keyboard_arrow_uptop

The 2014 season proved to be a mixed bag at the catcher position. A few players emerged as legitimate top-10 talents, such as Devin Mesoraco and Yan Gomes, while some of the preseason darlings, such as Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos, failed to produce due to injury. Those circumstances, though, seem to add up to an extremely deep position in 2015: If the breakouts carry over and the injured players return to everyday roles, the top 10 could be relatively stacked.

An underappreciated advantage at the catcher position has always been plate appearances. Position players around the diamond amass 600-plus PA with regularity, but in 2014, only three players eclipsed that mark. However, only one catcher (Carlos Santana) did so in 2013. The biggest reason for the increase? Catchers are beginning to play multiple positions. Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, Joe Mauer, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Santana, Brian McCann, Stephen Vogt, and Evan Gattis all qualified at more than one spot. The added roster versatility is always nice for fantasy owners, but more importantly, the benefit can be found in the PA category. That means more opportunities for counting statistics—a category in which catchers have traditionally struggled. Teams are searching for ways to get quality catchers more plate appearances, which is a boon for fantasy owners wise enough to capitalize on such trends.

THE LEAGUE BREAKOUT

The strength of the catching position remains in the National League. Buster Posey, Jonathan Lucroy, Yadier Molina, and Devin Mesoraco lead the charge—as arguably the top four catchers available in any league—but the NL has a pair of breakout candidates who may convince some fantasy owners to forgo paying for top-tier talent and take their chances in later rounds. I’m specifically looking at Wilson Ramos and Travis d’Arnaud.

Wilson Ramos has struggled to stay off the disabled list. If he can amass 500-plus PA in 2015, fantasy owners could be looking at a 20-homer catcher with a .275 batting average. Too many people have focused on his .132 ISO from last year. He ranked 12th in all of baseball in average fly-ball distance last year and launched 16 long balls in only 303 PA in 2013. Ramos possesses legitimate power. He’ll also benefit from a quality lineup in Washington, which could help him accumulate solid run totals. Those who play in OBP leagues will have to adjust his value downward, but looking outside the top-10 catchers, Ramos could be a breakout in 2015.

Furthermore, not many people know that d’Arnaud hit .265/.313/.474 with a .209 ISO in the second half last year. He’ll only be 26 years old, and it should be noted that catchers often take longer to develop at the big-league level due to a necessary focus on defensive skills and simply learning how to manage the game. The young catcher could be following a similar developmental path to that of Jonathan Lucroy, who broke out in his third season. d’Arnaud flashed top-10 potential in the second half. He could be the player to target for those fantasy owners who are willing to look down the list in the 15-to-20 range.

The American League has a paucity of catching talent. Yan Gomes received the lion’s share of attention last year—and rightfully so—while Russell Martin could be a popular target, now that he’s in Toronto. Owners shouldn’t forget about Matt Wieters, either. But few breakout candidates seem to exist on the surface. If it weren’t for the presence of Kurt Suzuki, the obvious choice would be Josmil Pinto of the Minnesota Twins, especially in OBP leagues. He offers 15-plus-homer potential with a middling batting average and a gaudy walk rate. At 25, fantasy owners will be watching him closely in spring training. With Suzuki in the driver’s seat, though, it seems his upside is rather limited.

THE STRATEGY IN MIXED LEAGUES

Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy are the cream of the crop. They’re the best all-around hitters at the catcher position, and they also have the playing time advantage of playing first base on occasion. I won’t fault anyone for grabbing Posey or Lucroy on draft day, as they appear to be safe bets and should be top-five producers.

In 10-team leagues that only utilize one catcher, it seems obvious to wait and see who falls through the cracks. Guys like Wilson Ramos, Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez, Matt Wieters, and Derek Norris will be available in the later rounds in such leagues, and all will provide value. That doesn’t even mention guys like McCann, Gattis, d’Arnaud, and Grandal. It’s a deep position after the top two, and I don’t see the point in reaching for Salvador Perez six or seven rounds before someone else drafts Wilson Ramos. They could finish the season with similar numbers.

In NL-only leagues, the case remains the same. It’s crazy deep. Someone like Wilin Rosario is in the fifth-to-eighth range in the NL, depending on how much you like him, but that’s illustrative of the overall depth. Again, I’m not opposed to dropping money on Posey or Lucroy. If that’s not your cup of tea, though, wait: You’ll find something and save money in the process.

In AL-onlies, though, I’m apt to spend a bit more money to grab Yan Gomes or Russell Martin. Things get a bit gross after that, as you’re looking at Brian McCann, Kurt Suzuki, or Tyler Flowers as the next tier. That’s a pretty big drop. Even Wieters is scary due to his TJ surgery. Adjust your expectations and valuations accordingly—especially if you think Sal Perez has been overused and isn’t guaranteed to be a top-five AL catcher.

THE LONG-TERM OUTLOOK

The top-end of the catching position appears secure. Posey and Lucroy are 27 and 28, respectively, and should have a good half-decade of production before significantly slowing down. The traditional powers at catcher, though, will continue to fade. Russell Martin is now on the wrong side of 30—while McCann, Molina, and Montero (all M’s, what’s with that?) all continue to age.

The next tier for dynasty leagues appears to be Mesoraco, Perez, Ramos, Grandal, Norris, Rosario, etc. Numerous mid-20s catchers exist, who should be fantasy mainstays for the next half decade. As mentioned earlier, Travis d’Arnaud also could deserve mention in that same breath. I’m not certain any of those catchers are going to threaten to be top-tier guys in the next five years, though. Maybe someone will have a big year, but in terms of consistency, none of those catchers are on the Posey/Lucroy level.

