“65 Mustangs” Pick Your Spots: 2018 Catcher Rankings: #1-16 Plus a Few More for Fun.
Sanchez or Posey, otherwise get hoseyed. Well, maybe it is not quite that bad, but it can seem that way on draft day. I believe the key with catchers is to know what round you will draft them, and more than any position other than closers, stick to that strategy. Don’t veer off if a catcher run starts and you are afraid you’ll be left with Tucker Barnhart on opening day, unless it would only throw you off by a round or so. There is plenty of value in the extreme late rounds as far as current ADP’s are showing. And yes, if you play in one of my leagues you do need to roster and start a catcher. No punting a roster spot to protect your averages.
I’m in a Mock Draft tonight with a two active catcher roster. It has been ten years since I played in an old NFBC knock-off league that had two catchers and weekly lineup changes. I’ve never played in either type set up again since then. When I started ranking catchers this week, it brought back bad memories of trying to keep two active, productive catchers in my lineup every week for an entire season. It is a true Studs or Scrubs position. It seems after the top six or eight, the next 15 may as well be the same guy.
Besides being the most injury prone position, catchers often play only four to five days per week when healthy, both conditions limiting the overall contribution they can bring to your lineup over a season. Most catchers are also prone to long slumps and sporadic power surges, but they are way too unpredictable to try and stream the hot catcher. Usually by the time you see his HR streak or O-Fer spree it is just about over. So, I guess I am trying to say invest heavily in the top two at your own risk, or wait till the later rounds and target the skill set you can live with. Or draft Yadier Molina and close your eyes for six months. I do whenever I can. It should not be a surprise who my new number one is this season. I’m a Yankee fan, but I don’t think this is debatable anymore anyway. Tell me if you disagree. It also seems that the chicks do dig the pudgy guys after all.
- Gary Sanchez, NYY – Gary Sanchez is in the best shape of his career! I know, how often do we hear that? But he has toned up and said he did it for more flexibility. That means he listened when they told him to bone up his defense, but more important, it will hopefully make him less prone to pull anything on the way around the bases, a trip he should make quite often with that lineup and his skill set. I wanted to anoint Sanchez #1 when I did the MLFS catcher rankings last season, but I have a tradition of saying the incumbent always gets the nod……until he is no longer #1, so I went with Buster Posey. Posey is no longer #1, and current ADP’s are bearing that out in drafts as well. In Fantrax, Sanchez is going at #24, or the end of the 2nd round in a 12 team. That has always been Posey territory. This season, in Fantrax, Posey is going at #65 or the middle of the 5th. Both of those #’s seem pretty high to me based solely on how volatile the position is injury wise and the wear and tear of the season often rendering their 2nd half less prolific then the 1st half when they are fresh. I need my 2nd round pick to be a rock all season. Sanchez may be worth that but I doubt he makes my team going that early. However, I do own him in three keeper leagues, and he is going nowhere, so this is moot for me. But in a re-draft, I’m taking a position stud or Ace at #24.
2. Buster Posey, SFG – I love that Posey plays some 1B as well as catcher, and no one can doubt his consistency over the past several years. Father time catches all of us in the end (no pun) and I think Posey is on the down slope of his career, more than he is on the way up. He is still a great hitting catcher, but in the back of my mind, I keep seeing Joe Mauer. Mauer moved to 1B after years of being the #1 catcher only to lose his power and become a mediocre 1b- man with a high average and OBP. I’m not saying Posey does that in 2018, but if you are in a keeper league, keep that in mind. Unless your name is Molina, you can’t catch at a high level forever.
3. J.T. Realmuto, MIA – Realmuto is a fantasy darling now, and actually finished 2nd to Sanchez in Fantrax player rater in 2017. We do use a wide array of scoring stat qualifiers, so in a standard 5 X 5 he might still finish behind Posey. But he is going in the 10th round in Fantrax, and that is more palatable for a catcher who will not score much behind the top two guys here, health permitting. Unless he is traded like most of his teammates, he will be in a lesser lineup than he is used to, but he will also likely hit in a more run producing spot in the lineup than he has. Good hitters hit, so I think he will be ok, and I would draft him in the 11th or 12th, meaning I likely will miss out on him too as he is trending in the 10th round. That is still a good value if you draft catchers that early. I tend not to.
