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Colorado Rockies prospect Tom Murphy ready for regular major-league playing time

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Purple Row Prospect No. 6, Tom Murphy

6. Tom Murphy (966 points, 39 ballots)

If I were writing this article before July in 2016, I'd have been writing about a disappointing campaign for Tom Murphy. In the season's first half, the 25-year-old righty catcher didn't make his debut until May due to a strained oblique muscle. Over 149 May and June at bats with Triple-A Albuquerque, Murphy scuffled to a .208/.227/.457 line, not the type of season fans had been expecting from a player who had a 116 wRC+ at the major league level in a 39 plate appearance cameo in 2015.

Since the calendar turned to July, though, Murphy flat out crushed the ball. In 63 July at-bats, Murphy had a preposterous .540/.586/1.079 line (not a typo) with 16 extra base hits. He followed that month up with a .381/.430/.690 August that had another 16 extra base hits, whereupon he was deservedly promoted back to the big leagues. In all, despite the very poor start, Murphy’s Triple-A line against pitchers that were 1.4 years older on average was an excellent .321/.367/.647 with 52 extra base hits in 322 plate appearances. That’s good for a 162 wRC+!

The best part is that, once promoted to the Show, Murphy didn’t stop the power surge. In 49 MLB plate appearances, Murphy hit .273/.347/.659 with five homers and a 145 wRC+, good for 0.6 rWAR. That ranked Murphy as the 10th most valuable position player on the Rockies last year—with 49 plate appearances, remember. If you prefer fWAR, Murphy’s 0.8 last year was eighth among position players.

Everyone seems to agree that Murphy's distinguishing trait is how strong he is—the question is whether that strength will carry over to the major league level.

MLB.com recently ranked Murphy 7th among catching prospects:

Murphy is built to hit for power because he's strong and has a quick right-handed swing with loft. He has a pull-happy, aggressive approach that could translate into 20 or more homers annually at Coors Field but also reduces his chances of making contact and drawing walks. He derives the bulk of his offensive value from his ability to drive the ball out of the park.

Though he missed most of 2014 with a strained rotator cuff, Murphy avoided surgery and regained his solid arm strength once he was healthy. He has quickened his release and improved his receiving since entering pro ball, but he's more of a decent defender than an asset. He has well below-average speed, like most catchers, but moves well enough behind the plate.

Curiously, despite his breakout season and a 5 point bump on his hit tool, MLB.com actually reduced Murphy’s FV from 50 to 45 compared to their midseason update.

Baseball Prospectus ranked Murphy 5th in the system:

The Good: There is serious pop at the dish here. Granted, the Rockies system doesn’t lack for friendly offensive environments, but Murphy could hit a ball over the Sandia Mountains with some friendly tailwinds. Even at sea level, there is 20-home run power in the bat and even more in batting practice. Behind the dish, Murphy won’t stand out in any one area, but he is an improved receiver with an above-average arm who should be a capable major-league catcher.

The Bad: There are serious hit tool questions at the dish here. Murphy likes to swing, and the power comes from length and strength. It’s an offensive profile where things could go bad as he sees fewer mistakes from major league arms, and the book gets out on him. Even if that doesn’t happen, the hit tool still tops out at 40 for me, which will limit how much the prodigious pop gets into games, and also limits the ceiling here.

The Risks: He’s major-league-ready and a safe bet to stick at catcher even if he isn’t going to top our defensive leaderboards. There’s a lot of swing-and-miss here though. If he hits .240, he’s a nice starter. If he hits .200, well...

Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs put him 9th in the system:

If Murphy can just be passable behind the plate, he’ll be an everyday player, as he generates plus power to all fields on contact. Murphy doesn’t present pitchers with a great target and is a below-average receiver and ball-blocker, but he does have an average arm and isn’t fatally atrocious at any aspect of catching. Catchers worse than this have seen regular time behind the plate in recent years and some of them don’t have the power and approach that Murphy does.

Murphy’s swing is simple but stiff and he whiffs quite a bit, posting strikeout rates of 25% or more in each of the last three seasons. He has impact power on contact, though, and has enough raw strength to muscle out 20-plus homers annually. If Murphy can post OBPs around .315 with that kind of power and remain at catcher, then he’ll be a fringe-average regular at least.

John Sickels of Minor League Ball also ranked Murphy 5th in the organization:

Not a terrific defender but not a bad one, either, certainly playable if he hits as expected; power is real, as are contact concerns but Coors is ideal for his bat and should mask weaknesses; don’t expect high batting averages but he’ll produce power and play his position competently.

If it weren't for a shoulder injury that limited him to 109 plate appearances in 2014, Murphy might already have been a big-league mainstay in 2015 and we might never have had the Tony Wolters experience (what a cold gray world that would have been). As it is though, Murphy is an imposing bat from behind the plate who is ready now to mash big league pitching—maybe even as a starter in 2017.

As the scouting reports mention above, Murphy doesn't have great plate discipline stats (24.3 K%, 5.0 BB% in Triple-A, 38.8% K% in MLB), which limits his offensive ceiling. With that written, Murphy has hit across all levels (career .884 OPS) and despite injuries has made a steady climb through the organization. He's a solid defender behind the plate and offensively he profiles to have plus power at the major league level. I think Murphy is a 50+ Future Value prospect as a potential plus starting catcher and I ranked him sixth on my ballot.