The catcher position is currently in a state of flux for the Rockies as they rely on veteran Nick Hundley and first year player Tony Wolters to anchor behind the dish. Hundley is a stop gap for the team despite his .301 average in 2015 which was a high water mark for the former Padre who typically hits around the .249 mark and owns a career 93 OPS+. Both players have their limitations as Wolters is a converted catcher with contact issues, while Hundley struggles with contact and framing behind the plate. Look for the team to make a change during the season or later in the summer to add youth if the right prospect emerges.
This is a subjective list of the five best Rockies catchers on the farm based on a mix of overall rankings from our own PuRPs list, Baseball America and MLB.com. In the absence of a ranking, then I used ceiling or relative closeness to the major leagues as a determining factor.
The Rockies have two stand out prospects to watch at the catching position, one close to the majors and the other likely still three years away. The list drops off a little after that with a dark horse candidate close to the majors and a couple of prospects who are still several years away from playing in Coors Field.
1) Tom Murphy, (No. 10 PuRP, No. 7 BA, No. 10 MLB.com)
6-foot-1, Weight 220 lbs, 3rd round of the 2012 draft
Ranked No. 97 in Baseball America's Top 100 prospects list, Murphy is tabbed as the Rockies catcher of the future and brings a power resume and strong leadership skills to the backstop position. Drafted out of the University of Buffalo, Murphy is poised to become the Rockies next starter and will likely force his way into the lineup at some point this season, especially with incumbent starter Nick Hundley becoming a free agent next year. Murphy has a career slash line of .270/.343/.505 and the slugging part really stands out, as he's averaged 20+ long balls in years when he was fully healthy. The 25-year-old is a solid receiver behind the dish and displays an arm more than capable of gunning down potential base threats. Murphy is slated to start the season at Triple-A Albuquerque to improve his pitch recognition and contact skills.
2) Dom Nunez,(No. 13 PuRP, No. 9 MLB)
6-foot-0, Weight 175 lb, 6th round of the 2013 draft
A diamond in the rough, Nunez is poised for a breakout season in High-A Modesto this season. The 20-year-old brings athleticism and versatility to the field as he can also play middle infield. Fully converted to a catcher in 2014, Nunez saw his hitting take off after the switch where he posted a wRC+ of 135 and 129 in consecutive years. The California native initially struggled in Low-A Asheville last season, posting a sub .600 OPS for the first two months of the year, but then found his stride in June and finished the final four months of the year with 13 home runs. Nunez is still raw behind the plate, as can be expected from a late position switch in his career, but Nunez has shown a leadership ability working with pitchers and an arm strong enough to eliminate the running game.
3) Ryan Casteel, (No. 30 PuRP)
5-foot-11, Weight 205 lbs, 17th round of the 2010 draft
A dark horse in the Rockies development plans for the catcher position, Casteel has seen his production limited for the past two years due to multiple injuries. The highlight of Casteel's minor league career was in 2013 when the Tennessee native slammed 22 home runs and 30 doubles in High-A Modesto. Casteel loves to play the game and has become a world traveler in the off season playing for teams in the Australian and Dominican winter leagues. Casteel will face a crowded backstop position in Triple-A Albuquerque with Tom Murphy and Dustin Garneau garnering most of the playing time. Casteel will be playing quite a bit of first base in the meantime, but could force his way into the big leagues if his bat heats up and the right opportunity presents itself. This year could be the last chance for Casteel, as the 26-year-old will be a minor league free agent after the season.
4) Tony Wolters, (NR)
5-foot-10, 200 lbs, Claimed off waivers from Cleveland
A converted catcher who will be making his major league debut as the Rockies primary backup to start the season. Formerly a middle infielder, Wolters was converted to backstop due to the logjam of quality shortstops in the Indians system. Wolters has shown a fluid movement behind the plate and has a penchant for throwing out runners. His bat has been a liability to this point however, with a .258/.335/.349 career slash line.
5) Hidekel Gonzalez, (NR)
6-foot-190, 190 lbs, International Free Agent
An up-and-coming talent to watch for, Gonzalez had a breakout season in the Dominican Summer League where he posted a .326/.386/.416 line in a pitcher friendly environment. Gonzalez was signed out of a camp run by Placido Polanco's father for $350,000 and was part of a junior division World Series prior to signing with the Rockies. Ben Badler had the following to say about the 19-year-old who can also play first base.
"Gonzalez has a lot of energy behind the plate and has been catching for a while. He's a solid receiver, though with a fringe-average arm. He already speaks English, which will help him handle pitchers once he gets to the United States."
Projecting DSL prospects is always tricky, but it's likely Gonzalez will debut stateside at some point this year in either Grand Junction or Boise.
Dustin Garneau, 6-foot-0, 200 lbs, 19th round of the 2009 draft
With more than 70 major league at-bats under his belt, Garneau represents solid depth within the organization and is only a phone call away. The Rockies will likely give Tom Murphy every chance to win a spot in the majors, but if they determine he needs more time to develop then Garneau will be the first to get the call. The California native is the strongest defensive catcher in the system, but his contact issues have limited his opportunities as he batted .157 last year in the major leagues and just .154 this spring.
Hamlet Marte, 5-foot-10, Weight 180 lbs, International Free Agent
Running out of time, Marte was eligible for the Rule 5 draft this season and has yet to play past Short-Season ball. The 22-year-old has hit at every level however, posting a career .278/.357/.422 slash line. Even more impressive was his .297 average in the pitcher friendly Northwest league last year. Marte still has work to do behind the plate, where he's struggled with pitch blocking, but also possesses a cannon for an arm.