Before the season started I took a stance opposite of many in the fantasy industry; that being, draft an elite catcher early. It seemed like a rational argument considering the consistency of the top players and the safety of not having to play the waiver game all year trying to find a stable option. Here are the top 12 catchers in fantasy as of today along with how they were ranked pre-season.
Absent from this list is Jonathan Lucroy, Devin Mesoraco, Yan Gomes, Travis d’Arnaud and Matt Wieters who are all out with injuries (Mesoraco will eventually be officially on the shelf). Then there’s Wilin Rosario who has been banished to the minors and Yadier Molina who has not bounced back like we thought he could. If you reached early for Posey you have yet to reap the rewards but it is early. Salvador Perez is doing what he was predicted to do, as are Evan Gattis and Brian McCann, but there are 8 catchers in the top 12 that were not there pre-season and for some; not even on the radar at draft time.
Those players that we deemed afterthoughts, second catchers and backups for 12 team leagues are now leading the charge, and there are a number of fantasy owners who spent a high or mid-round pick who are not happy. I still think it was a sound idea to take a catcher early; maybe the wrong year for it though given all the injuries, but those who told you to wait are giving a big fat “I Told You So” right about now. That’s another story. Despite being top 12 options, a number of the players above are still available in a good number of leagues. Those in CBS leagues are probably out of luck with the initial list, but I have some deep league picks that might interest you.
A.J. Pierzynski, Atlanta Braves: We’ll start with one that is under-owned and currently in the top 5. Pierzynski fell off last year but has bounced back and is looking every bit like the top 10 catcher he was at the conclusion of the 2013 season. His home run and run totals are average, but he is tied for 6th place in RBIs and is at the top of the list when it comes to batting average. A.J. is not going to hit close to .350 all season (.282 career average) and could lose at bats down the line if Christian Bethancourt starts hitting; for now though, you have a top catcher hitting in the heart of the order. He is gone in half the leagues out there and it’s time for the other half to catch up (no pun intended).
Available in 52% of Yahoo, 49% of ESPN and 29% of CBS leagues
Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs: Up until 2012, Montero was the model of consistency. You could virtually count on 60 runs, 15 homers, 80 or so RBIs and an average around .280. The average bottomed out in 2013 and while he got some of his numbers back in 2014, nobody noticed as they couldn’t look past the .243 average. So what’s changed this year for Montero from the previous two seasons? Well the walk rate is back up after hovering around 10%. His LD% this year is 27%; over 5% better than his best year. The O-Swing% is down showing more selectivity at the plate (another career best). Finally his O-Contact% is 8% higher that his career average, so not only is he swinging at fewer pitchers outside the zone, he’s making better contact when he does swing. Montero isn’t scoring many runs this year, but he’s doing everything else right. Wake up ESPN leagues and put the past 2 years behind you like you did with Pierzynski.
Available in 63% of Yahoo, 86% of ESPN and 26% of CBS leagues
Nick Hundley, Colorado Rockies: Remember in 2011 when Hundley hit .288 with 9 home runs in 82 games? Yea, me neither. It’s easy to see why nobody gave him a second thought on draft day; that and the fact that Wilin Rosario was there. Something in the water (or air) has a way of revitalizing a player’s career, even when they never really had much of one (right Drew Stubbs?). Hundley isn’t just a home park hitter either, he’s batting .325 on the road. His numbers are equivalent to those of Montero above and Wilson Ramons ranked just below him, yet his ownership levels are lower than both men. I know the BABIP is unsustainable, but he is putting up career best numbers for K%, has his best BB% since 2010 and his ISO is right in line with that 2011 season. Also, in a mirror image of Montero, Hundley’s LD% has spiked up to 28% and the O-Swing% and O-Contact% are both significantly better than his career average. Sometimes the stars align for one year during a player’s career; this could be Hundley’s season.
Available in 48% of CBS and 79% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues
Caleb Joseph, Baltimore Orioles: His early success is a bit of a surprise. Joseph batted .284 in A+, .269 in AA and .238 during his brief stay in AAA. His current .284 average is BABIP inflated (.362) just like Hundley above. The difference is when Hundley’s BABIP comes down his batting average will still make him a usable fantasy commodity. Joseph has decent power evident in the 22 home runs he hit in 2013 over 518 at bats and his walk rate has improved this year (small sample size), but as the walks go up – so do the strikeouts. While I like Caleb as a short-term add, I don’t see him as being a long-term solution this year (even if Matt Wieters wasn’t in the picture). If you are a Caleb Joseph owner, enjoy the ride while it lasts but start looking for a replacement now so you’re not left scrambling. As quickly as owners are adding Joseph, he should be dropped at the same rate when the bottom falls out.
