As far as MLB-ready depth is concerned, catcher is among the least of the Mets' concerns, featuring the resurgent Travis d'Arnaud (.265 average, .787 OPS in the second half of 2014) and the power-hitting backup Anthony Recker (seven home runs). Should this tandem struggle or fall to injury, New York can always turn to the 23-year-old Kevin Plawecki, who batted .309 with 64 RBIs and a .365 on-base percentage across Double-A Binghamton and Triple-A Las Vegas in 2014.
Amidst all this catching talent, it's easy for an under-appreciated ballplayer to get lost in the fold. Xorge Carrillo, praised as a draft steal by Baseball America back in 2011, has been forgotten by Mets fans and scouts for no good reason.
Carrillo was selected by the Mets in the 14th round of the 2011 amateur draft and signed after completing his degree at Arizona State University. Immediately sent to Low-A Brooklyn following the draft, Carrillo looked extremely overmatched for the first time in his baseball career. He hit just .217 with only two home runs, and finished his first experience in pro ball with an abysmal .602 OPS.
Despite a poor performance with the Cyclones, the Mets promoted Carrillo to Savannah for the 2012 season, but the backstop only managed to make it through eleven games with the Sand Gnats. In those eleven games, the Mexico native somehow posted even worse numbers than in his Brooklyn output, concluding his second season in the Mets organization with a .154 batting average and .426 OPS. Whether these numbers were due to small sample size or not, two straight poor performances in the low minors caused Carrillo to fall entirely off the prospect map.
The Mets gave Carrillo one last shot with High-A St. Lucie in 2013, and finally, in his age-24 season, the former Sun Devil began producing at the level most expected of him on draft day. Across High-A and Double-A, Carrillo posted career highs in nearly every major statistical category. He batted .285, posted a .712 OPS, and knocked 59 hits in 66 games despite receiving inconsistent playing time as the backup to fellow catcher Blake Forsythe. Carrillo's defensive skills improved along with his bat, as the young backstop managed to catch 28% of potential base stealers in 2013. To put that in perspective, that number would rank the young catcher eighth among 2014 major league catchers.
Even with his solid 2013 performance, Carrilo was still an unknown to the common diehard Mets fan and was classified as an "organizational guy" by MetsMinorLeagueBlog.com. But despite receiving very little fanfare, Carrillo again produced solid results when the Mets repeated him in Double-A in his age-25 season. He began the year as a backup to top prospect Kevin Plawecki, garnering little playing time as the Mets focused on developing the more-talented prospect. But after Plawecki's promotion to Triple-A in July, Carrillo seized the starting job, and even earned his own promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he hit .313 over a small number of games.
Carrillo's improvements on both offense and defense exhibit both his innate desire to improve as well as the overall progression in the development of his game. Baseball America profiles Carrillo as a "good receiver with an average arm," even comparing him to a young Bengie Molina, and the numbers seem to support that comparison. Early on in his minor league career, Carrillo struggled with both his defense and his offense. In Brooklyn, the then-22-year-old caught only 9-o-f-47 base stealers (19%), committed six errors (in only 27 games), posted a lowly .977 fielder percentage, and reached base only 29.8% of the time.
However, by the time he finished repeating Double-A in 2014, Carrillo was finally living up to his pre-draft projections. He committed only four errors in 435 chances with Binghamton (.991 fielding percentage), caught 16-of-56 base stealers (29%), and finished the year with a solid .355 on-base percentage. And, if Carrillo continues his current upward trend, we can only expect him to improve those marks in 2015 and beyond.
Despite his across-the-board improvements, Carrillo will probably never have anything near the MLB potential of Plawecki or d'Arnaud. However, Carrillo could have a better chance for long-term success than current Mets backup Anthony Recker, a lifetime .197 hitter in 419 big league at-bats. Carrillo, unlike Recker, has proven to be effective when given inconsistent playing time. Besides his 2013 and 2014 success backing up Forsythe and Plawecki, the 220-pound backstop had similar success backing up future Miami Marlins 9th round pick Austin Barnes in college; he batted .336 with a .409 on-base percentage in his career at ASU.
Should the Mets' front office agree that a fully developed Carrillo could at least approach Recker's production, it would significantly improve their trade assets and likely their overall team. By settling on Carrillo as the Mets backup catcher, Sandy Alderson could choose either Plawecki or d'Arnuad as his catcher of the future and deal the other for a valuable return at a position of need.
Granted, we need to see more of Carrillo before giving him a spot on a talented Mets roster, but his remarkable improvement, array of solid tools, and history of success as a backup, combined with a lack of attention from scouts and prospect hounds, make him the most underrated catching prospect in the Mets organization.