2019 Catcher Draft Plan

I’m back. OK, I never left, however it’s been a while since I put pen to paper so to speak. But just because I haven’t written anything this year doesn’t mean I haven’t had my nose to the grindstone. In addition to reading all the articles posted here and elsewhere, I’ve been compiling my rankings (and checking it twice) in preparation of my annual draft plan series. Now that I’ve combed through every position I have a real good idea of how I will be tackling this year’s draft.

Over the next few weeks I will be publishing a new position every few days – sharing my thoughts and insight on what I’ve gleaned through my research. I’ve had a lot of draft success since I started this exercise years ago with FanRag Sports so my methodology does have some success behind it. Hopefully you find the following series useful and educational and it leads you to the same success I have experienced.

We kick things off with one of the least favorite positions in fantasy – catcher. Nobody likes to pay up for catcher; not paying for a catcher has actually become a standard rule when it comes to drafting. Over the years we’ve seen Buster Posey go as high as the fourth round, and despite the warnings of reaching for a catcher at least a half-dozen catchers are taken in the proceeding rounds – only half of which (at best) lived up to their expectations.

Buster Posey is no longer that elite option he used to be (more on him later). He has been replaced by one J.T. Realmuto, who broke out in a big way in 2018. The speed wasn’t there, but I don’t believe it was because Realmuto forgot how to run. I believe the Marlins were playing it safe with their one true trade asset and did not want to risk an injury. Even without the speed, the rest of Realmuto’s numbers combined with an improving annual track record makes him not only the top choice in this year’s draft, he’s also the safest. Being dealt to Philadelphia, a friendlier hitting environment with a much better surrounding cast, only adds to his potential value.

Is Realmuto worth reaching for? I would say yes in almost every format, especially in keeper leagues. He has way more value in two-catcher leagues, only leagues, and points format. In H2H he is only worth it if you crave reliability – I’m that guy as I was usually the one reaching for Posey in the past. Playing the catcher carousel can be fun, but most times I’d rather have the set it and forget it player at catcher so I can focus my attention elsewhere.

Once Realmuto is gone, Gary Sanchez will be soon to follow. He posted huge power numbers in 2017, but an injury derailed both his power and average in 2018. Most are willing to give him a pass for 2018; while the average collapsed he did manage 18 home runs in just over 300 at bats. This is purely an upside pick as the major league track record is limited, but the 30 HR power potential alone makes him an appealing option.

After Sanchez we have a number of stable veterans. None are as good as Realmuto or can match the power potential of Sanchez, but they each will get plenty of at bats to help boost the counting stats, and each provides a level of comfort despite your personal feeling for them.

Salvador Perez has posted back to back 27/80 seasons, and while his 52 runs scored in 2018 may seem low it was the fourth highest among catchers. His underlying metrics have been in question for years, but with the exception of the batting average plunge last year he has defied the odds by continue to produce top-5 numbers in three of the four major categories we judge catchers by.

Yadier Molina played strong through his age 35 season, and his age is the only reason fantasy owners seem wary. Molina is at an age, or past I should say, that players start to shows signs of a decline. To date Molina hasn’t shown any, and he doesn’t profile as the type of player that will suddenly have a cliff season. Then again, we assumed that with Buster Posey. Don’t let that scare you off.

I originally had Yasmani Grandal behind Wilson Ramos, but I have since bumped him up after signing with Milwaukee. Grandal isn’t a batting average guy – be happy if he hits in the .240 neighborhood. He does, however, have solid power and will give you top-10 numbers in three categories making him a lock to finish in or around the top-5.

I can’t say the same about Wilson Ramos; injuries have plagued him throughout his career. However, when healthy, Ramos has shown he can be a top-5 catching option. The question is can he stay healthy and how many at bats will Ramos give you. Also, Ramos is at a spot in the draft where questions start to crop up when it comes to catchers. You can look at the above five with some level of comfort as an owner. That safety net gets a little looser from this point on, meaning you need to decide how important that reliability and safety is to you and your fantasy team.

Take a look at the next few players on our rankings.

  • Wilson Contreras was all the talk heading into 2018, but the average didn’t live up to expectations and the power wasn’t there. Will it be there this year? Next year? Ever?
  • Buster Posey saw his power disappear, but the batting average was still alive and kicking. Can Posey hit for a high enough average and play enough games to rack up the counting stats to stay relevant?
  • Francisco Cervelli has job stability, but that’s the nicest thing we can say about him. The limited power and cap on his batting average makes him a back-end top-12 at best.
  • Robinson Chirinos got a bump this year by moving to Houston. His new team does increase the potential for value, but in reality he is a slightly improved version of Chirinos.
  • Wellington Castillo is probably the best option on this list, and that’s if he is healthy and can return to the 20 home run guy with (hopefully) and average north of .260.

The one thing the above players have in common is playing time; they will each get a high number of at bats – at least higher than most. However, each has their flaws which will limit their upside so value is important. And while value is important, it can be dismissed in some cases (meaning it’s OK to reach a little) as there are even more questions when it comes to the rest of the field.

Do you really feel comfortable putting your faith in Mike Zunino and his Joey Gallo-like batting average? Are you really considering Tucker Barnhart with the hopes he will hit more than 10 home runs over 460 at bats like last season? Hopes were high for Jorge Alfaro, but with the move to Miami and Barnhart like power showing in 2018, can we really expect more?

And if the questions about the players with a clear line for playing time were not bad enough, we’ve got a slew of players who don’t even know how much playing time they will receive.

  • Kurt Suzuki/Yan Gomes
  • Russell Martin/Austin Barnes
  • Brian McCann/Tyler Flowers
  • Austin Hedges/Francisco Mejia

Anyone that tells you that one of the players has a clear edge over the other is lying. As of now they are all basically in a timeshare, and until the season starts we have no clue how things will shake out. You can even place one of our earlier hopefuls (Yasmani Grandal) here given Milwaukee already had a capable backstop in Manny Pina. Maybe you can get lucky and draft a winning tandem like Flowers and Suzuki in 2017, but that only works in daily formats – those in weekly leagues are advised to stay away.

There are a handful of players not mentioned here, but most (if not all) of them would fall outside the top-12 and each comes with a considerable amount of risk. Granted that risk is lower the farther you get into the draft, but the longer you wait the higher the odds are that you’ll be playing the waiver wire along with half your league mates come May.

So what’s the plan when it comes to catcher?

I’m reaching for Realmuto early. He’s safe, reliable, has a high floor, and I am confident I can later replace whatever power I may lose by reaching for Realmuto early. Sanchez is a skip for me simply for the price, but also for the lack of a track record – I want a little more of a guarantee if I am to pay up. Perez and Molina are my fallback options followed by Grandal and maybe Ramos (depending on spring health and ADP), but I want one of those three (excluding Ramos for now), especially in two-catcher leagues (where I’d reach for any of them). Even outside of the two catcher leagues, if you are risk adverse it is worth going after any of them (Sanchez and Ramos supports are free to reach).

If you don’t land one of these top-six I would hold off as long as possible. There will be one or two surprised that present themselves on waivers early and throughout the season, and one of those tandems above will shake out a winner to target. The only thing is you’ll need to pay extra attention to catchers on waivers, as where you can basically ignore catchers on waivers if you take the safe route.

The good thing about this year’s draft plan is that about half the league will be willing to pay up or reach a round early while the other half will be content to wait things out. This gives you a good chance at landing a safe option, but you need to beware. Just because one or more owners appear to be waiting things out doesn’t mean they will not react quicker if they see value or a potential run starting and panic.

Like many of you I hate the catcher position, almost as much as I do closers. However, as much as I hate the positions I will still target top somewhat risk free talent before the well runs dry. There is no right or wrong strategy here, only the need for security. Which side do you fall under?

 

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Jim Finch

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The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.

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