Available in 66% of Yahoo, 60% of ESPN and 31% of CBS leagues
Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers: This was a popular sleeper pick coming into the season. Grandal holds a .310 minor league batting average, .301 in AA and .339 in AAA. So far that average hasn’t translated to the majors, and considering those .300 averages were produced in the PCL there is a chance it never will. Even so, Grandal has shown improvement in this area in 2015 along with improving his walk rate and decreasing the number of strikeouts. He’s showing more selectivity at the plate which you can see in his Swing% and his Contact% shows positive results so far. Combine all that with a 23% line drive rate and owners have hope that the average will continue getting better.
That’s all well and good for his batting average, but all those improvements do have one big drawback. Grandal’s GB% is close to 54% and his FB% is just a tick over 23%. For a player with 20+ home run potential you would expect better. Even with the low FB% Grandal has 4 home runs this season – 2 of them just the other day at Milwaukee. Grandal is a year or two away from being one of the top 12 options you look for in the draft. For this year he is a solid streaky option to own and is someone to consider if you do not own one of those top 12 above or own one of those injured stars mentioned earlier. You can do better, but you can do much worse.
Available in 72% of Yahoo, 60% of ESPN and 48% of CBS leagues
Blake Swihart, Botson Red Sox: The rookies are starting to arrive, and Boston cleared the way for their top catching prospect. Paul Hartman ranked Swihart third in his top 25 catcher prospect rankings back in January and had this to say about him.
Still just 22, Swihart finally showed some power in 2014, hitting 13 home runs after just 2 in 2013. The switch hitter should hit for a good average with moderate power. His defense by all accounts is solid, with a plus arm behind the dish. Swihart is a safe bet to be a productive hitting catcher with potential for 15+ home runs and a .280 average.
Prior to his promotion, Swihart was batting .338 in AAA with a 2/1 K/BB ratio. He has yet to hit a home run this season, but as Paul pointed out there is potential here. Personally I have a hard time putting stock into ANY rookie catcher. Most catchers take years for their minor league numbers to catch up; they are busy learning the position at the ML level, getting familiar with the staff and calling games which takes time for most. Once they get the swing of things here the bat comes around. Occasionally, a player comes along who can hit right out of the gate which is the only reason I list Swihart here. I would stay away, but I’m not much of a gambler when it comes to prospect catchers. Do you feel lucky……well do you….Punk!
Available in 82% of Yahoo, 93% of ESPN and 48% of CBS leagues
Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres: Just like when Swihart arrived, Hedges is receiving a lot of press. Paul had him ranked at 16 in his top 25 and his words aren’t very encouraging.
Hedges has struggled offensively and doesn’t offer a whole ton for fantasy purposes right now. His elite defense will get him regular at bats, though, and at 22 years old it’s possible he can provide some pop down the road.
Not exactly a rave review, and looking at his minor league numbers I can’t say I disagree. Prior to his promotion, Hedges was batting .324 with 2 home runs, 15 RBIs and a K/BB ratio of 1/1. Just last year his K/BB ratio was close to 4/1 which makes me question the new-found patience. Still, like I said with Swihart, you never know and may catch lightning in a bottle. The presence of Derek Norris means that Hedges will not be playing every day, but if he does hit we could se Norris play some first base. For leagues that only use 1 catcher and have 14 or less teams, leave this one on waivers. For larger and 2 catcher leagues you can throw a dart and see if it stick – same goes for swihart.
Available in 89% of CBS and 99% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues
James McCann, Detroit Tigers: Unlike Swihart and Hedges, McCann started the season in the majors. Coming in at #19 on Paul’s top 25, here’s what he had to say about the man prior to the start of the season.
And finally, a defense-first catcher, McCann doesn’t have a lot of power, but he has been able to hit for a decent average in the minors. He’s ready for the majors in 2015.
