By the time this article is published, all healthy catchers will be in Camp. The crisp sound of a pitched ball popping into a catcher’s mitt, for me, is the ultimate first sign of Spring. I don’t care if the Marmot sees his shadow nor the fact that we are scheduled for a weekend with wind chills around minus 30. I know that, somewhere, a catcher has donned his “tools of ignorance” and is getting ready to take some fastballs from his teammates.
In my opinion catcher is one of the toughest positions to rank. After Buster Posey, nearly any catcher with a full-time gig could end up in the top five, just like any catcher in the top tier could deliver a dud whether by injury or ineffectiveness. A catcher’s “peak” years tend to be short, as in 1-3 years, and tend to come late because of the skill set a catcher must develop to play in MLB. All too often, we’ll see a breakout catcher who’s price goes way up the following season, only for him to fall back to the pack. They also play about 5 days per week, limiting their potential production by default. You’ve heard the saying, “Don’t pay for saves”; well, I’ll add, “Don’t pay for catchers”. As with closers, who I will rank starting next week, the most important thing is to formulate a plan and stick to it. We can’t change the volatility and mediocrity of the position, but we can choose how we will draft and manage catchers.
I am going to generalize and say that there are four main strategies for drafting catchers whether it is an auction or a snake draft.
- 1. Target Posey or another projected top tier catcher. Perhaps you want the best catcher so as not to have a position with a drop off in production. Maybe you just want to pencil a guy in and forget about him until September. The two big risks here are that you will overpay for your C and you’ll likely have a drop off somewhere else in your lineup. If you are doing this, I recommend having your top tier list and wait until only one of them are left, then wait one more round to draft him. Scientific? No. A way to keep from overpaying? Perhaps.
- 2. Draft for power. Most regular catchers will put up double digit HR, likely at the expense of BA. However, they are also prone to long slumps and HR draughts where you may get the occasional 0 for 20 week. You can pick one of these guys in the mid to late rounds, and if they go down with injury there is likely another on the wire. Last season I picked up Wellington Castillo early in the season and rode his power surge into the playoffs. He’s just as likely to hit five HR this season .
- 3. Draft for average. Here you are basically punting the position, hoping to just mitigate your BA risk. Francisco Cervelli is a good example from 2015. Excuse me for saying, but this is the wimpiest way to manage the catcher position, and you won’t win too many championships until you grow a pair. Sorry. I’m sure exceptions exist, but that is why we read and write these articles, no?
- 4. The toughest, but possibly most rewarding method is to just ignore all the catchers in the draft until the last couple of rounds or your last couple of dollars. Then spend the rest of the season “streaming” catchers trying to ride the inevitable streaks. You won’t spend much on catchers, but, unless you are a savant, you also may get even less production than the other methods. A traditional Fantasy rule of thumb is that you’ll only get what is on the back of the baseball card if you start him every day. Catcher streamers are like Wall Street day traders; you need to have amazing predictive skills. My theory is that by the time you see that Catcher X is on a hot streak, it is likely closer to finished than starting. And the guy you drop to get him could be about to go on a tear. In effect, you get the worst of both instead of the best of both. Negative Sum Balance.
- Or 4b. If you are good at this you can often buck the trend and get a wholly undervalued or forgotten about catcher. In 2009, after an injury marred season at age 36, I drafted Jorge Posada in the last round, only to get 22 HR, 80 RBI & .281. I did it in 2007 & 2008 with Yadier Molina, getting .300 averages until his secret was out. A more recent example is Yasmani Grandal last season, who was hitting .267 and on pace for 24 HR before getting hurt in the 2nd half. Lets see if we can find some catchers like that to put on our cheat sheet in case we lose out on the top guys.
These rankings will be one man’s opinion. Most of these guys are pretty interchangeable in any given year, except that top one. When I state the round I’d draft a player, I’m assuming a 12 team mixed league.
Honorary Member: Yogi Berra. I can’t write a catcher ranking this season without acknowledging one of the greatest of all time, both on the field and as an ambassador to the game we love so much. We lost Yogi recently, may he rest in peace. My one Yogi story is an interview I saw with him where he stated he does not remember saying most of the goofy sayings he is known for. I can’t think of a better way to leave it.
