Written by: David Holler
Catcher is the least flashy and productive of the offensive positions. ADP reports suggest a few eager owners will likely reach and spend a fourth to sixth round to secure one of the top two players. The fantasy pundits will tell you to wait and find value later in your draft or auction. Whatever your philosophy, make sure you come in with a very clear strategy. Don’t be the guy who takes a catcher 30 spots before their ADP because they’re the “best player available” at this thin position.
Let’s do some catcher math to figure out how many backstops are likely to be drafted at the position. Multiply the number of catcher slots in your starting lineup by the number of teams in your league. For example, for a 12 team mixed league with one starting catcher slot, the answer is 12. For a two catcher league it would be 24. Most owners are not going to waste a valuable bench spot on a catcher, so assume this is approximately our total number of catchers taken on draft day.
The veteran tier includes the 9th through 14th catchers. Instead of taking the #9 catcher somewhere around pick #150, why not wait 80 picks and get a player in the same tier? In a 12 team mixed league with one starting catcher slot, I might literally wait until the final pick of my draft to take a catcher. As always, don’t be afraid to take a shot on a guy who you believe in, but if you don’t have that feeling, spend resources elsewhere take a catcher late, and find that diamond in the rough on the waiver wire down the line if need be.
The Elite Tier
- Buster Posey SF 30
- Jonathan Lucroy TEX 30
Buster Posey is still the class of the position. He is the safest pick on the board and he’s going to be a real asset to your BA/OBP/SLG team slashline. He doesn’t have the home run power of others at the position, which is why you shouldn’t spend a 3rd or 4th round pick on him. Anything past the 4th should provide solid value.
Jonathan Lucroy joins the elite tier with the second highest floor at catcher. The Texas backstop is not a lock to repeat his 24 home runs from last season as he had never cracked 20 before. However, I’m fully expecting Lucroy to produce in every category across the board (besides SB’s) in a potent Rangers lineup.
The Young Guns Tier
- Gary Sanchez NYY 24
- Willson Contreras CHC 24
- J.T. Realmuto MIA 26
Gary Sanchez had the best rookie debut we’ve seen in a long time this side of Trea Turner. We all know that a regression is coming, but to what degree? At this weak of a position, 25 or more home runs and a batting average that doesn’t kill you would earn him a spot in the second tier. The ceiling is much higher than that.
Willson Contreras performed well in his 283 plate appearance debut. The .282 batting average and .845 OPS bode well for the future, but realists are wondering if he can sustain that for a full season. There are playing time concerns with three catchers on the Cubs roster (if we count Schwarber), but the smart money has Maddon finding a way to get Contreras’ bat in the lineup if he is producing.
J.T. Realmuto pulled off a .303 batting average to go with 12 stolen bases last year. Such a rare feat for a catcher has owners very bullish on the Marlins backstop. You have to assume the batting average will fall closer to his career figure of .282, but the double-digit steals appear sustainable
The Low Contact Tier
- Yasmani Grandal LAD 28
- Evan Gattis HOU 30
- Brian McCann HOU 33
Take a longer look at this tier if a low batting average will not hurt you according to your league rules. These three catchers will not help your batting average, but provide plenty of value in the power departments.
Yasmani Grandal is one of the favorites to lead the catching position in home runs and RBIs. The OBP and OPS are sound, so take Grandal if you can stomach the batting average approaching the mendoza line.
Evan Gattis and Brian McCann appear to be headed for a traditional RH vs. LH hitting platoon. Some will focus on the projected drop in plate appearances with Carlos Beltran getting most of the starts at DH, so let’s focus on the positive. Gattis and McCann should get more at bats that play to their stronger side. Expect Gattis to get significant at bats versus RHP pitching as well. Then again, Gattis could get some OF playing time and boost both their values.
The Veteran Tier
- Salvador Perez KC 26
- Russell Martin TOR 34
- Yadier Molina STL 34
- Matt Wieters WAS 30
- Welington Castillo BAL 29
- Stephen Vogt OAK 32
Salvador Perez enthusiasts will point to his age and suggest he’s in his prime, but the numbers suggest otherwise. Perez was a rookie in 2011 in his age 21 season and has been a workhorse ever since. Draft the Royals backstop to cash in 20 home runs, but be aware that the overall production is trending downward.
Russell Martin had a shockingly bad start to 2016, hitting his first home run of the season in the Blue Jays 48th game. Many figured it was over for Martin as a relevant fantasy hitter before he rebounded to finish with 20 home runs. The batting average is a weakness for Martin, so take him if you need the chance at another 20 home run season.
Yadier Molina will bring you a respectable batting average and enough counting stats to be valuable if you can stomach single digit home runs. Molina gets a bump in two catcher leagues where you value his consistency, but I’m looking for a higher ceiling in a one catcher 12-team mixed league.
Matt Wieters can contribute to your team if he can stay healthy. The batting average and OBP probably won’t be an asset, but he can swat 15 to 20 home runs with enough plate appearances. If the Nationals decide to bat him anywhere towards the middle of the lineup, consider that a bonus to his counting stats.
Welington Castillo put up some respectable power numbers in the desert of Arizona over the past season and a half. A move to Baltimore shouldn’t hurt those numbers. There is some inconsistency here, but the good Castillo could hit you 15 to 20 home runs in a hitter friendly park.
Stephen Vogt owns a career OPS that is 150 points higher in the first half than the second half. If the pattern holds true for 2017, acquire Vogt and then attempt to flip him around the all-star break to the owner with the worst catching situation. Vogt is typical of the catching position with a .255 career batting average and potential for home runs in the high teens.
The Lottery Ticket Tier
- Tom Murphy COL 25
- Wilson Ramos TB 29 Cameron Rupp PHI 27
Tom Murphy possess the greatest distance between his ceiling and floor of any player at this position. There is a decent chance he does very little this year, but considering the investment, what do you have to lose? His 162 game pace (based off 88 career plate appearances) is 41 home runs and 111 RBI’s. Too good to be true? It is! Murphy won’t play anywhere near 162 games or continue that type of pace, but the early pace and playing home games at Coors should have your attention.
Wilson Ramos had a great hitting season for the Nationals last year. The good news is that the Rays are planning to use him in the DH slot upon his return. Take Ramos if you can stash him on a DL slot and hope for a return sometime in early June. He could pay off big down the stretch.
Cameron Rupp has the power potential to be listed in the low contact tier. The presence of Jorge Alfaro definitely clouds the situation, and while he may be seen as the future for the Phillies, there is no guarantee he will hit. This is definitely a situation to keep on eye on in the early months.
If these top 17 options are off the board and you still have a catcher slot to fill (or took Ramos), don’t panic. OK maybe panic a little in a two-catcher format since things get ugly at this point. Use one of your final picks on some catcher with a pulse. Your real work will start the first few weeks of the season on the waiver wire. It’s not easy to determine the difference between a hot streak and a genuine breakout, but that’s the task at hand if you fail to invest in one of these options on draft day.
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