When Bret Sayre is your boss, rankings are in your future. We have one-year rankings and dynasty rankings and tiered rankings and will probably have ranking rankings someday; we’re turning into the fantasy baseball equivalent of Deadspin, and for many of you, that’s a good thing.
But of all these breakdowns, three-year rankings are, in my estimation, among the most unique and the most useful. Best designed for those of you in keeper leagues, but of note for dynasty leaguers and even re-drafters as well, these lists break down the future landscape of a position in a more reasoned manner. We’re not worried about Low-A guys or young players who might switch positions in their mid-30s. We’re worried about the here and now yet don’t want to totally mortgaging the future, which is a strategy that will win you many a league.
The players on these lists are, for the most part, proven commodities, and while some prospects will inevitably claw their ways up these portions of our positional series, the limitations of a three-year format allow us to adequately knock inexperience while acknowledging, but not overdosing on, the intoxicating nature of unproven upside.
The formula is simple: most of the weight is placed upon projected 2015 performance, with a substantial drop in weighting potential 2016 performance and then another drop in how 2017 output is valued. Finally, remember these are themed around positions, so losing eligibility is a big deal within the confines of this particular exercise.
First up, let’s take a look at a position that’s steady at the top and in turmoil at the bottom: catchers.
No surprises here. Posey’s youth and track record give him the top spot, but Lucroy isn’t very far behind. Molina missed a lot of time in 2014, but he was effective when on the field. Even if he never reaches 2012 heights again, his stability should be valued, and he’s still just 32. He’d be lower in five-year or dynasty rankings, but for the next three seasons, he should be very good.
There’s no real way to break this tier down thematically. Mesoraco is a former top prospect who proves once again that catchers tend to develop more slowly than other hitters do. He’s young, plays in a great ballpark, and should routinely surpass 20 homers a year. I wasn’t a Gomes believer last year, but it’s tough to doubt his two consecutive years of impressive production. McCann isn’t the sexy name he once was, but he can still be plenty valuable in that park. Perez took a step back in terms of batting average in 2014, but with 17 homers and 70 RBI, he was still the game’s seventh-best fantasy backstop.
If you could guarantee health for any of the first three guys on this list they’d be higher, but you can’t. d’Arnaud has suffered through a ton of injuries in his young career, and while he has 20-homer upside and youth on his side, the red flags are real. Ramos is good but you can’t count on more than 400 PA. Wieters is coming off a major injury and generally drags down your average.
This might seem low for Martin given his phenomenal 2014 performance, but if you’re banking on him to post a .326 BABIP again, prepare yourself for disappointment. He’s more likely to fall back down to the .240 range for average, but he can routinely surpass 15 homers a year in Toronto.
Norris and Grandal both come with promise, but neither plays in a good park and neither is likely to provide both power and average at the same time. Both could be in line for decent run totals next season (god it feels weird to say that about a Padre), though Austin Hedges could push Norris in the long run.
Gattis is almost assuredly enjoying his last year of catcher eligibility, but because he’s arguably a top-seven option for 2015 he still finds himself in the upper-half of the three-year rankings thanks to the weight we place on next season. Also, even as an outfielder, he’ll be rosterable in 10-team leagues. Understand that a ton of the value he produces will be up-front, though.
Expect a lot of low-average, high-power years from Zunino, but don’t expect him to hit below .200 again. Castro is talented but too mercurial to trust, capable of a top-10 or worse-than-30 finish any year. I wanted to rank Montero higher, but he hasn’t been good for two years. He’s playing in a nice park and in a nice lineup, but he’s more of a second fantasy catcher at this point.
Swihart’s the first prospect in the group, and while he’s got top-10 catcher upside he’s not likely to play a ton in 2015 and, as we’ve seen with Mesoraco/Zunino/d’Arnau in recent years, catchers don’t always hit right away.
Like Gattis, Rosario is probably entering his final season with catcher eligibility, but unlike Gattis he’s not an elite option for 2015 thanks to his struggles away from home and against right-handers. I think he’s a bit undervalued for next year, honestly, but his long-term future is bleak.
Navarro finds himself out of a starting job, but should be a sneaky nice option for the next few years if he lands somewhere else in the coming weeks, I really like Pinto, but Kurt Suzuki is still hanging out, to my dismay.
Ugh. Jaso can get on base, but there’s no guarantee he’s still catcher-eligible in 2017 and he’s more useful in OBP leagues than in standard 5×5 fare. You can look at Flowers’ second half from 2014 and be encouraged, or you can look at the rest of his career. Iannetta is destined to be somewhere between the 18th- and 24th-best fantasy backstop every given year for the rest of time. Saltalamacchia can hit the ball far but that’s it.
Alfaro has upside but is a ways away. Bethancourt lacks upside but is here now. Plawecki’s upside lands in the middle, but he’s got d’Arnaud in front of him. Feel the excitement!
Yuck. Chirinos has usable power playing in Texas, but he could be wanting for at-bats at a moment’s notice. Avila is probably one concussion away from needing to change positions (read: retire), and I’m concerned enough about his health that he’s behind less talented hitters. If you prefer a guy like Rene Rivera or Francisco Cervelli, you’ll get no argument here.
Notable omissions: Austin Hedges isn’t playing now and has a modest fantasy future. Carlos Ruiz probably won’t be playing by 2017 and isn’t good. Nick Hundley calls Coors Field home, but is Nick Hundley. Swihart looms large in Christian Vazquez’s rearview window. Andrew Susac and Welington Castillo have the talent to rank in the teens, but they lack playing time. Kurt Suzuki has a starting gig, but I like Pinto to supplant him before long. Hank Conger and Max Stassi are victims of a logjam. Stephen Vogt only caught 15 games last year. Kyle Schwarber and Max Pentecost are too far away. Tom Murphy stalled in Double-A. James McCann and J.T. Realmuto aren’t special. Peter O’Brien can’t catch.