- Buster Posey, C SF – I don’t need to explain why he is #1. The biggest question is where he’ll go in the draft. He’ll probably go in the 2nd round, third at the latest. Just like drafting a SP that early is risky, so is a catcher. The trickle down effect is drafting lesser valued players at other positions the rest of the draft. He’s not injury prone, will be 29 on opening day, and plays 30-40 games at 1B, so the risk is low. I’ve never owned him, and probably won’t now unless he drops to the 4th. Some might draft him because of his wife and sister in-law, but of course I’m not that shallow.
- Brian McCann, C NYY – He’ll turn 32 next week so it would seem this won’t last much longer, but here is what McCann did in 2015; he had career highs in HR (26) & RBI (94). He was one of only 3 MLB catchers to hit 20 HR (Martin, Perez) and one of 2 to drive in over 90 (Posey). In 9 of the last 10 years, he has hit 20 HR (8 in a row), driven in at least 70 RBI (4 times over 90), played in 120 games, and garnered 500 AB(most catchers don’t reach 400AB). His BA has come down about 30 points from his lifetime average as he hasn’t found a way to combat the overshift, but the right field short porch more than makes up for it. For those who think he is old, he was also top 5 or top 10 in all defensive metrics, including 2nd in the AL to Sal Perez in dWar in 2015. I also bet he’ll drop farther than a lot of other catchers will. I’d draft him from round 12 on, but he could fall farther.
- Sal Perez, C KC – Last preseason I dubbed him the next Yadier Molina, and he did not disappoint. As I stated earlier, he was one of only three C’s to hit 20 HR in 2015. I still think he’ll match Yadier in power and defense, though he may never get close in BA as his plate discipline has a long way to go, although .260 is not bad considering he only had 13 walks. He’ll turn 26 in May, so he has not even hit his prime yet, and is as durable as they come playing in over 140 games and 500 AB (600 PA in 2014), a fact that causes many to fear his work load; Molina has played in over 130 games and had 500 PA in 6 of the last 7 years. This may be the last chance to get Perez on the cheap, but I think he is capable of 25, 90, .270 for the next several years. I’d draft him just like McCann, anytime from 12 on.
- Jonathan Lucroy, C Mil – Lucroy is exactly why you don’t overpay for catchers. After three fairly outstanding seasons at the plate (2 over .300), Lucroy was drafted very high in 2015 drafts, only to get hurt and put up mediocre numbers. He came back in the 2nd half and a full season would translate to 12, 70, .280, giving hope that he’ll be fine in 2016. He’ll be 30 in June, so I’d predict, barring injury, he’ll put up 15, 75, .280 and should be drafted the same as the two ahead of him.
- Travis D’arnaud – Yes, this is a leap of faith, but don’t draft him that way. He’ll likely fall pretty far in the draft and will be there when you want him, unless there is a Mets fan in the draft room. D’arnaud turned 27 four days ago, and this season is his chance to show he is as good as his prospect status predicted. He is healthy and has the job all to himself on a team trying to repeat as NL Champs. I can see him hitting .280, 20, 80, although, more is possible. I’d rather draft him in the mid to late teens and take a chance on his upside than any other catchers that will be around that late on the board.
- Kyle Schwarber, C/OF CHC – I’ve seen him ranked as high as #2, and I don’t even like ranking him this high, though it seems his potential is limitless. But I have hesitation for a few reasons. As a hyped rookie, he will go far higher in the draft than I would ever take a rookie not named Correa, so i doubt I’ll own him. He has one full year in the minors in which he hit a whopping .344 in A ball, spent 17 games in AAA, hitting well over.300, then was in the Majors by mid 2015 where he hit .246 with 77 K’s in 230 AB’s. He can hit, but he’ll be 23 this season and likely needs more seasoning, especially since he is penciled in to play the OF instead of C. He is an unproven rookie, playing out of position after a brief stint in the minors, and about to face MLB pitching that saw 230 AB’s from him in 2015 with a high K rate. No one really knows if he’ll handle MLB pitching, or defense in 2016, or that he’ll get more than 200 AB. But, then again, it could happen. It’s happened before. Just plan to have a Plan B.
