by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Who are the next wave of superstars in Major League Baseball? That’s what we are about to dive into, as we go position-by-position, looking for the best players who are 25-years old or younger (as of April 1, 2017). Obviously, things will be slightly skewed to those who have already reached the Majors and produced, but minor leaguers and their upside will not be ignored.
To kick things off, we will start with the talent behind the plate. The most grueling position in the game, it is often tough to find a player with tremendous offensive upside because teams will move them out from behind the plate in order to keep them healthy. Of course last season we saw two potentially elite catchers debut, but there are a few others coming quickly who could make an impact as soon as 2017. What does the future of the position look like? Let’s take a look:
1) Gary Sanchez – New York Yankees
Age on 04/01/17 – 24
Potential regression or not, no one is going to argue against Sanchez as the premier young catcher in the game (and many would place him among the elite young players, regardless of position). That’s what happens when you burst onto the scene, hitting .299 with 20 HR over 229 PA.
The big stumble will likely come in the power department, given these numbers:
There will also likely be a fall in his average, thanks to the drop in power and strikeout rate (24.9%). At the same time there’s a chance he makes the necessary adjustments and can improve on the latter, though time will tell. Even if things fall, we’re still talking .260/20, with the potential for more, and that’s going to make him one of the best at the position regardless of age.
2) Willson Contreras – Chicago Cubs
Age on 04/01/17 – 24
Considering the potential regression for Sanchez, you could make the argument that Contreras isn’t far off from him moving forward. While he may not get the recognition, he made a similar splash upon arriving in the Majors (.282 with 12 HR over 252 AB). There are also similar concerns in regards to his power, after he posted a 54.3% groundball rate. He also needs to make an adjustment given the following Whiff%:
Like with Sanchez, the potential to hit for a solid average (.260+) along with power already places him among the best at the position. Don’t make the mistake of expecting him to advance without setbacks, however.
3) Francisco Mejia – Cleveland Indians
Age on 04/01/17 – 21
Rumored to be part of the nixed Jonathan Lucroy trade, at this time next year the Indians could be thankful that it fell through. Splitting time between two levels of Single-A, Mejia combined to hit .342 with 11 HR over 407 AB. It’s easy to argue a little bit of luck in the numbers (BABIP of .388 and .366), but he showed a great feel for making contact:
You also don’t carry a 50-game hitting streak by luck alone, and with adding 29 doubles and 4 triples he should gain a little bit more power (15+ over a full season). The profile looks a lot like Lucroy, and it will be interesting to see how Mejia responds to Double-A to open the year. If he handles the transition seamlessly, arriving in Cleveland in the second half is realistic.
4) Chance Sisco – Baltimore Orioles
Age on 04/01/17 – 22
The heir apparent to Matt Wieters, there’s a good chance he gets his first taste of the Majors in 2017. A career .323 hitter in the minors, Sisco got his first taste of Triple-A in ’16 (16 AB) after hitting .320 over 410 AB at Double-A. With a 17.3% strikeout rate and 12.3% walk rate, there’s no questioning his potential to hit for a strong average. The issue has been his lack of power, and that continued in ’16 with 4 HR. Listed at 6’2” and 195 lbs. he is expected to continue adding strength, and with his ability to hit all he needs to do is get into the 10-12 HR range to hold significant value. That’s not a very big step to take, especially playing half his games in Baltimore.
5) Tom Murphy – Colorado Rockies
Age on 04/01/17 – 25
The Rockies appear primed to give Murphy an opportunity to win the starting job in ’17, and that should yield a significant amount of power (19 HR in 321 PA at Triple-A in ’16, with 5 HR in 49 PA in the Majors). The question is going to be whether or not he can get the strikeout rate in check:
Playing in Coors Field he could put 25+ HR, but the strikeouts will also cap his batting average upside. In other words he’s your prototypical all power, no average catcher who could easily hit .240 or worse (think Brian McCann or Russell Martin).
Others Considered – Zack Collins (CWS), Jorge Alfaro (PHI), Carson Kelly (STL), Austin Hedges (SD)
Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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Make sure to check out our other Early 2017 Rankings: