Welcome back to the third annual Fantasy Target and Avoid series at Baseball Prospectus. Each week, members of our staff will pick either a player to target or a player to avoid in your fantasy leagues. These picks (and pans) are not meant to reflect our staff rankings but rather to give our readers the advantage of our staff’s joint expertise and a deeper look at 10 players at each position.
Today, we start with six catchers to target.
Welington Castillo, Diamondbacks
Last season, catchers were the worst hitting position group in the league, and only the two middle infield slots produced less power. Beyond Buster Posey, there’s virtually no high-end options behind the plate. As such, those in deeper leagues may be better off targeting the cheaper options to fill this position, and Welington Castillo could be the ideal target.
Despite not playing well until getting to Arizona last season—and only playing in 80 games during that stretch—Castillo ended the year as the 14th best catcher on ESPN’s Player Rater and was tied for fifth in home runs among backstops. It was his second consecutive season with double-digit home runs, and he’s going back to Arizona and the hitter-friendly Chase Field. At the very least, Castillo should provide above-average power yet again for a position that offers very little in this department.
On top of the power, there is some potential for him to help in other areas as well. Most likely would be in the RBI department. It’s obviously tough to predict this category, but he’s going to be hitting behind Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock and David Perata. All three of those guys should be getting on base at a high clip, and Castillo has the potential to get enough hits to at least eclipse 60 RBI for the first time in his career. On top of that, a little BABIP regression from his .263 mark in 2015 will make him acceptable in AVG. Obviously, none of this is a guarantee, which is why he’s going 16th among catchers according to early ADP data and is more of a bench piece to start the year in shallower leagues. In deeper and/or two-catcher leagues, however, Castillo can be a cheap target that pays huge dividends at the end of the season. —Matt Collins
Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
Is suggesting a player who has shown repeated success but suffered through a down season marred by an injury a little too obvious? Perhaps, but many people can’t help but be swayed by the most recent information available, even if it’s laced with caveats. Case in point: Yan Gomes. His full season slash line was .231/.267/.391, which is what we on the internets refer to as “garbage.” He wasn’t better in the counting stats with 12 homers and not enough R/RBI to bother listing. Part of that was because he missed time (95 games relative to 2014’s 135), but it’s also because he was bad after returning from injury.
After amassing a mere 44 plate appearances through May, Gomes turned in a D+ June, with a .626 OPS. He was better in the second half though (.725 OPS, nine homers), presumably rounding into shape and learning to trust his knee again. It’s worth noting that even if you don’t buy into the second-half uptick, a full season (518 PA, as in 2014) would result in 16 home runs, which is solid enough for a backstop in 12-team leagues and deeper. That isn’t exactly appealing but when it’s a reasonable baseline for performance and there’s top-five catcher upside to boot, well…that’s worth a wager, don’t you think? —Craig Goldstein
Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
Just about one year ago, I took to this exact same venue to tell the world to draft Yasmani Grandal based on his strong second half and minor league performance/pedigree. Well, a lot has happened since then—just look at what’s become of Donald Trump—but here comes a different version of the same impassioned plea. Of course, this version is different because it’s his excellent first half that’s now being overshadowed by an injury-riddled second half, and causing him to be taken 13th overall so far this pre-season according to NFBC ADP and nestling him squarely in tier two of our rankings.
So let’s go back, not so long ago, to the beginning of his shoulder woes (at least publicly). Those woes were first reported on August 13th and supposedly had been going on for “a few days” at this point. We generally define “few” as three, so let’s cut his season into two pieces: before and after August 10th. Here’s what we see:
- Before August 10th: .289/.391/.498 with 15 HR and 44 RBI in 87 games.
- After August 10th: .049/.233/.085 with 1 HR and 3 RBI in 28 games.
Well, that’s different. When the alternative is A.J. Ellis playing nearly every day, it’s defensible to roll out an injured Grandal during the stretch run for a playoff team, but that line is just brutal. And it caused Grandal’s OPS to slide more than 140 points from the time of the injury to the end of the season. Of course, the slightly complicating factor here is that it did lead to off-season surgery, yet Grandal remains on track to be fully healthy for Spring Training because no repair was needed on his labrum (helping matters even more is that it’s his not throwing shoulder).
