The catcher position presents two distinct strategies that aren’t as clear at any other position. Buster Posey and Gary Sanchez are the elite producers at the position and have the potential to return early round value. If a priority in your draft strategy is to get an elite catcher and you are a believer in one of Posey and Sanchez, they are worth taking.
The rest of the position offers various degrees of safety, value, and production but none should be expected to return elite value overall. Which of these options ends up on your roster is up to personal preference and categorical need. That said, here are the positional rankings and what each player can bring to the fantasy table.
Despite a down season, Posey remains the best catcher in fantasy baseball. He will gain some extra plate appearances playing first base, which gives him a solid playing time floor. As a result, durability hasn’t been an issue for him as he has had at least 595 plate appearances in every season since 2011. His power metrics remained similar to past years and his age isn’t at the point where a huge step back in regression is due, so expect more of the same from Posey.
The question isn’t whether Gary Sanchez will regress, but rather how much. This projection is probably conservative but the upside is obvious after last year. In a two-catcher league, I would consider him more. In one catcher leagues, I’ll wait eight rounds and take Brian McCann or Stephen Vogt and likely end up with relatively similar production.
Perez is a very interesting player to profile heading into 2017. There are the constant durability concerns thanks to Ned Yost insistence on playing him every day. Eventually, that will catch up to Perez, but in the meantime, he is a valuable fantasy asset. As for skills, Perez sold out for flyballs and power last year and as a result, his strikeout rate shot up. The issue was that his HR/FB didn’t remain consistent, but this isn’t a huge issue yet because he made more quality contact by chasing fewer pitches. This is a delicate balance and as soon as his contact rate on pitches inside the zone starts to fall, red flags will be there for Perez.
There are a couple factors that will always limit Grandal’s batting average. The first is that he struggles against lefties, and the second is his limited line drive rate combined with his high infield fly ball rate. The power is real, however, and Grandal should be considered as the third catcher off the board in on-base percentage leagues.
This may be the lowest that you will find Lucroy on any preseason list, but there are signs of erosion in his plate discipline. Last year, Lucroy had the same overall swing rate but swung less at pitches in the zone and more at pitches outside the zone. Given that his value comes mostly from his batting average and ability to get on base, any erosion in plate discipline could make Lucroy a disappointment.
The questions for McCann are how much playing time will he get and how much his power will erode with his move away from Yankee Stadium. While it’s impossible to pinpoint an answer, I’m willing to bet on him remaining a viable fantasy asset in all formats.
Speaking of playing time questions, that is the biggest burden on Gattis’ fantasy value heading into the season. Playing time generally sorts itself out and he remains a power asset, but his price is a bit too high for me to buy in.
Realmuto offers an interesting skillset for a catcher offering a seemingly high batting average and some steals. However, the batting average is based on a very bloated BABIP last year and it cannot reasonably be projected to continue. He has been inefficient on the basepaths so there is some risk he could get a red light this season. If that’s the case, he doesn’t offer the same power upside as other catchers, meaning his floor is lower than other catchers. As a result, he slides a few slots below the industry consensus.
Martin displayed an interesting skillset last year as his contact rate plunged and his power spiked. Metrics backed up the power spike so there is some hope that it will remain for one more year.
There are a lot of warning signs surrounding Vogt and he is this high on the list due to the questions below him and not the skills he exhibited. He is likely to sit against lefties as he had a putrid .549 OPS against them last year. The power metrics showed some signs of decline last season as well, as he pulled the ball less and made more soft contact. On the other hand, he maintains a heavy flyball batted ball profile, so his power numbers should remain fairly consistent.
Castillo’s season long numbers from 2016 look fairly elite for a catcher. The problem is that six of his 14 home runs came in April and his power outlook isn’t that rosy given his low flyball rate. Moving to Baltimore should give him an opportunity to clear the fence more frequently, but it could come at the expense of extra base hits and average. Adding to the risk is Orioles’ prospect Chance Cisco, who should be ready for the big leagues this summer.
Wieters has never reached the heights expected of him, but there are far worse options out there. The downside comes from the fact that he is slated to bat eighth in the Nationals’ lineup this season.
Contreras is one of the hottest names at the position but playing time is a concern. If Kyle Schwarber steals at-bats at catcher and Miguel Montero continues to hang around, Contreras will lose out on at-bats. The skills should be there, though the rate of power won’t stick from last year, but playing time is too much in question to draft higher.
Molina will provide a safe floor but there is next to no power production.
With d’Arnuad, it was always the case that his health was the issue holding him back and when he managed to stay on the field the production would come. Last year, that came into question, as his GB% shot up and his HR/FB% fell. There may be some potential left here, but the chance of it coming through become less every season.
McCann flashed power last year as he got more aggressive swinging at pitches inside the zone. He’s entering his third season in the big league, so there is a legitimate chance he could flash more power. That makes him my favorite sleeper at the position.
The book is out on Zunino as there is plenty of power in his game but even more strikeouts. The usual Spring Training optimism stories have been floating around about a changed approach for Zunino but he has enough of an established track record for me to remain skeptical.
Rupp came out of nowhere last season to become a viable option at catcher in any league format. Jorge Alfaro is lurking behind him in the minors, so playing time becomes a concern. Until then, he should be a decent late-round catcher.
Cervelli is an empty batting average catcher, but he’ll have playing time locked in.
Gomes has both health and skill concerns heading into 2017 and his performances from 2013 and 2014 seem far away.
Hedges is only a consideration for his playing time. His AAA numbers were inflated greatly by a hitter-friendly atmosphere and they won’t repeat this year in the major leagues.
Others to consider: Chris Hermann, Tony Wolters, Devin Mesoraco/Tucker Barnhart, Tyler Flowers, Jett Bandy/ Andrew Susac, Wilson Ramos, Jason Castro, Geovany Soto
photo credit: Keith Allison