Believe it or not, the MLB regular season is less than a month away. In the first part of a four-part series on breakout players, here are my three catchers with the potential to break out in 2019.
3. Reese McGuire, Toronto Blue Jays
2019: 30 games, .299/.346/.526, .872 OPS, 5 home runs, 11 RBIs, 26 CS%
Reese McGuire’s offseason has been, uh, interesting. Despite his recent arrest, McGuire comes into spring training facing a battle for the starting catcher position with Danny Jansen. However, I expect McGuire will be able to earn that regular starting spot, and possibly have a breakout season.
McGuire first cracked the bigs at age 22 during September call-ups of the 2018 season. In 33 plate appearances that year, McGuire hit .290 with two home runs and a .914 OPS. Solid numbers, but too small of a sample size to make a valid judgment on him. Cut to 2019, where McGuire got called up in late July and played well again in 30 games. Splitting his playing time with Jansen and Luke Maile, McGuire looked like the best of the bunch, giving him some steam coming into spring training.
With Maile now with the Pittsburgh organization, McGuire and Jansen will be the catchers on Toronto’s opening day roster. Most likely, they will split time, but I expect McGuire will end up getting more playing time and have a breakout season. Defensively, McGuire has upside as well, having thrown out five of 19 runners last season. We’ve only seen him play 44 games, but he’s looked great so far. Not to mention he’s only 25.
2. Francisco Mejia, San Diego Padres
2019: 79 games, .265/.316/.438, .754 OPS, 8 home runs, 22 RBIs, 17 CS%
Francisco Mejia comes into spring training in a starting catcher battle, but appears to have the edge over Austin Hedges. The former Cleveland Indians’ top prospect, Mejia was traded to the Padres at the trade deadline in exchange for Brad Hand.
After limited playing time with Cleveland, Mejia got the opportunity with San Diego in 2018 but made little to no impact. His OPS in 58 plate appearances was a measly .630. However, last season he finally made significant strides in his game, increasing his OPS by well over 100 points, and showing some pop from the catcher position. He also played left field when needed, but his primary job is at catcher.
Hedges has been the Padres’ catcher each of the past three seasons, but his production has fallen off quite a bit, posting just a .563 OPS in 2019. Defensively, Hedges has the advantage, but I wouldn’t be shocked if Mejia got the everyday job. At just 24 years old, Mejia may be in for a big season.
1. Jorge Alfaro, Miami Marlins
2019: 130 games, .262/.312/.425, .736 OPS, 18 home runs, 57 RBIs, 33 CS%
Of the three catchers on this list, Alfaro is the only one who will definitely be the opening day starter, barring injury. After being the full-time starter for the first time in 2018 with the Phillies, Alfaro was dealt to Miami as a piece of the JT Realmuto trade.
At the plate, Alfaro has shown flashes of power but has consistently struggled with strikeouts. In 431 at-bats last season, he struck out a ridiculous 154 times, while walking just 22 times. However, during September of last season, Alfaro began making strides at the plate, lowering his strikeout percentage to a lower 27.5%. Still not ideal, but better than it had been. Additionally, his OPS+ of 115 was well up from his season number of 95.
While his offense has been solid, Alfaro’s defense is where he can jump to an elite level. Behind the plate, he is solid, but far from elite with pitch-framing. However, he has an absolute cannon of an arm, helping him throw out 16 of 49 base runners last season. Just look at the arm strength on some of these throws:
If he can cut down on the strikeouts, get on base more often, and continue to improve behind the dish, Alfaro has the chance one of the best catchers in the MLB.
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