In real estate it is all about “Location, Location, Location.” When it comes to drafting catchers in fantasy baseball it is all about “Value, Value, Value.” Where (when) you draft your catcher in fantasy is one of the most important decisions you will make on draft day. It is as much about that particular player’s value as it is about the opportunity cost of drafting him verses what else is available to draft in that round. Last week I ranked the top 20 or so catchers and talked a little about where to draft them, but now I am going into the nitty-gritty of draft day.
The perfect example this season is Gary Sanchez. He is going right around the turn at the end of the 2nd round/early 3rd round in most 12 team drafts. He is clearly the best hitting catcher on the board now, not because Buster Posey has slipped tremendously, but because Gary Sanchez is that special of a player. However, catchers, like starting pitchers come with inherent risk of injury and the risk of wear and tear over the course of a season. They also come with the inherent risk of limited production since most catchers play no more than 4-5 days per week, even if they are healthy. There are exceptions of course like Yadier Molina and Sal Perez who don the tools of ignorance every day unless they are dragged off the field by their coaches, and guys like Posey and Sanchez who can add a few games at positions like DH or 1B.
Those risks make drafting catchers more tricky than going off of ADP and rankings alone. Knowing that you have Gary Sanchez at your catcher spot all season makes you feel pretty powerful, right? Hell, I can find a decent 1B, OF, or SP later in the draft or during the season to offset what I missed at #24 easy enough, right? If you draft Gary Sanchez at #24, which is roughly where he is going in aggregate draft ADP’s, or the end of the 2nd round in standard drafts, and he pulls his (insert name of muscle, tendon, ligament that is prone to a catcher pulling here) in the first week of the season and is out for several months, you are screwed. You now lost your stud catcher and will have to replace him with an un-drafted catcher, but you also lost the JD Martinez or top starting pitcher you could have drafted there had you wiped the luster (er lust) out of your eyes when you saw Sanchez sitting there.
As a Yankee fan, I love Gary Sanchez, and I’ll admit I own him in three keeper leagues where I got him on the cheap two years ago. In a re-draft, he’ll slip right past me now though, as I am not drafting a catcher in the 2nd or 3rd round. I’m just not. Call it principal, call it fear, or just call it sound draft strategy, but I am not investing a ton in that position. It is far too risky. So, what to do? I’m looking to get the most bang for my buck by drafting a decent catcher as late as possible, both maximizing my production from the position, and the opportunity for profit from drafting a different player when some of those sparkly catchers are available in the early rounds. I will talk about a few catchers below that you can draft long after the big guys are gone who may give you a tidy profit on draft day, and perhaps help you get to your playoffs/contention at the end of the season.
First, lets play one of my favorite games. Which player put up this stat line in 2017?
Of course, the 2nd player on that short list is Buster Posey. He has the highest upside and is the most accomplished hitter among these three players. He played the most games because he also plays some games at 1B and no catcher can touch him in BA and OBP. He is also being drafted this season in the 5th round on average, a sharp drop from his days as a 2nd rounder. Good, right? We can get Posey in the 5th? Perhaps that is a bargain. The first player on that list is Wilson Contreras of the Cubs. He is one of the newer fantasy darlings at a tough position and he is going a couple of spots AHEAD of Posey in some drafts this off season. Imagine that, he must be awesome right? The third player on that list you may recognize, especially after I say his name, which I will do later in this article. Sure, he fell a little short in the skill ratios like OBP, wOBA and OPS, and that is legit, but he held his own in all the other categories, including HR and BA and led catchers not named Sanchez in RBI in 2017. Notice the high games played and AB numbers as well. He is durable and does not have the advantage of getting additional AB’s at less demanding positions. So, what is the point? He is being drafted late in the 17th round in 12 team drafts. The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not the extra BA and OPS points are worth an 12 round difference in draft position at a volatile lineup position. I opine that the answer is no.
Here is one more:
The first player on that list is Evan Gattis of the Astros who is being picked in the 13th round in Fantrax drafts. Gattis does have 30 HR upside, although he has only done it once in his career (2016) and will turn 32 in August. Other than that he is your garden variety catcher. Double digit HR and a low to mediocre batting average. He also shares his positions with Brian McCann and a host of DH alternatives. My point is why take Gattis in the 13th when you can likely get similar stats in the 17th or 24th as shown above? Read below to see who those late rounders are.
POTENTIAL ADP GEMS – 2018 – Catchers:
- YADIER MOLINA, C, STL (ADP – ESPN 174, Fantasy Pros 164, Fantrax 202, 15th to 17th Round)- The 3rd catcher in the 1st grouping above is none other than Yadier Molina. I’m not saying he is better than Posey or Contreras at this stage of his career, but what I’m saying is that the drop in production from the 2017 Posey/Contreras to the 2017 Molina is not worth the 12 rounds earlier you would have had to draft them. If you look at the Fantrax scores on the chart, which are from the Fantrax Player Rater, Posey barely scored higher over the season than Molina did, (74.0 to 72.56) and Molina actually outscored Contreras 63.42. I realize that plate appearances matter, and some of these players may have missed time due to injury. But AB at the catcher position IS a skill set. I don’t care what the reason is, I’d rather a full year of Molina than 2/3 of a year of any other catcher, especially at playoff time in a H to H league.