Down on the farm, fantasy owners should be targeting Jorge Alfaro, Blake Swihart, and Gary Sanchez. If I had any faith that Peter O’Brien could stick behind the plate, he’d perhaps be in the discussion because the Diamondbacks don’t have a long-term option at catcher. Traditionally, it’s thought to not be wise to hold onto minor-league catchers in dynasty leagues; however, I do believe that Alfaro, Swihart, and Sanchez are exceptions to that rule. They’re all top-500 overall dynasty players.

A CLOSING HAIKU

Posey and Lucroy reign.
Depth abounds without impact.
Oh, hey there, Wilson.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
jtwalsh
1/05
I am confused, Joe Mauer did not appear at catcher once in 2014, yet this article refers to him as a catcher for 2015 several times. I don't know of any format where Mauer would be catcher eligible.
jimmyb1799
1/05
You're correct. I made a mistake with my filters and utilized an end-of-season rankings as a jumping off point without filtering my games. It's been addressed in the article. Thank you for pointing out my oversight.
TeamPineTar
1/05
Carlos Santana is also referenced three times. He had only 11 C appearances and also does not qualify in most leagues. Despite that, he's listed here as one of the three top AL targets and listed as one of seven in a "next tier for dynasty leagues." It's ambiguous whether that "next tier" is only behind Posey and Lucroy or whether the top group includes the five Ms. Rather careless beginning to the series, BP. These are matters of common knowledge for baseball fans, and I would expect every fantasy owner to know Mauer's and Santana's status.
jimmyb1799
1/05
Completely understandable. As mentioned in my previous comment, I made a mistake with my filters. You're correct that it shouldn't have been missed. I tried to give a macro view and hope your specific questions about the tiers are addressed throughout the week. Thank you for voicing your concerns, and I will take them seriously going forward.
jfranco77
1/05
I'm unconvinced that Gary Sanchez sticks... but I guess for dynasty purposes it's worth the risk. How about Kyle Schwarber? Can he eventually be an Evan Gattis, 20 games at C and 100 games in the OF kind of guy?
jimmyb1799
1/06
It's a good question. From the people I've spoken to, I don't feel confident projecting Schwarber to see the minimum number of games at catcher -- but there are varying opinions about that.
MaineSkin
1/08
Passing along info from the FG podcast, Kiley McDaniel said he was told Schwarber showed well enough in instructs to keep him behind the dish. This is great for the positional eligibility standpoint, but it will also mean more developmental time in the MiLs. His ETA jumps back a year for me, if not more.
huztlers
1/05
I can't imagine that there is anyone with an interest in fantasy baseball that doesn't know about d’Arnaud's second half. This has to be one of the most often quoted splits from the 2014 season.
sam19041
1/05
Keep the haikus coming!
sdinsmor
1/05
That closing haiku made me laugh so hard, wonderful Monday start.
TeamPineTar
1/05
Yes, JP has set the haiku bar pretty high for the other lads to deal with this year. Nice last-line twist, JP!
therealn0d
1/05
What haiku, you ask? Was at end of the column Baseball Prospectus.
lipsgardner
1/06
Kind of a light write up for Mesaroco? He is young, was a top prospect, plays in a plus hitting environment, and was the best catcher in fantasy per at bat last year. doesn't he belong in the top tier and not with Ramos, Rosario, and others?
jimmyb1799
1/06
We're bringing catcher coverage to you all week at BP, so you should have your Mesoraco thirst sated before the end of the week.
bretsayre
1/06
To that point, there's actually going to be a full fantasy profile on Mesoraco coming on Friday. So many words!
Benjamindiamond1
1/06
Do you think people are overlooking how "meh" Russell Martin is? Sure, every team would love to have a player like him on their team, but just because he signed a monster contract with Toronto doesn't make him all the sudden a great option. Last year he didn't perform like a catcher worth starting in most standard leagues, and he's only getting older (goodbye steals). Basically what I'm saying is, is he being overrated because of his new team? His numbers last year weren't all that great from a fantasy standpoint.
jimmyb1799
1/06
Should be noted that Russell Martin was the 6th-ranked fantasy catcher in 2014 and will move from PNC Park to the Rogers Centre. That should be good news for his power production, which should be 15+ homers in a strong batting order. If he carries a batting average north of .275 again, he's potentially a top-5 catcher, no? If you're in an OBP league, he's even more attractive. He'll even steal you a handful of bases, too.
Benjamindiamond1
1/16
I get what your saying when basing it off of last season, but he is only getting older and what's the difference between a "second breakout season" and an outlier season. He added 64 points of average, 75 points of OBP, and 70 of BABIP. If you think last season was legit, what you wrote makes sense, but I just see it as a deviation from the norm before returning to a top-15 status in 2015.
fawcettb
1/06
Martin's OBP was .402, his OPS was .830-something. That makes him a "great option" in all but the dimmest fantasy universes, no?
jfranco77
1/06
379 ABs, 11 HR, 40-something runs. And he's probably not hitting .290 again. On the other hand, maybe he stays healthy in TOR, gets some time at DH, and hits near the top of a loaded lineup. I do think there's a danger of people forgetting that the Jays paid 82mil partly because of all the things he does that doesn't help fantasy players.