4. Wilson Contreras, CHC – Contreras has been a nice surprise find for both the Cubs and Fantasy owners the past two years. He hits for average, rare for a catcher, and has some nice pop. He is coming into his prime and hits in one of the more prolific lineups in the NL. He can also play some OF if need be and I could see him playing some 1B at some point as well. But we are talking catchers right now and I don’t think you can go wrong with this one. I could make an argument for taking him above Realmuto and maybe I would. But, he is going early in the 6th round, and that is still too early for me to take any but the top two.
5. Yadier Molina, STL – I love this guy. I used to draft him late, like in the 20’s rounds and ride him to the bank. It is amazing how I used to get away with it, as the secret has been out for a few years now. Even at his age, and perhaps somewhat declining skills, he is still a rock at a weak and volatile position. Write Molina in every day and never look back. He’ll never lead the league in any one hitting category, but he will help in all of them and never hurt you in any of the ratios. He is as sure a thing as there is. He is currently going at #203 in Fantrax or the end of the 17th, beginning of the 18th in a 12 team league. I’ll wait for that and take the profit to the bank, or at least to the playoffs.
6. Sal Perez, KC – So, I put Molina ahead of Perez. Sue me. I called Perez the next Molina a few years ago, but I don’t think he has caught up yet. He has far more power and is just as durable, if not more durable. That durability though seems to lead to over-use, and he tends to wear down in the 2nd half. However, at that point in the season it is doubtful you are going to find anyone fresher than Perez, and therefore any better. Pencil him in for mid twenties HR, a low but palatable average, and a lot of hits for a catcher. I’ll take him over the similar but less durable Yasmani Grandal every day. However, with an ADP of 132, or the beginning of the 12th round, I’d rather own Molina 5 rounds later. I like Perez a lot, but the difference between him and some of the catchers you can get late in the draft is closer than you think. One big difference is that, like Molina, you can pencil Perez in April 1st and forget about him until September. That luxury has value for sure, but you have to weigh it against what else you can get in the 11th or 12th, and how confident you are in finding a suitable catcher later. But that is why we are here, no?
7. Jonathan Lucroy, OAK – I realize he had an off year in 2017 and battled some injuries. It also appears that his defense, once stellar and well respected, has started to decline, but Lucroy is a professional hitter and if healthy I expect that will continue. His hit tool seemed to be in decline in Texas as well until a mid season trade to Colorado where he hit over .300 in the 2nd half and down the stretch. He is not exactly old yet at 31 and should not have much competition for playing time in Oakland with Bruce Maxwell & Josh Phegley as his competition. In the 21st round I’m not sweating starting the season with Lucroy in my C spot.
8. Yasmani Grandal, LAD – Grandal showed us what he can do in 2016, and I think he can do it again. He is entering his prime power years and has very little competition for playing time in LA. I can’t say he is more injury prone than other catchers, but I can’t take him too high because of that. He is going as late as the 22nd round though, and if he is still there and I missed Molina, Lucroy, et al. then Grandal will be my catcher. If I miss on the top guys I don’t expect batting average help from my catchers, so I’ll grab the one who might pop 30 dingers.
9. Mike Zunino, SEA – Speaking of 25-30 dingers, Zunino finally delivered on some of the promise he espoused earlier in his career. However, he still has not mastered command of the strike zone and is a strikout machine (160 or almost 40%) that does not walk much (9%). He is not quite a one true outcome hitter as he got his slash up to a robust for him .251/.331/.509, though his Babip was a likely unsustainable .355 after a lifetime .250 Babip. If he hits 25-30 HR and bats at least .240, you can live with that if your BA is ok lineup wide. At an ADP of 195 he is a good top 10 catcher value in the 17th round. But I might wait for Grandal, Lucroy or even McCann instead of banking on a repeat from Zunino. Chicks dig the long ball, and apparently ugly sweaters too.
10. Brian McCann, HOU – This guy is just plain reliable. Pencil him in for a .240-.250 average, 20 HR and 60 RBI. He has done that for 12 years in a row now. He does not have a sexy name on draft day, but at this point in the draft you are looking for stability and a guy you will not be seeking a replacement for every other week. That is Brian McCann. I worried about playing time last season with Even Gattis around, but it did not seem to hamper McCann at all. Going in the 24th round, there is almost no sense reaching if he is still there in the last round. I can’t imagine him going un-drafted. He would be an awesome #2 in a two catcher league and you’d be the envy of your draft.
