Where to Draft Your Catcher

How much should you invest in the catcher position on draft day? The answer is not so simple. There are many factors to be considered, such as the depth of your league, scoring system and your personal feelings on risk tolerance and position scarcity. This article will help you sift through some historical trends and help you find an appropriate strategy that fits your personal style and your league settings.

It is so difficult to correctly value catchers on draft day. In addition to increased injury risk relative to other positions on the diamond, there is a ton of volatility at the position too. Wear and tear on a catcher’s body can lead to unpredictable performance. Mike Napoli, for example, was a mess in 2012 due to lingering injuries. Once he traded his catcher’s mitt for a first baseman’s glove, he turned things around in a big way.

The table below gives an example of some of the year to year volatility with ADP at the C position. Don’t get too caught up in the actual ADP numbers here, but do look at the ADP ranks with regard to where specific players fell from one year to the next.

2012 Mock Draft Central 2013 Mock Draft Central 2013 Composite
Player ADP Player ADP Player ADP
C.Santana 36.9 B.Posey 11 B.Posey 15.5
M.Napoli 46.6 Y.Molina 42 J.Mauer 51.8
B.McCann 50.6 W.Rosario 46 Y.Molina 57.8
B.Posey 59.8 C.Santana 47 C.Santana 60.6
J.Mauer 82.1 J.Mauer 50 M.Wieters 64.6
M.Wieters 99.7 M.Wieters 52 V.Martinez 96.5
M.Montero 104.2 M.Montero 65 M.Napoli 103.6
A.Avila 109.9 M.Napoli 69 W.Rosario 105.2
J.Arencibia 180.3 J.Montero 91 M.Montero 123.4
Y.Molina 181.3 V.Martinez 108 S.Perez 140.9
W.Ramos 208.6 S.Perez 130 J.Montero 147.5
G.Soto 227.5 J.Lucroy 135 J.Lucroy 168.4
N.Hundley 231.6 R.Doumit 157 B.McCann 177.9

The first two columns use ADP data from MDC for an apple to apple comparison. The third column is a composite list averaging ADP from Y!, ESPN, CBS and MDC from 2013. When we consider that the top 5 catchers drafted in 2011 were Mauer, VMart, McCann, Posey and Soto, this data should make you think twice when considering a large investment in the C position. There is a lot that can go wrong here.

Next, we will examine some general ADP trends over the past 3 years along with some preliminary 2014 rankings in order to help us predict what might happen in 2014 drafts.

In most years, elite catchers go somewhere between the end of round 3 and the end of round 4. Posey’s outstanding 2012 and Mauer’s scintillating 2010 caused them to be drafted much earlier the following year. This elite group is generally pretty small, and in 2014, there will likely be one or two players drafted in that range. In each of the past two seasons, there have been an average of nine catchers drafted within the first 10 rounds. Most of these guys trickle off draft boards between rounds 5 and 9. After round 10, things tend to slow down a little.

Given that the top performing catcher options were not really able to separate much from the pack in 2013, we can expect a pretty substantial catcher run once Posey is off the board in 2014. There is very little separating the next 4 options in re-draft leagues. If Posey goes before pick 40, expect Mauer, Santana, Rosario and Molina to get drafted somewhere between 48 and 72.

Because of high upside players like Salvador Perez and Evan Gattis along with consistent performers like Brian McCann and Jonathan Lucroy there could be as many as 10 catchers drafted in the first 10 rounds and 13 or 14 drafted inside the top 200 overall. Take a look at the chart below to see some very early catcher ranks.

Rank Rotoworld Jim Finch Composite
1 Posey Posey Posey
2 Mauer Rosario Mauer
3 Santana Mauer Rosario
4 Rosario Lucroy Molina
5 Molina Molina Santana
6 Perez McCann Lucroy
7 Wieters Santana McCann
8 Lucroy M.Montero Wieters
9 Gattis J.Castro S.Perez
10 McCann Wieters M.Montero
11 M.Montero S.Perez J.Castro
12 J.Castro Ramos Gattis
13 Ramos Gattis Ramos
14 Saltalamacchia d’Arnaud Martin
15 Arencibia Martin Arencibia
16 Zunino Pierzynski Pierzynski
17 Martin Arencibia Saltalmacchia
18 Grandal W.Castro Grandal
19 Pierzynski Grandal d’Arnaud
20 Phegley Ruiz Zunino

Using the composite rank, which is an average by Rotoworld’s Matthew Pouliot and our own Jim Finch helps us get a pretty good idea of where these players might go in relation to one another in redraft 5×5 leagues. Obviously, player values will fluctuate as we get closer to draft season. As you move down the composite list, think about how far down you are comfortable going in order to find your starting C. Keep in mind, there are always strong mixed league options not currently on fantasy radars who emerge as sleepers once we get closer to opening day and player roles solidify.