- Russell Martin, C Tor – This guy is just defying father time and seems to be getting better with age after his re-birth in Pit a few years ago. Just like McCann, in 2015 he had career highs in HR (23) and 2nd best in RBI (77), while only hitting .240. He’ll be 33 in a few days, but as long as he hits in the launching pad up in Toronto, in that lineup, he has a chance to do that again.
- Yadier Molina, C STL – Another age defying catcher, Molina will turn 34 in July, but he has clearly lost a step or two along with most of his power. He still plays stellar defense, has no competition for playing time, and should put up a line similar to 2015 with a handful of homers, 60-70 RBI, and a .270-.280 BA. I’ll take that any day, and he may fall pretty far in the draft.
- Stephen Vogt, C/1B Oak – Vogt is a good hitter and can spell his catching at 1B and in the OF from time to time. He did have what has been dubbed “minor” elbow surgery which may delay his Spring Training, though they are optimistically saying that he’ll be ready for Opening Day. It won’t be hard to find an adequate C off the wire until he is ready.
- Yan Gomes, C Cle – He was derailed by injury like so many other catchers, but Yan can hit. He is also the only Yan in baseball, and one of the few Brazilians. In 2014, at age 26, his first season as an MLB starter he hit 21 homers, 74 RBI, and a .278 BA. He went high in last season’s drafts and then disappointed when, like Matt Wieters, he had serious injuries during his age 27 season. I’m hoping that makes people forget about him in drafts. He could be a bargain, even if all he does is duplicate 2014
- Devin Mesoraco, C Cin – His injuries killed me in at least two leagues last season, but it did a lot worse than that to Mesoraco who was entering his age 27 season. He had, what I would call, a huge breakout in 2014 at 26, hitting 25 HR, 80 RBI, and batted .273 with an .898 OPS. We knew he could hit, as he hit 28 HR in 2010 in AAA, and another 15 the next year before getting the call to Cincy mid season. He’s recovered from his surgery and set to go in 2016. In fact, he won’t turn 28 until June. My issue is that I don’t know if there is much precedent for a catcher fully recovering from similar hip injuries. If he has to change positions or re-injures himself, it could be another lost season. I’ll draft him, love to have him, but he’ll have to drop far enough to make it worth the risk.
- Matt Wieters, C Bal – Same story, but the year before. He hit 20+ homers three years in a row, got his RBI’s into the 80s, and increased his walk rate, even though his BA was still around .240. I targeted him in 2014, envisioning a breakout at age 27 and some Brian McCann type seasons. After one month, he was hitting .308 with 5 HR and I was on my way to genius status. Then he needed TJ surgery. That and Mesoraco are why you can’t draft a catcher too early, no matter how much you like him. He had a decent half-season last year after coming back, and the O’s made him a qualifying offer that he accepted. Either he is important to the O’s, or they called his bluff and lost. He won’t be forgotten on draft day, but his stock has fallen a lot. He’s exactly who I’d target in the late rounds if he falls.
- Yasmani Grandal, C LAD – A perfect combo. Get out of SD to go to LA, duplicate all your counting stats from the previous season in less at bats while increasing your walk rate and decreasing your K rate, and raise all your triple slash #’s; then come into Spring Training at the age of 27. Know what I’m saying? I’m saying 20+ HR and a 20 point spike in BA. But I won’t spend too much lest I place the Gomes/Wieters/Mesoraco curse on him.
- Derek Norris, C SD – Happy Birthday Derek. Today is Norris 27th birthday. In 2015 he increased all his counting stats to career bests and Petco didn’t hurt him much as he hit 15 HR. They are currently shopping him anyway, which may only help. His ratios suffered a bit in 2015 but that could be a function of playing against all pitchers as he played 147 games. For his career he is hitting .220 vs lefties but.290 vs righties. His counting numbers are the same either way. I’m buying.
