The Top Five Catchers

The Top Five Catchers

As FutureBacks begins a 10 part series detailing the Top Five prospects at each position, we start where all good teams must, behind the plate. Catchers, more than any other position, can be assets as much with their brain as with their bat, glove, or arm. They are captains of the infield, the pitcher's best friend, and the umpires confidant. The Diamondbacks have signed injury prone Johnny Estrada to a three year deal, but it may not take that long to see one of these guys in the bigs.

Top 5 Catchers

#1  Miguel Montero

Montero made a name for himself last year at Lancaster, where he destroyed the California League, hitting .349 with 49 extra base hits (including 24 home runs) and 85 RBI in 355 at bats.  After a trip to the Futures Game midseason he earned a promotion to Double-A Tennessee and a combination of injuries and inconsistent playing time left him hitting only .250 at the higher level in 108 at bats. 

Montero bounced back in the Arizona Fall League hitting .421 with two homers and nine RBI in just 19 at bats, leaving early to join his Winter Ball team in Venezuela.  A tireless worker, Montero has spent much of the Winter Ball season improving his defense, which often find him reaching for balls instead of shifting his weight, but as an even adequate defender Montero will command attention for his ability to hit the ball hard and his clutch hitting (even struggling in Double-A he hit .429 with runners in scoring position and two outs).

#2  Phil Avlas

Some would claim that Phil Avlas' chances have come and gone, but the most consistent backstop in the Diamondbacks system has the attitude and smarts that could make him a very valuable commodity.  Much of 2005 was a wash for Avlas, who first was saddled with only playing one or two days a week at Double-A Tennessee because of a three man rotation behind the plate there, then after an injury he was demoted to Hi-A Lancaster in favor or Montero.

Suddenly and unexpectedly Avlas was starting everyday and the defacto leader of a team headed toward the California League playoffs.  How did he respond?  By hitting .367 with five homers, 18 extra base hits and 24 RBI in just 37 games.  Consistently praised by coaches and pitchers for the way he calls games, talks to pitchers and blocks balls, Avlas will need to hit more consistently at higher levels, but is the type of steady, heady performer who could find himself in a big league uniform because of injury, and then never take it off.

#3  Koyie Hill

There is probably no other way for Koyie Hill to look at the 2005 season but a disappointment, but there is probably no other way for Koyie Hill to look at 2006 but a year ripe for redemption.  Hill and Chris Snyder were as shocked as anybody when Bob Melvin decided to keep both on the Major League roster for opening day last season, rather than choosing one and bringing in a veteran backstop as the backup.  It happened, but in short order Hill struggled and Melvin brought Kelly Stinnett up to replace him, leaving Snyder as the starter, and Hill in Tucson.

Playing everyday again jump started Hill, but defensive issues and a prolonged slump in August dropped his Tucson batting average all the way down to .244.  In the offseason the Diamondbacks made it clear that they did not feel either Hill or Snyder was the answer, signing Johnny Estrada, but with the pressure now clearly off, the switch hitting Hill will start the season in Triple-A Tucson and be one nagging injury away from getting another shot (it would be his third straight season with big league experience) and blossoming into the kind of catcher the Diamondbacks thought they were getting when they traded for him from the Dodgers.

#4  Orlando Mercado

The youngest catcher on this list is primed for a breakout season, and still a minimum of two full years away.  Mercado is the son of a former Major Leaguer with an almost preternatural understanding of the game.  In Lo-A South Bend last season Mercado showed an excellent defensive touch, throwing out runners and controlling the game for a pitching staff that included top prospects Koley Kolberg, Ross Ohlendorf and A. J. Shappi.

Though he hit only .249 for the season those who praise Mercado would point to the fact that he walked as many times as he struck out (34) and that despite putting on between 10 and 15 pounds between the '04 and '05 seasons, he still has plenty of room to fill out on his 5'10" frame.

#5  Matt Morgan

There are plenty of reasons not to include Matt Morgan on this list.  He had only 270 at bats in 2005, and played four different positions.  His .274 batting average won't blow you away, and scouts say his arm is below average.  Still, with the WBC eating up time and catchers unsure of where they might be during spring it was Morgan that the Diamondbacks extended an invite to this spring training, and more than a few inside the system say that he might end up filling the void left by the Rule V departure of Dan Uggla to Florida.

His versatility and passion for the game are evident on virtually every play, and one Arizona scout said that he made as large a stride last season as either Mercado or Montero, but didn't get the opportunities to show it.  This season will be an interesting one for Morgan, who figures to continue bringing multiple gloves to the park, and would certainly have no problems following the lead of someone like Robbie Hammock, who will again challenge for a spot on the big league roster as a utility infielder/outfielder and third catcher.

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