- MIKE ZUNINO, SEA – (ADP – 229, 183, 191,16th to 19th Round) – We waited a long time for Zunino to finally put together a serviceable fantasy season. All we needed was for him to at least hit .250 for or a full year and we knew the HR would come. Next week Mike turns 27. Some may say he had a career year in 2017, but I lean on the fact he played 2017 at the age of 26 and now will be 27 to start the year. He is right in the wheelhouse of the age range that power hitters put it together and get more barrel on the ball, and more often. The point is that Zunino should give you as much as Even Gattis, and perhaps a lot more at 5 years younger and 4-6 rounds later.
- BRIAN McCANN, HOU – (ADP 295, 224, 282, 20th to 24th Round) – I like Zunino over McCann, but I see no reason to draft Gattis over his team mate McCann when I can wait 7 to 10 rounds later and get McCann. There is always that chance that Gattis will pop 30 HR, and that may be worth the gamble for many. It seems that power is not as scarce as it once was though, so the potential of an extra 10 – 15 HR does not entice me to draft Gattis as high as he is going. Both have injury risk but that is moot here. McCann has been one of the most consistent, even if not spectacular catchers over the past ten seasons. I’m not seeing that change in 2018, and unless Gattis is peppering the Stands in Houston, I see McCann having more playing time security.
- WILSON RAMOS, TB – (ADP 263, 197, 270, 17th to 23rd round) – Remember him? It seems many folks have forgotten in this “What have you done for me lately” environment that this guy can hit. All he needs is playing time and he is going to give you a Posey rivaling batting average and counting stats in line with catchers going in the early teen rounds. He could end the season in the top five catchers as he has before, as recently as 2016. His range of ADP’s is so wide because of that injury risk. Optimists can get a bargain.
- JT REALMUTO, MIA – (ADP 156, 119, 119, 10th to 13th round) – Those of you in the leagues that let Realmuto fall to the 13th round should pounce on him. Hell. I’m looking at Molina two rounds later and who would not rather have Realmuto? If he is trending in the 10th round among your peers then you need to use your judgement as to the value of a catcher, any catcher that early in a draft. Realmuto is likely worth it though. I’d draft him in the 10th over Posey in the 5th just on principal alone. Don’t draft him based on stolen bases. Catchers with speed lose that aspect of their games as they get older, ask Russell Martin, and besides, are the extra 8 to 10 steals going to make or break your season? Are they really? If so bump him up a round, but if you are drafting JT for steals your lineup is riddled with holes.
- JORGE ALFARO, C – (ADP XXX, 292, 276, round 23 to un-drafted) – I’m not good at predicting rookie numbers, especially for catchers, but there is one thing I can predict. Jorge Alfaro will be on the opening day roster of the Phillies. Alfaro is out of options, and he is far too highly regarded by the Phils to be exposed. Therefore the only things standing in his way are Cameron Rupp and himself. If I strike out on all the top 15 or so catchers, especially in a two catcher league, why not take a chance on the upside of Alfaro with your last pick? If it does not work out the usual suspects will still be hanging out on the wire waiting for an injury to get the call. Draft the guy with the upside and make a potential profit. Plus, I miss owning catchers named Jorge.
BUSTER POSEY, SFG – (ADP 53,55,64, Rounds 5-6) – If you like to own an offensive stalwart at catcher, and I don’t fault you for that, but Gary Sanchez is just too rich for your blood, that Posey kid is a pretty good hitter too, 3-4 rounds later. I realize this sounds contrarian to what I’ve already said in this article, but it is not. When talking value, Drafting Posey in the 6th carries as much value as drafting Sanchez in the 2nd when you factor in the opportunity cost of the round.
JONATHAN lUCROY, OAK – (ADP 280, 219, 241, rounds 19 to 24) – Like Wilson Ramos, Lucroy is yelling, “Remember Me!!” His ADP is very low, but also very wide ranged. That is because some think he’ll still be the .280 hitting, moderate power, “safe” catcher he was before injury, others who think he is past his prime and on the downside, and still others who think that plus that he won’t recover from injury. I say he is worth a late round gamble. Players tend not to forget how to hit even if the catching tool is deteriorating. While that could affect his plate appearances he is playing for an Oakland team who brought him in to tutor pitchers more than for his bat and glove. That buys him, and you, some rope. If it doesn’t work out, someone else just dropped a pretty good catcher. I saw it last night.
Thanks for reading, and I’ll be on Reddit in the r/fantasybaseball sub-reddit all day today talking catchers or you can email me directly with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you all next week when I have the task of mining the reliever ranks for ADP Gems. I get the tough assignments at Major League Fantasy Sports, but I’m having a blast. Then, in two weeks, it will be time for my award winning Pick Your Spots choices as we get ready for WEEK 1. See you then. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join host Brian Roach, Jr, and John Gozzi live on Sunday March 18th, 2018 from [7:30]-9pm EST for episode #107 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. We will discuss the latest information in the world of fantasy baseball.
Our guest this week is Marc Foster. Marc has been with the Major League Fantasy Sports community going on 10 years now. He is a 3 time baseball champion, wrote for MLFS for 2 years, and is an occassional radio guest.