Last season the upper minors were full of potential stars that were nearly ready to take the next step and make their mark in the majors. Andrew McCutcheon is now the headliner of that group though other Colby Rasmus and Dexter Fowler found themselves starting for playoff teams.
So which position is due to see the next large influx of talent? It's got to be catcher. When one sees Jason Kendall getting starts everyday in Kansas City and read that Brad Ausmus is miraculously still employed, it's easy to wonder where all the catching talent has been for the past decade. Well, it's coming.
Carlos Santana - This switch hitting catcher is Cleveland's number one prospect and a top five prospect in all of baseball. He looks like he will develop into being a middle of the order hitter with good power and patience (much like Victor Martinez but better). His defense, though not bad, could still use some fine tuning which is why Cleveland assigned him to AAA to begin the season.
Prediction for permanent call-up: He'll likely be up by September and will be the starter from there on out.
Buster Posey - I don't know what the Giants are thinking. Posey will never have the power that Santana possesses but his on-base skills are especially unique for a catcher. He would not be miscast as a top of the lineup hitter and if he were allowed to start on the big league club this season instead of Benji Molina, he'd be one of San Francisco's three best hitters. Alas, Brian Sabean says he needs to work on his "game calling" which most people agree is either overrated or is something he should learn in the majors with the pitchers he'll be working with for years to come.
Prediction for permanent call-up: June 2010
Jesus Montero - Perhaps the only player in all the minor leagues who can claim to have bigger power than Montero is Florida's Michael Stanton. His on-base skills also appear to be very good meaning he will be an offensive force once called up to the big leagues. The knock on Montero is his defense. He has no range and some scouts have said he needs to work on his throwing though he does have a strong arm. These things are exacerbated by the fact that he's big-very big- for a catcher (6'4" 225lbs) which leads many scouts to believe he'll be a first baseman or DH. Jorge Posada won't block him though as he's nearing the end of his career and his defense might actually be worse than Montero's at this point.
Prediction for permanent call-up: This is a tricky one with Teixeira entrenched at first for the next seven years and Posada not ready to hang 'em up yet. I think he'll at least split time at catcher and DH on Opening day of 2011.
Wilson Ramos - Ramos has the unfortunate circumstance of being blocked by not only the best catcher in baseball but likely on of the greatest of all time. He's got a cannon arm and a minor league career line of .293/.342/.434. A player with these skills is an asset to any team who doesn't have Joe Mauer. Ramos should continue his steady ascent through the minors as long as he's able to stay healthy. Minnesota assigned him to AAA Rochester to begin the season.
Prediction for permanent call-up: Expect the Twins to trade Ramos at some point before the 2011 season. Where he lands will provide a better idea of when he will be called up.
Tyler Flowers: Flowers is another big catcher whose size once caused scouts to believe he had no future behind the plate. That changed last year as he proved he was more than capable of blocking the plate although he only threw out 29% of attempted base stealers. He could be a poor man's version of Montero with not quite as much power but still possessing a good eye at the plate. The White Sox probably think he's ready but want him to start every day justifying their decision to send him to AAA Charlotte to start the season. Though he'll never be an MVP candidate, he could make a few all-star teams and hit 20-25 home runs each year. That's quite a projection for someone who's considered the fifth best catching prospect.
Prediction for permanent call-up: Opening day 2011 as the White Sox starting catcher.
Hank Conger - Conger is another switch hitting catcher who has displayed good power in the minors. It also appears that he is making great improvements in pitch recognition as he more than doubled his walk rate in his promotion to AA last year. His defense, however, may be his limiting factor. Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus implied that it's bad enough to prevent him from ever becoming a starter. He's also "blessed" with Benji Molina speed.
Prediction for permanent call-up: This depends with what the Angels want to do with their two-headed monster of Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli. He will be ready in 2011 to stay in the bigs.
Jason Castro - Castro is another player whose defensive liabilities have many scouts questioning whether or not he'll be able to stay behind the plate. Keith Law believes he has the skills to stay where he is. His offense is solid but he has no spectacular facet to his game. Of all the players on this list he has the lowest ceiling but after Santana and Montero is also the most likely to be a consistent major leaguer.
Prediction for permanent call-up: Houston has no excuse for keeping him in the minors in 2011. Expect a September cup of coffee and a permanent job starting Opening Day 2011.
This is an impressive list of talent that should be starting to break through as soon as this summer. Also consider the fact that Brian McCann (26), Jesus Flores (25), Kurt Suzuki (26), and Matt Wieters (24) are still not yet into the prime of their careers and it's easy to see why this position could be loaded for a long time.