't break out offensively until 2016, his fourth year in pro ball, Mejia already was well known in scouting circles for a cannon arm that ranks among the best in the Minors. His receiving is improving, too, so he could be a solid all-around performer. Cleveland included him in a trade package for Jonathan Lucroy last July but kept Mejia when Lucroy vetoed the deal.
3. Jorge Alfaro, Phillies
Alfaro has the best combination of raw power and arm strength of any catching prospect, making him likely the most valuable part of the five-prospect package the Phils acquired from the Rangers for Cole Hamels and Jake Diekman in 2015. Alfaro made progress with his hitting ability and receiving last season, putting him in line to start for Philadelphia at some point later this year.
4. Zack Collins, White Sox
Collins offered some of the best offensive upside in the 2016 Draft and went 10th overall, earning a $3,380,600 bonus. He has big left-handed power and has been an on-base machine, though his throwing and catching skills are average at best.
5. Chance Sisco, Orioles
Sisco has drilled line drives everywhere he has gone, winning the low Class A South Atlantic League batting title (.340) in his first full pro season in 2014 and batting .323 in four years in the Minors. He gave a glimpse of his power potential with a long home run at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game last July, and more importantly, he's showing enough progress behind the plate that scouts now believe he can be at least a decent defender.
6. Reese McGuire, Blue Jays
Acquired last August from the Pirates in a trade for Drew Hutchinson, McGuire is the lone catcher on this list whose defense is well ahead of his offense. He's athletic, receives and blocks well and owns a strong arm with a quick transfer. As a hitter, McGuire makes consistent contact but has yet to show any ability to drive the ball.
7. Tom Murphy, Rockies
Murphy gave Colorado a glimpse of what he can do last September, homering five times in 44 at-bats and erasing four of 10 basestealers. Power and arm strength are his two best tools, while his hitting and receiving are less polished.
8. Austin Barnes, Dodgers
Barnes is both the oldest (27) and most versatile (capable of playing second and third base) catcher on this list. The nephew of former big leaguer Mike Gallego, he's a line-drive hitter who controls the strike zone and impresses with his agility behind the plate.
9. Jose Trevino, Rangers
After starting at three positions at Oral Roberts and four in his pro debut, Trevino has taken off since becoming a full-time catcher in 2015. Texas' Minor League player of the year in 2016, he showed off his best tool (his plus arm) by leading the Class A Advanced California League by throwing out 48 percent of basestealers.
10. Jacob Nottingham, Brewers
Traded twice in seven months, by the Astros to the Athletics in the Scott Kazmir deal and by Oakland to Milwaukee as part of the payment for Khris Davis, Nottingham once was recruited to play tight end by the University of Arizona. He's a slugger who's still figuring out the nuances of making consistent contact and cleaning up his defense.
The 11th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Tyler Stephenson (Reds) had an injury-plagued first full pro season, but he has drawn Matt Wieters comparisons with his tools and switch-hitting ability.
He may be undersized at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, yet Garrett Stubbs (Astros) is a dynamo who's athletic behind the plate and excels at making contact.
Chase Vallot (Royals) is still raw defensively but stands out with his right-handed pop.
Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.