McCann hit .295 in AAA last season and considering he played a majority of his games in a pitcher’s park I’m more inclined to believe the average. The Tigers initially played McCann against lefties, but lately he has been seeing time against righties as well with Alex Avila slumping. While McCann doesn’t profile as a power hitter (I see a ceiling of 10), he does have some speed to offset that. He swiped 9 bags last year in AAA over 109 games; with the power and speed he could be a poor mans Russell Martin. Just like Hedges and Swihart, I would not own McCann in 12 and 14 team leagues that only use 1 catcher, but deeper leagues should give him a shot based upon what he has done so far. I would probably take him ahead of both Swihart and Hedges because of his early success, just keep a close eye on him as the season progresses and pitchers adjust.
Available in 97 % of CBS and 99% of Yahoo and ESPN leagues
Pitchers and Catchers Report – Because catchers need someone to throw to.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets: It might be only a spot start or he could force the Mets hand with a stellar outing. Even if it’s only a one and done deal it is worth it here, just in case he sticks. Unlike some prospects, most (if not all) of you should be well aware of what Syndergaard brings to the table. If not, here are his minor league totals.
In 5 AAA starts this season (29.2 innings) Syndergaard is 3-1 with a 1.82 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP (20 hits / 8 walks) and 34 strikeouts. He is the Mets top prospect, ranks #11 overall on MLB.com, 19th on Fangraphs top 200 prospect list and 14th on our top 100 prospect list here at Fantasy Assembly. Kiley McDaniel of Fangrapsh discussed Syndergaard earlier this year when evaluating Mets prospects, as did Carson Cistulli who looked at the top 5 Mets prospects projected by WAR. Not sure there is anything I can add to the discussion other than Syndergaard should be owned (right CBS owners *wink wink*). Everyone has one worthless player; drop them for Syndergaard or put in your waiver claim now.
Available in 75% of Yahoo, 99% of ESPN and 40% of CBS leagues
Alex Colome, Tampa Bay Rays: He was called up by the Rays last week and since that time he has 2 wins under his belt; one at Baltimore (3 hits and 6 K’s) and the other at Boston (4 hits, 4 K’s and 2 earned runs). Colome possesses a fastball that can reach 95 MPH along with 3 secondary offerings that are good but nothing special. He has improved his walk rate over the years, is good at keeping the ball in the park and is a groundball pitcher. Don’t expect big strikeout numbers here, but a K/9 of around 7.0 is reasonable. Overall Colome has the ability to be a solid pitcher, and with no minor league options left he’ll get every chance to prove it. With the way pitchers get scooped up off waivers, it might be worth picking Colome up before he becomes a name everyone knows. That’s why he’s flying off the board over on CBS, owners there are more proactive than on ESPN and Yahoo. Follow their lead people.
Available in 86% of Yahoo, 92% of ESPN and 64% of CBS leagues
Chase Whitley, New York Yankees: Another recent call up, Whitley looked good last Tuesday verse the Rays and even better on the road verse the Blue Jays. His minor league numbers look good: BB/9 below 3.0, H/9 below 8.0, HR/9 of 0.52, K/9 of 8.53 and a career ERA and WHIP of 2.57 and 1.12. What is deceiving about these numbers is the fact that A. They were produced in a pitching environment and B. They were done mostly in relief (17 starts in 157 games). That’s not to say Whitley can’t produce the same numbers as a starter, but I do worry how he will react with the extra innings load (107 innings last year between AAA & Majors). A hot start in AAA combined with the Yankees need for pitching got Whitley the call. Is Whitley a smart add right now? In my experience, sometimes is the lesser talked about names that produce better numbers that the popular players who are supposed to. That means yes, he is worth picking up; even if only for bench decorations while you evaluate what you have. Act now, CBS ownership jumped 19% this week.
Available in 89% of Yahoo, 91% of ESPN and 74% of CBS leagues
Finding their way to the Waiver Wire
Each week I will feature players whose ownership level far exceed the players value that you should consider dropping for something useful. So far I’ve recommended Chase Utley, Marlon Byrd, Brandon Belt and Shin-Soo Choo; Byrd and Choo had a good week and showed some signs of life, but I’m not buying it until I see some consistent production. On tap for this week and sticking with today’s theme:
Devin Mesoraco: He has accepted the fact that surgery is an inevitability. The Reds have kept him on the active roster as a pitch hitter, but with only 8 at bats since April 11th; even that isn’t worth it (for the Reds or your fake team). The writing is on the wall at this point; for those of you who are illiterate, it says say goodbye to your catcher. Recovery time is approximately 4 months which means if he had the surgery tomorrow he could be back by the second week of September. I finally cut the cord earlier this week and it’s time for the rest of you to follow suit if you haven’t done so already.