The catcher position is truly the doldrums of the fantasy world these days, with Buster Posey sitting atop the hierarchy wondering where the person coming to claim his throne is. Grandal may never claim that throne, but if you’re looking for a value catcher capable of contributing in every non-SB category and finishing in the top-five at the position, Grandal is your man. —Bret Sayre
Nick Hundley, Rockies
It would be easy to dismiss the 32-year-old Hundley’s stellar 2015 campaign, in which he slashed .301/.339/.467 with 10 home runs and a stole a career-high five bases in just 389 plate appearances, as a product of his Coors Field environment. You might have a legitimate case, especially when you look at his considerable home/road splits and Rocky Mountain-high .356 BABIP, more than 60 points higher than his .292 career BABIP coming into the year. All fair criticisms, but he’s not leaving Colorado.
Hundley is currently the 15th catcher off the board in early NFBC drafts, which means he’s going undrafted in most 12-team standard redraft formats. It seems unthinkable that a catcher who earned $10 in standard mixed leagues, finishing as the fourth-best fantasy catcher last year, would fall completely off the radar, but he has. Paying for a repeat would be a mistake, but at his current ADP, you won’t have to pay for anything close to that right now, making him one of the best values at the position in 2016. —George Bissell
Buster Posey, Giants
It's rare to find yourself stumping for the top-ranked player at a given position, but catchers are unique flowers. The ceiling for value production is set lower than any position this side of relief pitchers, and thanks to a combination of cratered backstop offense last year and some shiny new names on the landscape entering this season, the temptation will be stronger than ever to punt the category in favor of a faceless, replacement-level option. Don't do that. Invest in the best, baby.
While batting average tends to be a poor primary skill to invest in, there are exceptions to every rule, and doing just that is the crux of the argument to invest in Posey. Outside of outlying good luck in his MVP campaign he has produced remarkably stable BABIP numbers in his career, and coupled with a plummeting whiff rate that’s chasing Boggs these days he makes for one of the safer expectations in the game for a .300-plus average.
Banking that kind of production is important in general given the category's volatility, and it is a remarkably valuable commodity out of your catcher, where the relative effect of Posey’s consistency—both in terms of production volume and rate—is greatly magnified. Only three other qualifying catchers hit so much as .275 last year, with the average top-15 catcher (non-Posey division) hitting .256 across just 407 at-bats. This last point is key: Posey has hit .315 while averaging 538 at-bats (and 608 plate appearances) annually over the past four seasons. He knocked 39 more hits than any other backstop last year. That’s a big deal.
Add in the 20-homer power and the advantageous counting stat accumulation that goes with the territory of logging significantly more trips to the dish than the overwhelming majority of your contemporaries, and there’s a reason Posey is the only catcher to return $20 of standard mixed league value in either of the past two years—and by far the safest bet in town to do so for a third consecutive year. —Wilson Karaman
J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
Realmuto surprisingly tallied 467 big league plate appearances in 2015 after Miami decided to move on from Jarrod Saltalamacchia in early May. The 24-year-old rookie finished with a 49/10/47/8/.258 roto-slash line that placed him barely outside the top ten among catchers. It’s that balanced production more than anything that makes Realmuto my choice as a catcher to target as we enter 2016 draft season.
This is not a scenario where I’m recommending a young player based on his ability to unlock upside. Instead, I’m suggesting you invest in relative safety in the middle or rounds, where the alternatives may leave you playing the catcher carousel through the summer. There’s nothing in last year’s line that suggests regression is coming for Realmuto and even if he fails to take a step forward at the plate in his sophomore season, his overall value will be propped up by a position-leading stolen base total. In addition to that speed and a bat that won’t hurt you in power or batting average, the context in Miami should be improved, assuming full seasons from Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcell Ozuna.
Other defensive metrics think more highly of Realmuto, but by FRAA, only Carlos Ruiz and James McCann were worse behind the plate in 2015. Couple that with Chris Crawford’s intel that some believe Tomas Telis is the Marlins’ catcher of the future and you have potential playing time concerns if Realmuto struggles out of the gate. I’m certainly not about to question FRAA’s conclusions or Crawford’s reporting, but I don’t think there is real risk for Realmuto to lose time in the immediate future unless he completely bombs in the early going, a scenario I don’t anticipate. If his walk rate bumps up closer to what you’d expect based on minor league track record, you should see double digit steals to go along with competent production everywhere else, at a minimal cost. —Greg Wellemeyer