- Nick Hundley, C Col – He makes for an intriguing pick now that he calls Coors home and has the C job all to himself. He’s a late bloomer, having his break out season when he was almost 30. He’ll be 33 before this season is in the books. Actually, I’m not sure he ever actually had a breakout, but he did hit over .300 with 10 HR in the light air in 2015. As long as he is in the Rockies, he is worth a late round pick. He could just as easily be on the waiver wire by June
- Blake Swihart, C Bos – The bad news is that he is only 24 (born on opening day) and only has one year of AAA under his belt. The good news is that he has already shown he belongs and has been named the Opening Day Catcher for the Sox just yesterday morning. Yes, he could have a problem when Christian Vazquez comes back, so it is up to Swihart to make the decision for them. He was a .295 hitter in the minors and posted some OBPs in the .340 to .360 range in the high minors. He went 5, 34, and .274 in half a season in his first taste of MLB baseball. He has not flashed much power yet, but is still young enough to add some. I’m not betting the farm on him for 2015, but I think he is here to stay. I’ll still take Wieters if both are left in the last round.
- Francisco Cervelli, C Atl – Cervelli is the prototype ‘all average/no power’ catcher in the mold of Kurt Suzuki. He’ll get you a .290 avg.,and his lifetime OBP is a gaudy at .357, but he will not help your counting stats. He is a safe play only. Unless you draft Chris Davis and want to offset the BA loss with Cervelli, I would say it was smart.
- AJ Pierzinski, C Atl – Another guy who won’t kill your BA, but give you little else at an age when most players, let alone catchers, are fishing or broadcasting. The surprising trade of Betancourt means AJ is the catcher in Atl. AJ needs only 11 hits for 2000 in his career. I would not be too nervous if he was my catcher.
- JT Realmuto, C Mia – He’ll be 25 on opening day and never played above AA ball. Like Swihart, he may just be too young to gauge his power (only 10 HR in 467 MLB at bats with a .260 AVG in 2015), but he was hitting in the .290’s with a high OBP in the minors. He also snuck in 18 SB. He’s an interesting player to watch, but I can’t see a huge ceiling here.
- Wilson Ramos, C WSN – Ramos was a top prospect with big expectations. While it seems he has been around a long time, he is only 28. I think, at this point, what you see is what you get. Double digit dingers and a low average. 100 K vs 20 walks will do that to you. For him to take a step forward, that trend would have to change in a big way. Still, I would not hesitate to scoop him up if my catcher went down.
- Miguel Montero, C Chi – I’m a Montero fan, but it seems he is now well past his prime and it is hard to believe he’ll turn 33 this season. At his peak, he was a .280+ hitter who would give you 15-18 HR and over 80 RBI. Now he is just another double digit HR, .240 hitting catcher and should be treated as such on draft day. He has a large contract for 2 more years, but there is also a chance that Schwarber could cut into that time some.
- Wellington Castillo, C Ari – He is definitely a late bloomer having, what was likely, a career year in his age 28 season. He helped me a lot last season as I got most of his 19 HR after he was traded twice last season. He should settle back in as a double digit HR, .240 hitting catcher. He probably should not be drafted.
- John Ryan Murphy, C Min – He is the benefactor of a timely trade to a team he has a chance to start for now that Kurt Suzuki is in decline. He won’t have the job handed to him, but should be the eventual starter in Minn. He’ll give you a good average, but has not shown HR power, even in the minors. He is still young, starting the season at 24, and hit 29 doubles twice in the minors, meaning the power may come. He’ll be another catcher in the Minnesota tradition of high average low power backstops. I won’t likely draft him, but I’ll be watching. Take a flyer on him if you want. The worst case is you’ll have Francisco Cervelli several rounds later.
- James McCann, C Det – He had a sneaky good season in his rookie season in Detroit and should not lose a lot of AB’s to Salty, his new backup. His 7 HR and .264 AVG in 400 AB’s will probably increase to double digit HR. His BA will go down if he doesn’t start taking some pitches, as he rarely gets on base at a .300 clip. He had a decent BA with a low OBP in the minors as well.
- Dionar Navarro, C CHW – This next group of catchers should not even be drafted, but I agreed to rate 30 catchers, so here goes. These are some of the guys you’ll see on the wire ready to help you in case of injury. Navarro only has Alex Avila to block him from regular duty in Chi. Unfortunately, Avila hits against the righties while the 32 year old Navarro will get the lefties. But Navarro had a career year just two seasons ago in Toronto and has some streaky pop.
Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you next week when I start the daunting task of ranking all relief pitchers, not just the closer. Give it a read for a different take on fantasy bullpens. You can Tweet me at @ or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll also be on the radio tonight at 7:00pm. See below.
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