We, at Baseball Prospectus, have been talking about catchers for a while now (three days and change to be exact, depending on when you are reading this) and the party continues to rage on. Yet before we rage, we shall calibrate—since rankings aren’t useful without knowing what you’re reading. The list you are about to read here presupposes a 16-team standard (read: 5×5 roto) dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2016 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats. And if this list doesn't go deep enough for you (god bless your soul), Wilson Karaman has you covered with his Ocean's Floor column as well. We leave no stone unturned here.
There’s no getting around it—the position is brutal this year. Not only was it brutal last year, but two of the players with the most upside in the last version no longer have catcher eligibility, though I will point out where Kyle Schwarber and Blake Swihart would have ranked if they had catcher eligibility (since there are leagues in which they will). The riskier players have gotten riskier. The older players have gotten older. The prospects are still kinda interesting, but they remain catching prospects—which is not a plus. Pretty much the only improvement from last year is the birth of the Gary Sanchez Era, but we’ll get there shortly.
It’s time. Ordinal catchers await:
The baby-faced one still reigns over the rest of the position. The only reasonable argument to remove him from his throne is that you believe the power slump in the second half of last year is a harbinger of things to come as he moves into his 30s (he’s still just 29). Of course, even with reduced power, the batting average, counting stats and outsized playing time still make him a top-5 option. I’ll take the over on 15 homers in each of the next 3-4 seasons.
Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs
And we have the first casualty of the eligibility police. Schwarber’s regular-season-ending injury prevented him from gaining the big “C” in 2017, and it’s unclear as to whether he’ll ever receive a chance to get it back. This slotting assumes that even if he’s eligible at catcher in your league this season, he won’t be in the future. And yes, that’s how good of a hitter I believe Schwarber is. Even with the swing-and-miss in his game, he’s still a potential .270-plus hitter with 30 bombs—it’s just not as much fun if he’s an outfielder (it’s still fun).
2) Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
The hype may be getting out of control with Sanchez, but the fantasy floor here is legitimate and is the reason he checks in at the second spot. He may be a .240 or .250 hitter as the league adjustment to him in September caused his strikeout rate massive agita, but the 25-homer power is real and there’s not a litany of power-hitting catchers who don’t project for a low average. If he adjusts back, he’ll probably be #1 on this list next year, but assume it we shall not.
We stuck by Lucroy last year, by keeping him in the top-five after a very down 2015, and he rewarded us by being the top fantasy catcher in baseball. Texas may not be as great of a situation for him as Milwaukee was, but there’s really not a whole lot separating him from Buster Posey at the top of this list. In fact, he’s only nine months older than Posey. This is also the end of the top tier of catchers, as finding a combination of average and power is incredibly difficult in this group.
4) Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
The almost-young Cub is the closest you get to an average/power combo, but I don’t think expecting more than around 15 homers from him going forward is a particularly good idea. A pretty extreme 54 percent ground ball rate is the culprit there. That said, he can play around the diamond and is likely to grab extra playing time to go along with what should be a pretty good average and solid all-around counting stats. Grandal is essentially Gary Sanchez without the hype (and a four-year age difference), as he might be just as likely to hit 25 homers and leave you disappointed in his batting average. Of course, if you’re in an OBP league, Grandal is up in the elite tier with the big three. Gattis is a bit of a question mark right now as he doesn’t project for everyday at bats, but given the age of the Astros’ corner guys and Gattis’ ability to crush lefties, he doesn’t need much more than 350 at-bats to be a top-five catcher this year and I like his odds of retaining eligibility into 2018.
Oooooh a prospect. Collins was one of the best fantasy prospects available in the 2016 draft and will be a fast mover as a high-end college bat. He’s still a bit of a long-shot to be a 140-game catcher in the majors, but he could be a fantasy unicorn—a slugging CINO (catcher in name only) who still sits in the middle of the lineup when he’s not donning the pads. It’s certainly an aggressive ranking, but have you seen the rest of this list?
10) Sal Perez, Kansas City Royals
12) Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets
And here’s why Collins is ranked so highly. Realmuto is masquerading as a .300 hitter, and while he can potentially go 10/10—yes, hello bottom of the barrel, nice to see you—we’re just talking about a skillset that won’t actively hurt you. Alfaro is a plenty good prospect in his own right (obviously as he’s top-10 here), and he should be in Philadelphia before the end of 2017. That said, the Phillies are in no rush and it wouldn’t be surprising either if he was in Lehigh Valley the entire season a la Nick Williams. Don’t let prospect fatigue sour you on him. How Perez is only 26 I will never understand, yet he’s declining right before our eyes as the wear-and-tear of the first half of his 20s is on display. He’s now just another low-average, decent-power option. Ramos and d’Arnaud deserve to be listed together as they both have top-five potential, but can’t stay healthy long enough to realize it. Don’t expect Ramos back before July this year, and the league adjustment without the benefit of Spring Training, could be a combo that spoils his season from the start. On the other hand, d’Arnaud looks healthy for right now, but he’s always healthy until he’s not. I’m not particularly worried about his performance level, even though I’m clearly less confident than I was at this time last year.
Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox
And our second excursion to the outfield comes in Boston, as the Swihart-to-the-outfield experience has gracefully ended. He may not break camp with the Red Sox, but he stands a very good chance at being the everyday catcher before Memorial Day and like his chances of reestablishing himself as an easy top-10 dynasty option at the position if it happens.
15) Brian McCann, Houston Astros
The old, the new and the Beef. Martin and McCann are the old guard, continuously sliding down this list until they fade into the same oblivion that Jason Kendall and Jason Varitek reside in. Both remain pretty good bets to hit 20 homers and get to 60 RBI in 2017, but that’s all they offer now and the end is near. Murphy and Susac are on the opposite side of the spectrum, with both likely facing their first first-string gig in the majors. Both have pop and strong home parks, but Murphy offers a little more in power and Susac offers more in average. It should not surprise if you if either or both are top-10 options next year, but they will need to show why they are former Top 101 prospects. