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Welcome to “Catchella.” If you’re looking for the hologram of J.R. Towles, you came to right spot. Coincidentally, this also happens to be the first installment of our new fantasy series focused primarily on analyzing early average draft position (ADP) trends to determine what we can learn from them to help improve our draft-day strategy in 2016.

The early ADP data referenced for this entire series, housed at STATS.com, is from 2016 National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) leagues, which are comprised of 15 teams. For the purpose of this column, since most of our audience plays in standard 12-team leagues, the average round data is reflective of standard formats. It’s also worth pointing out that the data is also both relatively thin and updating in real time at the link above, so be sure to check back frequently for the latest updates. Without further delay, let’s dive into the early ADP trends at the catcher position.

The Early Rounds

Buster Posey and Kyle Schwarber rightly deserve their own tiers…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

1

Buster Posey

SF

20.60

2nd

2

Kyle Schwarber

CHC

32.27

3rd

Kyle Schwarber, Cubs

Let’s talk about Schwarber. The only number absurdly higher than his ADP right now is the $1.3 billion Powerball jackpot. Posey, who has been the top fantasy catcher for the vast majority of the previous decade, is still head and shoulders above Schwarber (especially from a risk-aversion perspective), but the fact that the gap between them is this small at the moment is striking. The 23-year-old is an excellent hitter, there’s no doubt about that, but are we ready to elevate him this high, this quickly? Based on what the Indiana product did last year in his first exposure to the majors, slugging his way to $6 of mixed-league value in just 273 plate appearances, he could easily finish as not just as one of the top catchers in the game, but one of it’s most potent power hitters. On the one hand, it’s easy to envision him justifying a pick this high. The ceiling is realistic.

On the other hand, projecting Schwarber to produce at that elevated level over a full season is a substantial risk for the simple fact that we have such a small sample of data to forecast his future performance with. At his current ADP, there’s just no room for profit here. Fantasy owners who invest a third round pick in Schwarber are paying for all of the upside up front and taking on all of the risk that he will produce like an elite hitter right away in 2016. Harry Truman famously longed for a one-handed economist, and I’m sure that most fantasy owners reading this would like me to dismiss the risk and endorse Schwarber even at his hugely inflated cost, but it’s impossible to overlook the fact that he has to produce a monster season just to return that value.

The Middle Rounds

A crop of veterans who shouldn’t be overlooked just because they’re not millennials…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

3

Jonathan Lucroy

MIL

106.47

9th

4

Salvador Perez

KC

107.60

9th

5

Brian McCann

NYY

116.13

10th

6

Russell Martin

TOR

124.33

11th

The substantial drop-off after Posey and Schwarber is evidence that unless you’re willing to invest a second- or third-round pick on an elite backstop, you can afford to wait until the middle rounds before even thinking about taking a solid starter like Lucroy, Perez, McCann or Martin at the position. Aside from Lucroy, whose season was derailed by injuries, all three of the catchers in this range finished as top-five options last season.

It’s still very early in the draft process, but the fact that just two catchers are being taken inside the top 100 picks overall represents a precipitous decline from just one year ago, when an average of five catchers (seven if you count Perez and Yan Gomes who went 109th and 111th, respectively) were among the top 100 selections.

The Late(r) Rounds

If you’re waiting on a catcher, these are the names still hanging around in the late rounds…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

7

Travis d’Arnaud

NYM

152.87

13th

8

Stephen Vogt

OAK

166.00

14th

9

Devin Mesoraco

CIN

167.53

14th

10

Matt Wieters

BAL

175.27

15th

11

J.T. Realmuto

MIA

176.93

15th

12

Yan Gomes

CLE

187.07

16th

13

Blake Swihart

BOS

206.40

18th

14

Yasmani Grandal

LAD

211.00

18th

Three On The Rise

Who are the hottest catchers early in draft season?

Travis d’Arnaud, Mets

Fantasy owners covet upside. If upside were a Hogwarts house, it would be Gryffindor. With so many owners placing a high priority on investing in these types of assets, it regularly inflates the draft day acquisition price of young hitters oozing with breakout potential. Coming off a season in which he slammed 12 home runs in just 268 plate appearances, the 27-year-old d’Arnaud is a prime example of this phenomenon.

Despite missing nearly 100 games (95 to be precise) due to injury, d’Arnaud earned $3 in 2015, just as much as fellow backstops Yasmani Grandal and Wilson Ramos, both of whom represent end-game options in deeper mixed leagues according to current average draft position data. If he can stay healthy and hold off fellow youngster Kevin Plawecki for the majority of the playing time, he will surely justify an investment in the 13th round in 2016.

