Catcher is always a horrid position in fantasy baseball. Few consistent options, few players that provide upside, it’s a wasteland. This year there are a couple of young catchers looking to make their marks on the MLB and veterans hoping for a bounce-back. Strategically, you either get one of the top catchers or you wait until the late rounds and fill them out cheap. Before we begin, here’s a quick rundown of Risers and Fallers in OBP leagues.
The big takeaway here is that Yasmani Grandal, Russell Martin, Kyle Schwarber and Brian McCann see some of the largest rises in OBP when compared to batting average. Salvador Perez and JT Realmuto see some stock fall in OBP leagues. Yadier Molina loses value to Francisco Cervelli in OBP leagues. If you’re in an OBP league, it likely makes more sense to go for Russell Martin as opposed to Salvador Perez.
- Gary Sanchez (C, New York Yankees): It’s understandable if you would rather go for someone with a solid track record like Buster Posey or Jonathan Lucroy. Gary won’t have a 40% HR/FB ratio. Sanchez showed plus power in the minors; 20 should be his floor. He’ll likely also trade grounders for liners which should keep him close to a .300 BABIP. Sanchez is a good hitter and very well could cement himself as the best fantasy catcher this season.
- Kyle Schwarber (C/OF, Chicago Cubs): Kyle Schwarber gets the nod here as the number 2 fantasy catcher. It’s as simple as him being a power hitter with good OBP skills in a dangerous Cubs lineup. The biggest concern for Schwarber is how much improvement he makes against left handed pitchers (31 wRC+ in 2015).
- Buster Posey (C/1B, San Francisco Giants): Posey had a bit of a down year but did manage to rack up his fair share of counting stats. Posey’s batting average on balls in play was 19 points below his career average while becoming a full field hitter over the past two years. Posey should be good for much of the same. He’s the safest option at catcher and the most consistent.
- Jonathan Lucroy (C/1B, Texas Rangers): Lucroy bounced back after a poor 2015 season and set a career high in HRs (24) along the way. Lucroy’s strikeout rate increased for the second straight year so he very well might be selling out for more power. Lucroy’s HR/FB% was a career high; expectations should be he settles into the mid-teens. Lucroy needs to cut down on the pop-ups which haven’t been a problem since his third season in the league. He’s one of the more dependable catcher options out there.
- Yasmani Grandal (C, Los Angeles Dodgers): Grandal was another beneficiary of whatever happened with baseball and home runs. He hit a career high 27 HRs while keeping a strong walk rate. Grandal did pull the ball more, increase his flyball rate slightly, and did strikeout more making it plausible he did attempt to hit for greater power. Grandal will be unlikely to have a repeat of 2016 but he should flirt with 20 HRs. The walk rate remains strong giving him a boost in OBP leagues. His BABIP was 25 points below his career average; let’s just say Yasmani’s got a good shot at being a top 5 catcher next year.
- Russell Martin (C, Toronto Blue Jays): After a terrible start in which Martin dealt with a neck injury, Martin rebounded to finish the season batting .231 with 20 HR. The strikeout remained high throughout the season and given his age, it wouldn’t surprise me to see his strikeout rate hover close to 23% this season. The walk rate remained strong as did his power output. Given Martin’s past results, he’s a top ten catcher heading into 2017.
- Wilson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs): Wilson Contreras overperformed last year. The young catcher’s HR/FB% was 23.5% which indicates he was lucky getting 12 HRs in 76 games. On balls in play, Contreras posted a .339 BABIP which with all things considered, was higher than it should be. Add in a swinging strike rate of 14% and Contreras might just be the type of player to avoid. The reason Contreras is ranked this high is because he plays in a potent Cubs lineup that should give him some high counting stats. Furthermore, he posted solid strikeout and walk rates in the minors making me believe the strikeout rate will go down. I think he puts up a season similar to Lucroy except a lower average but higher counting stats.
