By: Nate Leer
Last year about this time I broke down the sorry state of catching for fantasy baseball drafters. Unfortunately, this year the news is not really any better. The 2 players who topped most catcher rankings last year had rough regular season’s last year – Buster Posey had a down year offensively and Schwarber was doing rehab most of the year after tearing up his knee early on. Posey concerns me the most as he is getting to the age when catchers tend to fade offensively. He is still high on this list just because there are so few proven, quality fantasy catchers in the league. However, the top spot is no longer his.
Here are the top 12 fantasy baseball catchers heading into 2017:
1. Jonathan Lucroy (1B) – Tex: Lucroy was the most productive C in baseball last year and has consistently produced in lesser situations than the one he is in in Texas. At this weak position and with longtime stud Buster Posey coming off of a very ordinary year and potentially fading, Lucroy is the best value.
2. Buster Posey (1B) – SF: See above.
3. Kyle Schwarber (OF) – Chi (NL): Schwarber’s hitting in last season’s playoffs make it appear he did not suffer any lingering effects from his bad knee injury last spring. He has more power upside than just about any hitter in baseball, much less any C. His dip in batting average late in the season in 2015 and generally limited track record are the only thing keeping him from the top spot on this list.
4. Gary Sanchez – NY (NL): Sanchez faded hard in late September so don’t look at him as a surefire stud. He would not be the first player to start their career en fuego then cool off significantly as the league adjusts to their strengths and weaknesses. Sanchez is an elite prospect so even if he starts out slow, he should be able to adjust. Just don’t be surprised if there are some growing pains along the way.
5. Willson Contreras (OF) – Chi (NL): Contreras is basically Schwarber 2.0 because of his offensive potential, production over part of a season, versatility and role in ChiTown. He looks like a classic Joe Maddon talent who will play most days and move around the diamond to find ABs. The kid looks like he can hit and run better than most catchers so his upside puts him high on this list even if he is unproven.
6. Evan Gattis – Hou: Gattis is a bit of an enigma because he has the most offensive potential of anyone left on this list but the Astros seem intent on taking his ABs away. The word is they want to trade him and the right landing spot could impact his production. He could be anywhere from a platoon guy in a bad park/lineup situation to a everyday hitter in a great park and lineup – be that with the Astros or elsewhere.
7. Welington Castillo – Bal: I love Castillo as a sleeper pick for this season. Think of veteran right handed hitters who have flourished after moving to Baltimore over the last several year – Mark Trumbo, Nelson Cruz, JJ Hardy, Steve Pearce, Jimmy Paredes, Delmon Young – the list goes on. Castillo has less talent than some of those guys but more than others. Camden Yards is the perfect place for him to maximize his pull power. I expect him to have a pretty high floor and a high ceiling for fantasy production as he looks like the everyday C for manager Buck Showalter.
8. Wilson Ramos – TB: Ramos has a ways to go in his recovery from ACL surgery but his upside makes him a better bet than the player on the rest of this list. If your league has a DL spot, he makes the perfect draft and stash guy to pair with a high upside gamble at C late in your draft.
9. Salvador Perez – KC: Most of Sal’s numbers have been trending down but his HR production has been going the other way over the last 4 years making him very similar to a number of other catchers. If he stays healthy and fresh, he could put it all together. Otherwise, he could be nearing the end of fantasy baseball relevance.
10. Yasmani Grandal – LA (NL): The YasMan doesn’t appear to be capable of hitting close to .250 but produces power and RBIs plus he walks enough to be an elite OPS C if your league uses that category. I think he is being rated too high going into draft season but he could have value if he slips down a ways.
11. JT Realmuto – Mia: Realmuto has put together pretty solid numbers over almost 1,000 major league ABs. He doesn’t get lots of runs or RBIs but, if he can replicate last year’s .300 average with double digit HRs and steals, he is good value late in a draft.
12. Devin Mesoraco – Cin: Mesoraco was all the rage as an up and coming stud fantasy C until his career was completely derailed by injury 2 years ago. He still has all the upside in the world – high draft pick, excellent ballpark to hit in, tremendous production in recent past over a small sample size. However, who knows if he will even play much less whether the injuries and time out have reduced his hitting ability. If he’s healthy when you draft, he could be a HUGE bargain.
10 more catchers to take with your last pick if you still need one (best to worst):
Tom Murphy – Col (upside prospect), Yadier Molina – STL (solid but limited vet), Austin Hedges – SD (upside prospect), Russell Martin – Tor (solid but limited vet), Brian McCann – Hou (number of ABs will impact value), Matt Wieters – FA (landing place could move him way up or down), Yan Gomes – Cle (former prospect with some talent), Derek Norris – Was (former highly-regarded prospect with some talent), Travis d’Arnaud – NYM (former highly-regarded prospect with some talent), Stephen Vogt – Oak (a last resort).