Rockies prospects, top catchers: Tom Murphy, Ryan Casteel, Will Swanner at head of the class

Tom Murphy

With a bottleneck occurring at Tulsa and Modesto, Tom Murphy, Ryan Casteel and Will Swanner will be competing in 2014 for a chance to impress the organization and ultimately become the next in line to don a purple chest protector in Coors Field.

In an ongoing analysis of the depth of the Rockies' farm system at key positions, this feature highlights the top five catchers with an emphasis on ceiling over proximity. Since many Triple-A players will be fighting for a major league job this year, I've chosen to limit the list to players who appeared at the Double-A level and below in 2013.

The current crop of catchers has several talented players, including one standout who distinguished himself from the pack last season by bypassing a level, and three men whose time is running out in the organization. Followers of the Rockies should keep a keen eye on Tulsa and Modesto to see who, if anyone, emerges this season as a ready challenger to Baby Bull's position.

Top 5 Catchers

1. Tom Murphy - 6'1", 220 lbs.

C

Age

Tm

G

Iso

HR

K%

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Tom Murphy

22.17

ASH, TUL

100

0.282

22

24.8%

5

0.289

0.376

0.571

134 (174 at ASH)

A power-hitting catcher who has drawn rave reviews for his ability to handle a pitching staff, Murphy ascended quickly in 2013, when he hit .288 with 19 home runs in 80 games for Low-A Asheville before skipping a level to Double-A Tulsa and hitting .290 with three homers in just 20 games. Drafted in the third round of the 2012 draft, Murphy will turn 23 in April.

Rockies player development director Jeff Bridich had this to say about Tom Murphy in an interview with Thomas Harding of MLB.com:

"Not in every way, but in some ways it's almost a re-creation of Chris Iannetta before our eyes. They've got some differences in how they play the game and how they swing the bat, and Tommy's got a little bit better arm than Chris has. But it's that block, brute-strength catcher's body."

The University of Buffalo standout has the prototypical skills a team looks for in a catcher: with a strong arm, the ability to handle a pitching staff and the power to drive in runs. Critics say Murphy could be smoother behind the plate with framing pitches and balls in the dirt, but his upside and other strengths stand out above any shortcomings. Murphy was rated the No. 7 Rockies prospect by Baseball America and No. 6 by Fangraphs. The right-hander's all-around skills, and the fact he jumped a level to Double-A, earns him the top spot on this list.

2. Ryan Casteel - 6'1", 205 lbs.

C

Age

Tm

G

Iso

HR

K%

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Ryan Casteel

22.00

MOD

108

0.253

22

25.2%

1

0.27

0.352

0.523

124

Considered by many as an afterthought after three mediocre years, including playing as the backup to Will Swanner in Asheville, Casteel stepped into the spotlight with a breakout season in High-A Modesto last year. The 22-year-old hit just six home runs in his previous three seasons combined, but that number increased to 22 in the California League. Casteel's offensive surge didn't shut off after he left Modesto, either. He played winter ball in Australia and nearly claimed the league's Triple Crown, leading the Aussies in average (.343) and home runs (11).

Casteel was drafted in the 17th round of the 2010 draft out of Cleveland State Community College. His modest beginnings have led the right-hander to be unranked in the Rockies system by any of the major prospect publications, but I feel they are sleeping on his recent success against tougher competition. Casteel has shown the ability to handle pitchers, hit for average and generate solid power. In 2014, he will most likely work in Double-A Tulsa, where he'll partner with Tom Murphy to cover the catching duties. Casteel is eligible for the Rule 5 draft after this season, so expect the Rockies to give him a September call-up as an audition for the 40-man roster.

3. Will Swanner - 6'2", 186 lbs.

C

Age

Tm

G

Iso

HR

K%

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Will Swanner

21.75

MOD

100

0.186

13

31.7%

7

0.239

0.324

0.425

95

Once anointed as the chosen one for the Rockies catching prospects, the 22-year-old ran into a buzz saw in High-A Modesto, which has proven to be a tough benchmark for many of the Rockies rising prospects. Taking a closer look at his season, Swanner had a solid performance through most of it, posting an 800 OPS or better in all but two months. However, those two months saw him struggle with his old nemesis of strikeouts, which led to batting averages of .150 in April and .183 in July.