- Brian McCann (C/1B, Houston Astros): The Astros new catcher has hit 20 or more home runs for nine straight seasons. To offset increasing strikeouts, McCann has increased his walk rate. The average will be around .240 with 15-20 HR certainly possible. McCann gets the nod over teammate Evan Gattis due to the latter’s playing time concerns.
- Evan Gattis (C/OF, Houston Astros): Gattis has seen his home run total increase for four straight season. This past year saw his HR/FB% increase over 20% for the first time in his career. Gattis’s ISO at .257 was nothing insane as his career average ISO is .234. After making a significant stride in strikeouts in 2015, Gattis returned to his previous form in 2016 which isn’t the best sign. Gattis should be able to hit 25 HR with a decent average. The biggest issue is playing time in Houston. He’s someone to keep an eye on for in Spring Training to see if he can lock down a full time spot.
- Salvador Perez (C, Kansas City Royals): Salvy’s contact rate fell for the fourth straight season. The strikeout rate jumped up from 15% in 2015 to 22%. Perez’s flyball rate went up to a career high 47%; 20 HRs look possible for a third straight season. If he keeps up the trend of increasing strikeouts and more flyballs, Perez’s batting average is unlikely to rebound.
- JT Realmuto (C, Miami Marlins): Realmuto’s profile looks fairly consistent except for his batting average on balls in play and subsequent batting average. A .356 mark is high especially for someone who rolled with a 16% pop-up rate and didn’t go to opposite field as much as say DJ LeMahieu. JT won’t hit over .300 this year. With 20 SB over the past two years, Realmuto provides a source of stolen bags from an area not known for it. He’s a solid pickup if you’re going for the “Stolen Bases By Committee Approach”. Can’t complain to much about a guy who will is unlikely to kill batting average while going 10/10 (HR/SB).
- Travis d’Arnaud (C, New York Mets): He has to be healthy for a full year at once right? I mean it has to happen. Even Tulo managed to get into at least 100 games during his stint as the MLB’s most injury prone player. TDA’s season wasn’t anything impressive. He hit a tonne more grounders than he normally does and his HR/FB% was a tad low. I expect his line drive rate to go up and his groundball rate to regress to career averages. We should see TDA hit around .260 with 10-15 HR. Just make sure you have a plan for when he inevitably hits the disabled list.
- Matt Wieters (C/1B, Washington Nationals): Wieters wasn’t terrible in 2016 with his ISO, walk rate, and strikeout rate all relatively close to his career average. He hit 17 HR which is right around what should be expected.
- Cameron Rupp (C, Philadelphia Phillies): The 28-year-old Rupp had a breakout campaign where he slugged 16 HR with a .252 batting average in 105 games after making swing changes. He had a strong average exit velocity and is generally a Statcast darling relative to the catcher position. The most glaring issue with Rupp is his inability to hit right handers, evident with his career .283 wOBA. Lastly Rupp has strikeout issues and they don’t seem to be going away. Rupp will be a hot commodity come Spring due to his late breakout and high exit velocity although there are signs he could perform poorly. But then again, it’s not like the Catcher position leaves a lot of good options at this point. He’s worth a flier for the upside.
- Stephen Vogt (C, Oakland Athletics): Over the past two years, Vogt has a .256 batting average with 32 total home runs. Expect more of the same.
- Mike Zunino (C, Seattle Mariners): Given Zunino’s strikeout tendencies and flyball nature, his batting average will be low unless he makes significant changes to approach. The power is real; he won’t keep up a 23% HR/FB% but should be capable of hitting close to 20 HR. The good news is that his walk rate may be somewhat sustainable. Zunino set a career high in walk percentage and had his lowest swing percentage at pitches outside the zone. This is a good development for a player who swings and misses as often as he does. If you’re drafting Zunino, it’d be best to draft players who can provide a high batting average to offset his strikeout issues.
- Yadier Molina (C, St. Louis Cardinals): Molina over performed his batting average thanks to a .335 BABIP and that’s about it. He continued to make contact at a consistent rate and his strikeout and walk profiles are still good by his standards.