Jered Weaver: For years now everyone with a voice has talked about Weaver’s decline and inevitable collapse; this may be the year for said collapse. His four-seam fastball (used only 12.5% this season) is down to 84 MPH, the two-seam fastball (17.7% usage) is at 82.8 and his cutter, slider and curveball have all lost at least 2 MPH from last season. Contact is up (both in and out of the zone), home runs are up (8 in 34 innings or 2.10 HR/9), strikeouts are non-existent (3.93 K/9). The only good thing I can say about him is the BB/9 is only 1.31, but an 11.80 H/9 make that a moot point. The 80% of you on CBS that own him…time to call it a day. The same goes for the 61% of you that own him in Yahoo and the 46% in ESPN. Jered Weaver is no longer ownable; this is a streamable option – at best, and he’s not going to get any better as the season progresses.
Previous Waiver Wire Recommendations
I like to hold myself accountable for past recommendations
so I will monitor my hits
and misses from the previous weeks.
Mike Moustakas, Devon Travis, Marcus Semien – This is the last week these names will appear here. If they are still available in your league, shame on you and your league-mates.
Continue to add
- Josh Reddick, Ender Encarte, Adam Lind, Jake Marisnick, Dan Haren, Hector Santiago, Travis Wood and Jarrod Parker are all still solid adds if they are available.
- Nori Aoki and Jimmy Paredes move up from deep league adds to 12 mixed relevant.
- Kevin Kiermaier and Ike Davis have slowed down some but are still worthy additions (unless their slumps carry through to next week).
- Alex Guerrero is still getting frozen out of the lineup but with Juan Uribe’s average dropping it should only be a matter of time before you cash in here.
- Chris Young, Rajai Davis, Juan Lagares, Anthony Gose and Odubel Herrera are good for larger and deeper leagues. Young and Davis can be good for shallower leagues if you can set your lineup daily.
Hold – Do not add them, but do not drop them yet if you own them
- Andre Ethier’s hot streak got him on the add list, but he has slowed down this past week with replacement level numbers. He’s on the bubble right now.
- Wilmer Flores has hit a cold spell and is losing playing time to Ruben Tejada. Keep your fingers crossed his bat heats up. Same goes for Justin Maxwell, and he picked a bad time to go cold with Hunter Pence beginning his minor league rehab assignment. Adeiny Hechavarria and Delmon Young are two more cold players to keep an eye on going into next week.
- Jake Lamb – Yasmani Tomas is hitting well enough to hold down third base so don’t get your hopes up here. Hold Lamb if you have an empty DL slot, but drop him if you need it.
- Chase Headley hasn’t done anything to warrant being added. Unless you use a CI slot, he is droppable in 12 team leagues.
- All of the previous drops are still in effect. They include Lonnie Chisenhall, Casey McGehee, Jed Lowrie, Johathan Schoop, Michael Taylor and Will Middlebrooks. Sam Fuld, Alejandro De Aza and Eric Campbell join the drop club. Brandon Morrow is also a drop with yet another injury, but feel free to hold him though if you have an open DL slot
- Yonder Alonso is also a drop for 12 team leagues. Not because he isn’t hitting; Yangervis Solarte is stealing time at first and with Austin Hedges on the roster Derek Norris could do the same. Alonso could be worth owning again, but not now as a part-time player.
- Micah Johnson and Jace Peterson each had a good week with their batting average but did little else. Continue dropping both for now considering the number of f/a options available for second base, but keep an eye on them if they continue hitting into next week.
Do what you will – Caveat Emptor
- Justin Masterson looked to be on the verge of adding until his 4 inning, 4 run, 7 hit, 6 walk performance against the Rays.
- James Happ and Chris Heston are both on the road for their next stats verse the Rangers and Astros respectively. While they where both adds last week, some may be hesitant after their recent shelling’s.
- Danny Salazar looked good upon his recall from the minors but has put up 2 clunkers in a row. Let your waiver wire depth determine the next step here.
- Luis Valbuena and Nick Castellanos are volatile players to own and could frustrate owners from week to week with their sporadic production. They are adds, drops or holds based upon your league size and waiver wire depth, but I think you can do better.
Need more waiver wire recommendations, 2-start pitchers, prospect news and general fantasy baseball goodness, head on over to Fantasy Rundown.