Ranked No. 14 in the system by Fangraphs, Swanner was drafted out of high school in the 15th round of the 2010 draft. The right-hander has unbelievable power, rivaled by only Murphy and Harold Riggins in Colorado's minor league system. Defensively the San Diego native has received praise for blocking balls in the dirt, but has also been criticized for his inability to control the running game. A defensive switch might be in the works, which could open up more playing time and reduce the physical grind that comes from playing behind the plate. Swanner is eligible for the Rule 5 draft after this year and will most likely be repeating Modesto, which is why he is ranked No. 3 on this list.

4. Jose Briceno - 6'0", 196 lbs.

C

Age

Tm

G

Iso

HR

K%

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Jose Briceno

20.75

GJ, ASH

59

0.204

9

19.4%

8

0.302

0.332

0.506

92 (137 at GJ)

Briceno came out of the Dominican League showcasing an arm that hadn't been seen in those parts since Wilin Rosario left for the States. The Venezuelan had one season where he threw out 62 percent of all runners trying to steal against him while playing for the DSL Rockies. After being promoted to the United States, an injury wiped out the right-hander's first season in Grand Junction and set him back a year developmentally.

"(Briceno) has a low strikeout rate, and makes adjustments fast. I think he could be a consistent .280 or .290 hitter with 30-plus home runs." Tony Diaz told Drew Creasman.

The 21-year-old is ranked No. 15 in the Rockies system by Fangraphs and will most likely be playing alongside Will Swanner in Modesto this season. Briceno has hit everywhere he's been asked to play, but defensively he still needs to work on receiving pitches and blocking balls in the dirt. This season Briceno will be eligible for the Rule 5 draft and it could be his last year in the Rockies minor leagues.

5. Dom Nunez - 6'0", 174 lbs.

C

Age

Tm

G

Iso

HR

K%

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Dom Nunez

18.42

GJ

53

0.122

3

15.1%

11

0.189

0.261

0.311

39

"For a kid that hasn't caught too much, he's got a great feel. He's a very good catcher of the baseball. Soft, quiet hands. I'm like shocked how good he catches the ball." - Rockies catching coordinator Mark Strittmater on Nunez to Jack Etkin

Everything is about potential when it comes to Dom Nunez. The left-handed hitter was given a chance to play infield in his first season for the Grand Junction Rockies. But this season, and going forward, the organization has chosen to move Nunez back to behind the plate, citing slow foot speed and an arm that's too good for second base as the genesis for the move. The Rockies revealed the move in an interview with Jack Etkin of Baseball America and sent Nunez to the Rockies Dominican League facility this offseason to hone his skills behind the plate.

Drafted in the sixth round of the 2013 draft out of Elk Grove high school in California, Nunez led USA's under-18 baseball team to consecutive gold medals before being chosen by the Rockies. Club personnel has been complimentary of Dom, as his former manager, Tony Diaz, said, "(Nunez) has a very high baseball IQ."

Honorable Mention

  • Dustin Garneau (6'1", 215 lbs.) - A big blocky catcher known more for his defensive ability than his hitting. Garneau will be the starting catcher in Triple-A Colorado Springs and could be next in line if something happens to Jordan Pacheco or Michael McKenry.
  • Wilfredo Rodriguez (5'10", 200 lbs.) - A solid hitter drafted in the seventh round out of the Puerto Rican Academy in 2012. The right-hander is still raw behind the plate and needs to advance beyond short-season ball before we can project any type of future with the big club.
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join Purple Row

You must be a member of Purple Row to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Purple Row. You should read them.

Join Purple Row

You must be a member of Purple Row to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at Purple Row. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.

tracking_pixel_9351_tracker