League Depth

The depth of your league plays a huge role in your decision-making process on draft day. The key concept here is to consider the quality of replacement level players in your league. A replacement player is the best free agent available should the need arise. How good these players are can dramatically affect the values of elite players in your league. For example, in a shallow league, Evan Gattis might be a free agent. The difference between him and Posey may not be substantial enough to warrant investing a high draft pick on Posey. In a two catcher league, however, low end options like Alex Avila and Devin Mesoraco are starting. Posey’s value is much higher here because the gap in production will be huge between Posey and the best free agent.

Here are some thoughts regarding the catcher position in leagues of different sizes.

10 Team League, 1 Catcher

In most leagues, there will be owners who wait until the last couple rounds to fill their C position. What this means is that a couple players in the 9-13 ranks will likely be available to you in the final rounds and may not even be drafted at all. There will also be some very high quality replacement players, so the savvy owner will not waste a roster spot on a back-up. Unless I get a ridiculous value on a high end option, like Posey in the 6th, or a Rosario/Molina type in the 10th, I am waiting until the very end of the draft to take my catcher.

12 Team League, 1 Catcher

The assumption here is that Posey will go toward the end of round 3 and that the 2nd tier of catchers (Mauer, Rosario, Molina, Santana) will go before the end of round 6 in most leagues of this size. The next 4 or 5 will likely go between rounds 7 and 10. Replacement level players will still be solid in leagues of this size, but because most, if not all, of the top 10 options are gone by the end of round 10, high end options become more valuable than they were in shallower formats.

So where are the best values? Posey is still too rich for my blood, but one could make a case for taking one of the last of the 2nd tier catchers in round 6, or targeting a guy like consistent power threat McCann in round 6 or 7. If you can’t find the right value here though, don’t panic. A last resort option like Pierzynski or Saltalamacchia could make for a decent final round placeholder until you can find a replacement with more upside.

The one move I would not make would be to grab a player like Wieters at the end of the catcher run. There is a pretty significant difference between the value of players like Yadi Molina and the Wieters/Perez types. I believe the gap is wider than the 3 round price tag on draft day. Until these guys show the ability to produce like a high end option, I would rather wait a few more rounds and grab Gattis or Castro who have similar upside, but at a lower cost.

14-16 Team League, 1 Catcher

The quality of the replacement level player starts to dwindle in larger leagues like these. You can still find a sleeper towards the end of your draft, but you will have to be more aware of value plays throughout. Drafting a second tier catcher in round 5 looks like a pretty good play here. Keep in mind, 12 team fall back options like Gattis and Castro are likely gone by the tenth round in leagues of this size. Veterans like Pierzynski will surely be drafted in the teen rounds. If you miss on the guys you are targeting and wait until the end of the draft, you could be looking at somebody like d’Arnaud or the fading Carlos Ruiz as your opening day catcher. That is not a spot I would want to be in.

Super Deep Formats, 2 Catcher Leagues
AL or NL only, and Leagues of 20+

High end catchers are really at a premium here. Replacement level options usually contribute very little, either due to a lack of playing time or a sub-par skill set. A guy like Posey is worth consideration towards the end of round 1 in deep leagues like these. I still don’t love the idea of making that investment, but I would think hard about grabbing one of the 2nd tier guys in round 3. High end options are more plentiful in the AL than they are in the NL, so keep that in mind for only leagues.

In a two catcher league, pairing one high end option with a late round sleeper seems like the best course of action. Investing in two early round catchers will likely leave your team with too many holes elsewhere. For possible sleepers, keep an eye on spring training in Minnesota and Cleveland. If Josmil Pinto and Yan Gomes can emerge with everyday roles, they could be mixed league relevant and deep league gold. Devin Mesoraco also has some upside if Dusty Baker ever turns him loose.

Format Considerations

There are too many formats in fantasy baseball to mention them all here, but I will highlight a couple common ones and talk about how player values can be different. It is very important that any owner understand the ins and outs of their scoring format before sitting at the draft table. Keep in mind that default ranks on most sites are set with 5×5 scoring in mind.