- Wellington Castillo (C, Baltimore Orioles): I wouldn’t expect any improvement from Castillo. It’s likely he bats lower in the order thus limiting his counting stats. He had a .337 BABIP last season aided by a career best line drive percentage (25.4%). Castillo’s not a terrible option.
- Wilson Ramos (C, Tampa Bay Rays): Injuries suck! After getting laser eye surgery, Ramos put up his best season yet and was looking good before getting injured. He won’t play the full season and there will be question marks on his health. Ramos had a career year in 2016 aided by luck to varying degrees. The eye surgery helped him see the ball better and it showed in his results. Basically, 2016 Ramos was likely peak Ramos however it showed that he could be a good bat like he was in 2013 when he hit .272 with 16 HR in half a season. It’s unfortunate that Ramos was injured; he might be worth the DL stash. If he’s available in your league closer to when he returns, unless you have a capable catcher, Ramos has the potential to be one of the better waiver wire pickups.
- Francesco Cervelli (C, Pittsburgh Pirates): Cervelli has no power; he’ll be lucky to hit 5 HR this year. He has a good walk rate and his batting average should be respectable. Cervelli has a decent floor but a low ceiling.
- Austin Hedges (C, San Diego Padres): Hedges is a catcher with a healthy amount of upside. Hedges is slated to be the full-time catcher in San Diego making playing time a non-issue. He’s a player who I could see end up on my team added from the waiver wire early on. Hedges has possessed decent power as he climbed up the ranks, the kind that can hit for 15 HR. The key development in 2016 was a new approach where Hedges has greater “separation in his upper half during his swing.” This new approach led him to his best minor league season. Whether he is able to continue to build on that new-found success in the majors remains to be seen, however, a bet on Hedges as your fantasy catcher isn’t a bad idea. I believe he’s a catcher to watch for during Spring Training and keep an eye out for early in the season.
- Derek Norris (C, Washington Nationals): Whenever you hit under the Mendoza line in over 100 games, you know you’ve had a terrible year at the plate. Norris’s HR output should be around 10-15 given he’s hit 38 over the past three years. The batting average should be better because Norris had a .238 BABIP, well below his career .291 mark. Norris’s strikeout rate jumped to 30% from 23% in 2015. Playing time might be an issue with Wieters also in Washington.
- Devin Mesoraco (C, Cincinnati Reds): A combined 106 plate appearances over the past two years, Mesoraco is one of the healthiest players in baseball. What you’d probably get out of him is similar to what Wieters or Vogt will provide.
- Yan Gomes (C, Cleveland Indians): Another player with potential playing time issues, the good news is that Gomes is currently slated to be the starting catcher for Cleveland. The good news from last season was that after injury, he still had some of his power stroke hitting 9 HR in 74 games. The bad news, well that batting average of .167 was poor. Some of it can be chalked up to any lingering effect of injury, and some to bad luck considering he had a .189 BABIP. Rolling the dice isn’t a bad idea with Gomes.
- Tyler Flowers (C, Atlanta Braves): Flowers is what he is at this point; a high strikeout player who will hit under .245 with around 10 HR. He was more patient at the plate last year and his swinging strike rate went down. There’s not enough to become excited about though.
Others To Consider
- Tom Murphy (C, Colorado Rockies): Biggest hurdle is playing time. If he gets the majority of at bats, you want him because he plays in Coors Field. He has a decent bat for a catcher prospect. If playing time was assured, he’d be in the top 20. His teammate Tony Wolters doesn’t possess a good bat.
- Sandy Leon (C, Boston Red Sox): Leon had a fantastic 2016. The BABIP is unsustainable, but the 7 HR in half a season make sense given his profile. Keep an eye on teammate Blake Swihart as well and how his recovery is going and how he does in AAA to start the season.
- Jason Castro (C, Minnesota Twins): Castro has an ugly batting average and will hit around 10-15 HR. You can likely do better unless you are in a deep or two catcher league.
This concludes the top 20 catchers. It’s a terrible position in fantasy making it worthwhile to know whether you plan on investing in one of the premier players at this position or wait it out until the end.