Ah, catchers. They're indispensable on a winning team. For proof, just look at the last five World Series champions. Buster Posey won the Rookie of the Year in 2010 and the MVP in '12 and was sixth in MVP voting last year while winning his second Silver Slugger. Yadier Molina was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove in '11. Even Jarrod Saltalamacchia managed 14 homers and a .273/.338/.466 line with the '13 Red Sox. Find yourself a good baseball team, and there's a solid chance they have a good catcher.
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Yet that doesn't translate to the fantasy game. For the umpteenth straight year, catcher is the shallowest position in fantasy baseball. Posey is a star, but he's the only catcher who will be off the board in the first five or six rounds in a typical 12-team draft. Jonathan Lucroy, Devin Mesoraco, Evan Gattis and Yan Gomes join him in the top 100 in average draft position. Gattis will primarily play outfield this year, and both Posey and Lucroy get time at first base. That's the nature of the position. The rigors of spending nine innings behind the plate, day after day, beat up even the very best. Not only do they need more days off than players at other positions, but their defensive responsibilities can also limit their production at the plate.
Given the realities at the catcher position, it isn't a surprise to see Posey with an average draft position of 21.89. That isn't to say Posey doesn't deserve that spot on merit, but positional scarcity has to be in play, as well. Check out the Steamer projections for Posey, as well as the next five hitters off the board in a typical draft.
Posey's projected numbers measure up to the other five, but if they all played the same position, would he really be the first player selected of the group? He does have the best batting average, but he's last or tied for last in all of the counting stats. On top of that, Posey has a serious injury in his past, and even though he's playing fewer games behind the plate, he's still back there more often than not, incurring a greater injury risk than players at other spots on the diamond.
It's positional scarcity that is driving Posey into the second round, and while that's an understandable impulse, it's something that fantasy owners frequently lend too much credence. There just isn't a whole lot of evidence to support the theory that having the unquestioned best player at a shallow position gives an owner a huge advantage across the board. If you're taking Posey, do so because he's the best hitter available, not because of the positional scarcity straw man.
While Posey is head and shoulders above even the next best catcher, the position does have some power potential from top to bottom. Steamer projects four catchers to hit at least 20 homers and has Gattis pushing 30. That does not include Posey or Mesoraco, both of whom left the yard 20 times a season ago. Throw in Mets youngster Travis d'Arnaud and the oft-injured yet very talented Wilson Ramos, and there is value to be found behind the dish. Patience and a keen eye will be key at this position, as it is almost every single season.
Breakout: Evan Gattis, Houston Astros
There aren't many catchers who contribute across the board in standard fantasy leagues. Instead of looking for that, how about nabbing a guy who does a few things really well? Gattis isn't going to catch much in Houston, but he's still eligible at the position in fantasy leagues. All he's done in 783 plate appearances, about one-third more than a full season, is hit 43 homers and drive in 113 runs. Now that he's expected to play every day, it's completely reasonable to expect him to push up toward 30 homers and 90 RBIs. He should take advantage of the Crawford Boxes in leftfield, but he does a good job of driving the ball to right and right-center, as well. He strikes out too much and doesn't walk, but you can offset that elsewhere. Few hitters with legitimate 30-homer potential are coming as cheaply as Gattis.
Sleeper: Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals
Ramos has done two things consistently in his career: hit homers and get injured. The 27-year-old has played in just 166 games in the last two seasons because of various injuries, but he has been a productive hitter when healthy. In 2013 and '14, he combined to hit .269/.303/.432 with 27 homers and 106 RBIs. It would be foolhardy to expect him to turn into a younger Yadier Molina in the durability department, but if he can manage to stay healthy for 120 games, he could hit 20 homers. You'll likely need another catcher at some point this season, but the good news is that Ramos is the No. 13 catcher by average draft position. He's not going to cost you much at all, so you won't be devoting too many resources to the position.
Deep sleeper: Travis d'Arnaud, New York Mets
The 26-year-old d'Arnaud hit 13 homers in 421 plate appearances last year and heads into 2015 as the unquestioned starter behind the plate for the Mets. He has always had more than his fair share of pop, hitting 21 homers at Double A in '11 with the Blue Jays and 16 bombs in just about half a season at Triple A the following year. Batting average could be a risk—he has a career .256 BABIP—but there's also reason to expect better luck given a completely manageable 15.9-percent strikeout rate. With a full complement of at-bats, d'Arnaud could push 20 home runs this season. His other counting stats may not be as impressive given the low ceiling of the lineup around him, but owners in two-catcher leagues or those who go cheap at the position in one-catcher leagues will want to have him earmarked.
Bust: Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
We made reference to Molina's famous durability a bit earlier, but there's reason to believe the old war horse is finally breaking down. He played in a career-low 110 games last year, due mostly to a thumb injury. He also dealt with an oblique issue during the playoffs that forced him to sit for most of the NLCS. Molina lost weight in the offseason in an effort to be fit enough to play first base more often, but he was slipping even before the injuries last year. His batting average dipped below .300 for the first time since 2010, and his isolated slugging and HR/FB ratio fell for the second straight season. As a result, he hit just seven homers, also his lowest total since '10.
Despite all those red flags, Molina is still the No. 8 catcher by ADP. Once you've waited that long, you might as well continue to wait to get someone cheaper who doesn't have nearly as much bust potential. Don't forget: Molina turns 33 in July.
Prospect: Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox
Swihart could make his debut this season, though it may not be with the Red Sox. It's no secret that the team would like to upgrade its rotation, possibly with Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee, and that could result in Swihart being a Phillie before long. No matter where he ends up playing his baseball in the future, Swihart is the best catcher prospect in the game. The 26th pick in 2011 spent most of last year at Double A Portland, hitting .300/.353/.487 with 12 homers in 380 plate appearances. He projects as an above-average hitter with decent power and turns just 23 years old in early April. He's not a strong fantasy option this season, but he'll be a hot commodity in '16.
Early catcher rankings
- Buster Posey
- Evan Gattis
- Devin Mesoraco
- Jonathan Lucroy
- Carlos Santana
- Yan Gomes
- Matt Wieters
- Wilin Rosario
- Russell Martin
- Salvador Perez
- Brian McCann
- Yadier Molina
- Wilson Ramos
- Miguel Montero
- Stephen Vogt
- Travis d'Arnaud
- Jason Castro
- Yasmani Grandal
- Derek Norris
- Mike Zunino
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia
- Josmil Pinto
- Tyler Flowers
- John Jaso
- Alex Avila
- Chris Iannetta
- Carlos Ruiz
- Robinson Chirinos
- Christian Bethancourt
- Kurt Suzuki