5×5 Roto vs. 5×5 Head to Head

Overall player values in these two formats are essentially the same, but you may value certain players more or less depending on strategy. For example, if your team was punting the BA category, a player like J.P. Arencibia could be worth a lot more to you than he would be to the rest of the league. Nabbing him at the end of the draft could help you stock up on other assets early as you ignore the catcher position.

Points Leagues

Much of a catcher’s value in points leagues is tied to his ABs. Catchers who can either DH or play a secondary position to keep their bat in the line-up will have more relative value. Since most points formats reward players for extra base hits and penalize for Ks, there are some things to consider when drafting in this format. Here are a few players who see their value change significantly in a points league relative to their 5×5 value.

Risers

Joe Mauer – If Mauer moves over to 1B next year for the Twins and is able to stay healthy, he could approach 600 ABs. Mauer gets dinged for his lack of power in 5×5, but his on base skills, doubles power and extra AB potential could make him more valuable than Posey.

Carlos Santana – Santana had more ABs, more BBs and more fantasy points than any other catcher in 2013 despite a mildly disappointing year overall. Imagine if he breaks out?

Jonathan Lucroy – Lucroy posts solid numbers overall, but his low K rate and prime spot in a strong line-up drive his value even further here.

A.J. Pierzynski – He plays better than you think in this format because of a solid BA and good contact rates. He won’t win your league for you, but he makes a really safe fall back option for leagues of 12+.

Fallers

Wilin Rosario – Rosario is a category league stud, but he plays really poorly here relative to what he will cost. He strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit a ton of doubles, and almost never walks. If you draft him thinking you have landed an elite option, you will come away disappointed. He is a low end starter in 10 team leagues.

Evan Gattis – The HRs look nice, but unless he is playing the OF on his off days and getting more ABs than his peers, he will leave you at a disadvantage. He strikes out almost 4 times more often than he walks and unlike Rosario, he has a poor average too. Gattis will be a boom or bust weekly play who busts more often than he booms.

OPS Leagues

Again, we will take a look at players who see their relative value either rise or fall when OPS is either introduced as a 6th category, or it is used instead of BA.

Risers

Joe Mauer – He has the best OPS among all catchers in 2013 by a wide margin. Mauer’s supreme on-base skills drive his value here. Note that if OPS is substituted for BA, Mauer is no more valuable than he would be in 5×5 since his BA is elite too. The value boost comes in 6×6 leagues where both cats are counted.

Jason Castro – Castro may see some regression next year, but an OPS over .800 is still very much within reach. This season, he is second in OPS among all catchers.

Brian McCann – His power combined with a solid BA make him a strong OPS play.

Fallers

Salvador Perez – He doesn’t walk much and most of his hits are singles. BA is a strength in Salvador’s profile, but OPS is a liability.

Matt Wieters- He has good HR pop, but his poor on-base skills along with a limited number of doubles makes him less valuable here. Wieters had a career high OPS of .778 in 2011 which is solid, but he has also been below .700 twice, including 2013.

General Thoughts

It is hard for me to imagine a scenario where the number 1 ranked catcher is a good value on draft day in any format. Volatility makes that type of investment highly unlikely to pay off in full.

Always be on the lookout for catcher eligible players with solid bats who play a different position. Catcher eligibility by itself doesn’t pay the bills, but the extra ABs always help.

Whatever format you play, the most important thing to remember is to stay flexible on draft day. Never lock in on one target or you will miss value elsewhere. Whatever your catcher strategy on draft day, have a back-up plan ready if the values aren’t right. Except in the deepest of leagues, you are generally better off waiting than reaching at this position.

Good luck to all in 2014, and be sure to hit me up if you have any format specific questions.

Tommy Landseadel

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Tommy is also known as tlance on the CBS and Sports Hoopla message boards. He has been playing fantasy baseball for 16 years in many different format types and looks forward to helping you with your fantasy baseball questions! You can now follow me on Twitter @tlandseadel

2 thoughts on “Where to Draft Your Catcher”

  1. Things may change come March, but I love the potential value on Brian McCann. He looks to be somewhere between the 7th and 10th catcher on most draft boards, but he could be a top 3 option if he lands in the right spot.

    Generally though, I am a value guy. I will take the guy who falls farther than he should. If nobody does, then I probably won’t draft a catcher until late.

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