11. Evan Gattis, HOU – I have to include him here because he still has C eligibility and plays a lot of DH, making him still relevant and a great #2 catcher, if not your #1. The only problem is he is going in the 13th, way ahead of a lot of these guys I’ve ranked ahead of him. Perhaps folks are hoping for the 30 HR bat to come back. I don’t see that, and if he is gone after the 13th I won’t lose any sleep. Pencil him in for 15-20 HR and an average that won’t kill you, but there are plenty of them after the 13th round including the next guy to pick from much later. Wait, are McCann and Gattis brothers?
12. Matt Wieters, WAS – I’ve always been a Wieters fan, and was very disappointed when he got hurt just as he was entering his prime. He is playing like an older player now, and he is about to be 32, so maybe the AB and production just won’t be there anymore. But, as a #2 or a last round #1 I’d still trust him until he proved me wrong. At this point the catchers are similar, and I will go with the vet every time for stability, even if he is no longer full time. He does play for the Nationals, and they have been shopping, so if he loses his gig, that changes everything. But what do you lose if you have to drop your last pick in April? I’m not worried about Wieters, and his wife does not look too worried either.
13. Wilson Ramos, TB – This guy has been frustrating as he, like Weiters, got hurt just as he was putting it all together, and was hurt for much of last season as well. Such is the life and career of a catcher. But, I think there is still a .300 bat in there and double digit HR, especially if he is playing his home games in Tampa. After all their trades, if he is hitting, he may even get a prominent spot in that lineup and boost his counting stats. He’s going in the 23rd round. How can you not take a chance on him there?
14. Wellington Castillo, CHW – The O’s didn’t seem too high on Castillo and did not play him as often as we would like as fantasy owners. He hit career highs in HR (20) and BA (.282) and tied his career high .813 OPS. He is a White Sox now and has virtually no competition for playing time. I might have him far too low here as he is going in the 19th round and I would draft him there. I’m re-thinking how I have him ranked right now and might move him up to 11th or so on draft day.
15. Jorge Alfaro, PHI – Alfaro is one of the top prospects in baseball and the likely starter in Philly for the bulk of the season. I tend to avoid rookies, especially at positions like catcher that are tough to fill anyway. Some may feel that is a good reason to go with a kid that may have big upside even if he may not be quite ready. That is a valid argument as well, but unless you can afford to stash him in case he is sent to the minors for further seasoning or simply not ready to hit MLB pitching, he may be a tough draft pick. He did hit MLB pitching in 29 games and 107 AB in 2017, but at a clip far beyond even his best season in the minors. He hit .318/.360/.514 for an .874 OPS and five HR, 14 RBI, but in a very small sample size, and with an unsustainable .420 BaBip. He’ll be 25 in June so maturity should not be an issue, but command of the strike zone may be as he struck out a lot and walked very little in his minor league career. He has flashed power though, and with regular playing time could be one of the rare 25 plus HR catchers. He’s being drafted in the 23rd round on Fantrax which is a low enough risk round to take a chance, just have a plan B just in case. He’d also make for a great #2 catcher in a 2 catcher league.
16. Tucker Barnhart, CIN – Barnhart is another perfect #2 catcher and possible fall back #1 or injury replacement. He may go undrafted in single catcher leagues but might be the first guy I grab in case of an injury. At that level i am looking for only two things, at bats and someone who will not hurt my average. Barnhart hit over .260 in 2017 with middling counting stats. He also still has Devin Mesoraco in his shadow which could change everything in a minute. But this is a no lose position to be in if you stumble on Barnhart as a last resort.
Don’t Forget Us:
Here are a few more that you should not forget about either on draft day or in season if you have an injury to your starting catcher. None of these are expected to be drafted in single catcher leagues but could be great for 2 catcher set ups as your #2:
Austin Hedges, SD, Travis D’Arnauld, NYM (Don’t laugh, he can hit), Yan Gomes, CLE, Kurt Suzuki, ATL, Chris Iannetta, COL, Robinson Chirinos, TEX, Steven Vogt, MIL, Devin Mesoraco, CIN and Russell Martin, TOR
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you all next week as I start to discuss my favorite picks for ADP values in this season’s coming drafts. I may talk about some ADP red flags as well like I did in this article. Till then you can reach me all day Sunday on the Reddit r/fantasybaseball Sub or email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Corey D Roberts and Bilal Chaudry live on Sunday March 11th, 2018 from [8:20]-9:45pm EST for episode #105 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This is our kick off show for the new 2018 fantasy baseball season. This is our mock draft review special for the 2018 season. MLFS writers, and legacy league owners will be guests for 5 minutes to discuss their strategy.