J.T. Realmuto, Marlins

The largest beneficiary of the extreme lack of young, impact fantasy catchers (besides Schwarber) is Realmuto, who is being ticketed as the most enticing upside gamble at the position heading into 2016. Those claims are not without merit, considering he’s a 24-year-old former infielder who hit .259/.290/.406 with 10 home runs and eight stolen bases (more than any other catcher) in 467 plate appearances as a rookie last season.

After finishing as the eighth-best fantasy catcher (earning $7 in standard mixed leagues) last season, there is a strong possibility that he takes another step forward, justifying the roll of the dice over some of the elder statesmen behind the plate still left on the board at this stage in the draft.

Blake Swihart, Red Sox

Despite being rushed to the Majors after just 151 plate appearances at Triple-A Pawtucket, the 23-year-old switch hitter with a swing that’s smoother than a Steph Curry jumper (well maybe not, but you get my drift) managed to hold his own against Major League pitching, hitting .274/.319/.392 with five home runs and four stolen bases in 309 plate appearances last year.

The most glaring reason to shy away from Swihart in re-draft leagues has nothing to do with his offensive profile, but everything to do with the return of Christian Vazquez. After missing all of last season due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery in spring training, Vazquez, a 25-year-old defensive wizard behind the plate, figures to play a prominent role in the catching rotation this upcoming campaign. Without a guarantee of everyday at-bats, or even the lion share of the starts in the committee, Swihart isn’t going to garner enough playing time to put together the breakout season fantasy owners envision.

Three On The Decline

A trio of catchers who have seen their stock fall exponentially from last season

Devin Mesoraco, Reds

On the heels of a true breakout campaign in which he belted 25 home runs, Mesoraco was one of the hottest names at the position in drafts just a year ago, going in the seventh round, as the third catcher off the board on average. After hitting .178/.275/.244 in just 51 plate appearances (23 games) before undergoing season-ending hip surgery, he’s fallen nearly out of the top 10 at the position. Still only 27-years-old, it seems like a mistake to think he won’t show up healthy and productive in 2016. It’s very early in the draft season, but Mesoraco is shaping up as one of the better values at the position, especially if he’s primed for a bounce-back.

Yan Gomes, Indians

A knee injury, suffered on a play at the plate in early April, effectively derailed the 28-year-old’s season as he was sidelined for over a month and struggled to hit upon his return. It wasn’t until September, when he hit .264 with three home runs that he finally started to look like the stud that hit 21 home runs in a breakout 2014 season. Fantasy owners willing to write off the dismal year as a byproduct of a freak injury and bet on a rebound should find Gomes available at a hefty discount, compared to last year, going off the board in the 16th round so far this spring.

Yadier Molina, Cardinals

The 33-year-old’s stock has fallen to the point where he’s currently only being drafted in the deepest of mixed leagues. The 18th catcher off the board, he’s going on average in the 21st round of standard mixed leagues, which is a stark contrast from last year when he was drafted as a top-10 catcher in the 11th round. Based purely on the fact that he finished as the 12th-best fantasy catcher, earning $5 in standard mixed leagues last season, he’s one of the more obvious values at the position right now as someone who will cost next to nothing to acquire on draft day.

The Leftovers

Don’t want to invest in a catcher? No problem…

Rank

Player

Team

Avg. Pick

Avg. Round

15

Derek Norris

SD

226.00

19th

16

Nick Hundley

COL

228.80

19th

17

Welington Castillo

ARI

229.73

20th

18

Yadier Molina

STL

245.53

21st

19

Miguel Montero

CHC

250.73

21st

20

Wilson Ramos

WAS

252.07

21st

21

Francisco Cervelli

PIT

261.93

22nd

A plethora of veteran NL endgame options remain for fantasy owners who decide to punt the position entirely in the early and middle rounds. The most appetizing of whom is Hundley, who finished as a top-five catcher, earning $10 in standard mixed leagues last season. Did Coors Field play a major part in his offensive surge? Absolutely, but he’s still under contract with the Rockies through 2016. Even baking in a little regression, there is no way he should be going virtually undrafted. It’s worth noting that both Norris and Cervelli turned in top-10 performances as well last year, which is further proof that there is plenty of value in the late rounds at the position if you know where to find out.