Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. The year was 2008: Flo Rida and T-Pain were getting Low, Horton was Hearing a Who at the box office, and Victor Martinez was making me feel things I’d never felt before.
In 08 I was still somewhat new to the fantasy game. I had been playing for several seasons by this time, but my draft prep was picking up a couple of magazines and drafting from their blueprint. Victor Martinez was coming off a 2007 in which he hit .301 with 25 HR and 114 RBIs. While none of those numbers ranked among the Top 10 in baseball, they really stood out among catchers. For that very reason, Victor Martinez was the first round pick du jour of all fantasy publications that Spring. Picking toward the back-end of the draft for the first (and likely last) I happily selected a catcher with my first pick.
Over the years I’ve paid premium pricing for catchers, and while I’ve had my 2008 Victor Martinez moments, I’ve also been the benefactor of Joe Mauer in 2009. Like a single bar patron at last call I’ve gone catcher slumming a time or two (or 10), and for every miserable Chris Iannetta season there has been a 2014 version of Devin Mesoraco. My point is, as the draft prep process begins you’ll hear about how you should attack the catcher position at the draft table. Pay no attention to these musings. All you need be concerned with is targeting the right players. After all, it is the players who provide the production.
In an attempt to prepare you for what your local draft room has to offer, I wanted to cover a variety of catcher options. Is Buster Posey worth that discounted premium? Who are some mid-tier options I prefer more than others? Who are some late round slumming options I can see earning positive gains? These are the types of questions you need to ask yourself for every position. Knowing the answer to these questions will have you prepared to respond to potential draft day pitfalls. Below you will find 8 players whom I can see providing a varying degree of potential production. 8 players whose names will appear in different tiers on your standard catcher ranking cheat sheet. 8 players whom I hope will make my 2017 catcher outlook a profitable one.
Buster Posey – All Formats. Coming off a down year, Buster Posey is still the top catcher according to ADP, but that price has dropped by nearly a round from 20th in 2016 to 33rd thus far in 2017 in NFBC drafts. Even if Posey’s 20 HR days are behind him, the increased BB% and steady contact make him a good bet for .300. Plus, his prime lineup spot provides a 90 RBI potential that few catchers can offer. The list of catchers with 600 PA last season begins and ends with Posey. I would not reach into the early 20’s for Posey, but if he falls into the 30-40 range I’d be willing to select him in both one and two catcher leagues.
Welington Castillo – All Formats. He was the benefactor of some good BABIP last season, but hard hit data suggest he could settle in to the .250 range. I don’t see a 25 HR breakout, but an increased FB% back to established levels could result in clearing 20 HR. A career high 416 AB should be surpassed this season as well; that added volume will produce a career year. Excellent late round catcher target in 1 catcher leagues. In two catcher formats Castillo can be a leading man, but the 2nd option would need to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Yasmani Grandal – All Formats. The ground ball profile really hurts his chances at producing a plus AVG. That being said, his hard-hitting approach makes him a rare catcher who could surpass 25 HR. Power and good OBP skills make him an attractive option when it comes to Run and RBI totals, even with the lackluster AVG. Grandal will not offer you much value given his ADP of 8th among catchers, but I feel his production will warrant the ADP. Perfectly adequate leading catcher regardless of format.
Devin Mesoraco – Single Catcher Format/Shallow 2 Catcher Leagues. It’s pointless to attempt to derive any data from the last two seasons. Three labrum surgeries in two years offers little hope. His 23rd ranked among catchers is a clear indication of how the majority feels about him. My support for Mesoraco stems from 2014 in which he established himself as a top-5 option at the position. Even at my most hopeful I wouldn’t expect a repeat, but .250 with 20 HR and a good lineup spot would seem reasonable – health permitted.
I’d rather take the risk with Mesoraco than go into the season with a ho-hum Stephen Vogt type. Should Mesoraco return pedestrian production simply cut your losses and choose from a group of sameness on waivers. Mesoraco should be nothing more than an end draft flyer with knowledge that the waiver wire will feature several replacement options at all time.
Wilson Ramos – All Formats. Early reports have Ramos returning in April or May. Naturally the injury will provide you with a draft day discount of sorts. His current NFBC rank is 17th among catchers. Given the draft and hold format of the Draft Championship, I’d expect Ramos to actually be drafted earlier in standard leagues as he can easily be assigned to a DL spot once the season begins. Offseason Lasik surgery last season recreated Ramos as he posted a .300 + AVG with 20+ HR on his way to being a top-5 option at the position. Favorable BABIP and HR/FB% likely aided in the pursuit, but solid contact totals and additional PA potential that the DH provides creates a very high floor so to speak.
I feel very confident that a place holder’s production combined with what Ramos gives you will produce a top-10 option at the position. I’d be willing to reach into the 220 range to obtain Ramos in a single catcher format. In two catcher formats the injury concerns leave Ramos better served as a 2nd option.
Mike Zunino – All Formats. Zunino showed real growth in plate discipline last year as he showed much improved patience and a slight decrease with the K issues. Zunino’s huge fly ball approach and K potential will make him a batting average drain, but the hard hit data suggest 25 HR is in play. Carlos Ruiz was brought on in a mentor role so for the first time this job looks like Zunino’s to lose. Zunino is currently an afterthought at the position ranking 22nd among catchers. The middle catching tier offers nothing of plus value, so give me the 25 HR upside any day. Late game position filler in single catcher formats. Nothing more than a 2nd option in two catcher formats.
Omar Narvaez – Two-Catcher Format. Nothing exciting about Narvaez, but he does have a clear path to playing time for the rebuilding White Sox. He has posted excellent walk rates throughout the Minors as well as good contact rates. In his 117 PA cameo in 2016, Narvaez produced as many BB as K’s. His ground ball approach offers little hope in the HR area. Best case scenario: Narvaez continues to make good contact, keeps the ball on the ground, and has some favorable BABIP along the way. Worse case scenario: he offers little counting numbers, but post an AVG that won’t hurt your team ratio’s. When it comes to 2nd catcher slumming, any type of plus production make you happy.
Andrew Susac – Two-Catcher Format. Being in the backup mix for Buster Posey hasn’t produced much opportunity the last three years. Susac was moved to the Brewers for Will Smith last season and could be in line for his first extended look this season. His status as a 2nd round pick would suggest that at some point there was some prospect hype surrounding him. In 2012-2014 he posted solid Minor League numbers across 4 levels featuring good plate discipline and some pop. Last season featured an extended Minor League look, and once again the numbers provide some optimism. With an extended look his Minor League track record makes .260 with 15 HR seem reasonable. Susac still falls in the 2nd catcher slumming status, but a strong spring could boost his draft day stock for me.
When I selected Victor Martinez I did not select him because I felt he would be among the Top 12 players in fantasy in 2008. I selected him because I was certain he would be the best catcher option that season. I selected him because every publication suggested obtaining that production for the position would provide a built-in advantage that no other owner in your league would have. Martinez went on to hit two home runs over 294 PA.
Injuries cannot always be predicted. So while injuries could be blamed for the failure, Martinez became in 2008 the “error in my ways” of selecting a player who I knew would not match that production. The path to positional strength cannot simply be guaranteed by selecting the top preseason option the position has to offer. Having an understanding of the entire player pool and targeting various players at various levels will have you better prepared for what the draft room, and in season shakeups, gives you.
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