MLB.com's Top 50 Prospects list has been expanded to 100. The 2012 version will be unveiled on Wednesday, Jan. 25, on MLB.com as well as on a one-hour show on MLB Network, airing at 10 p.m. ET. Leading up to that, MLB.com takes a look at baseball's Top 10 prospects at each position.
The name atop this year's Top 10 catching prospects list is the same as in 2011, but the team isn't. The biggest offseason prospect splash happened recently, with Jesus Montero going from the Yankees to the Mariners. Half of last year's list, including Montero, is back for a return engagement, with a very interesting mix of backstops at all levels of development rounding out this year's Top 10.
1. Jesus Montero, Mariners*: After two years in Triple-A, Montero made his highly anticipated big league debut last September, and he made a huge first impression with his bat. His offensive game has always been his calling card, and after a good, not great, year in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, he was red-hot upon his arrival in New York. Montero is ready to contribute to a lineup now, and thanks to his trade to Seattle, it looks like he should get that opportunity right away. He should hit for average and power for a long time, but the issue has always been about his glove work. Montero has a strong arm and has worked on his defense, but the Mariners will have to be patient with that part of his game -- unless they decide he'll be a designated hitter in the long term. Either way, they should reap the benefits of his bat right away.
(*Trade from Yankees to Mariners is pending)
2. Devin Mesoraco, Reds: Ramon Hernandez is gone. The prospect who might have pushed him, Yasmani Grandal, was dealt to San Diego. It's clear the Reds believe Mesoraco is the future behind the plate in Cincinnati. His game has come together over the past two years and he made his big league debut last September. Mesoraco has good power at the plate and a good approach that should allow him to hit for average as well. A plus arm has led to some high caught-stealing rates in the Minors, and he's a natural leader behind the plate. Even if Mesoraco shares time with Ryan Hanigan at first, the job should be his for a long time.
3. Travis d'Arnaud, Blue Jays: When Toronto traded Roy Halladay to Philadelphia, d'Arnaud may not have been the top prospect in the deal, but he might end up being the best. He has terrific all-around skills that surpass those of current young big league catcher J.P. Arencibia. d'Arnaud started truly fulfilling his offensive potential in 2011, showing the ability to hit for both average and power. Behind the plate, d'Arnaud is agile and athletic, and he has plenty of arm to help control the running game. A torn thumb ligament suffered while playing for Team USA isn't an issue, and he'll be ready for Spring Training and Triple-A on schedule.
4. Gary Sanchez, Yankees: Like his former organization mate, Montero, Sanchez is an offensive-minded backstop, but he's still on the bottom rungs of the Yanks' system. Sanchez does have some defensive ability, with a plus arm and glimpses of other skills in the past. In 2011, though, it looks like his glove work overall took a step backward. Sanchez's bat should help him advance, with above-average raw power and the potential to be an excellent all-around hitter. He's still very young, so even if he has to start the year back in the South Atlantic League, at age 19, he has plenty of time to turn things around.
5. Wilin Rosario, Rockies: Rosario made it back from a knee injury, albeit a bit slowly, in 2011. Even so, he went to his second Futures Game and made his Major League debut in September. Rosario has a plus arm behind the plate that can shut down a running game, and he's shown some good power as well, with a career slugging percentage close to .450. He needs to improve his plate discipline and his all-around defense to be ready for a full-time gig. The signing of Ramon Hernandez should allow Colorado to send Rosario to Triple-A to work on those things in 2012.
6. Yasmani Grandal, Padres: The possible competition for a big league job between Grandal and Mesoraco was averted when Cincinnati sent Grandal to San Diego in the Mat Latos deal. The 2010 first-rounder is now the Padres' top catching prospect, and after finishing 2011 in Triple-A, he should be knocking on the door soon. Grandal showed an ability to hit from both sides of the plate, with some power and an advanced approach at the plate. He should be a capable catcher defensively, though he could use some move development time, and his strong arm enabled him to throw out basestealers during his climb. Only Nick Hundley really stands in his way, and when Grandal is ready, he should be given an opportunity.
7. Christian Bethancourt, Braves: Sometimes it just takes players a little longer, especially when they have the responsibilities of learning how to catch. The good news is when Bethancourt went back to the South Atlantic League for a return engagement in 2011, he started to figure things out, hitting for average and earning a promotion. Scouts raved about his tools in the Arizona Fall League as well, noting his athleticism and strong throwing arm behind the plate as well as ability to handle the bat. Still raw in many facets of the game, it will be interesting to watch how Bethancourt's AFL experience helps him in '12, perhaps in Double-A.
8. Ryan Lavarnway, Red Sox: As a sixth-round pick out of a school like Yale, the expectations might not be all that high, and a player will have to prove himself at every level. Lavarnway has done just that, especially with the bat. He hit 32 homers across two levels and made his big league debut in 2011, bringing his career slugging percentage up to .521. While Lavarnway's power has always been his calling card, he's turned himself into a decent backstop as well. Lavarnway is ready for a big league opportunity with the bat, but with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach in Boston, it might not come right away, so he'll likely go back to Triple-A to work on his defense.
9. Sebastian Valle, Phillies: The Phils have had a prospect-laden rotation moving up the ladder one station at a time, and Valle has been the backstop responsible for catching them. He had a torrid first half of 2011 and went to the Futures Game, but cooled off in the second half as he ran out of gas. Valle has good bat speed and should grow into more power, especially if he can learn better plate discipline. He's very agile behind the plate and throws well, giving him all the skills to be an excellent all-around catcher in the future. Valle and those pitchers will move up to Double-A in '12.
10. Jorge Alfaro, Rangers: Just after his 18th birthday, Alfaro went to the advanced short-season Northwest League and promptly hit .300 with an .826 OPS. Alfaro is a physical specimen with strength and plus bat speed. He has raw power to all fields, and once he cuts down on his swing/learns plate discipline, he should be an outstanding all-around hitter. Behind the plate, Alfaro has a plus arm that should allow him to control a running game as he learns the nuances of his defensive craft. Alfaro runs better than most catchers as well, and that athleticism should help him behind the plate as he moves up to full-season ball.
To be eligible for the list, a player must have rookie eligibility. To qualify for rookie status, a player must not have exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues, or accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the 25-player limit period, excluding time on the disabled list or in military service.
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.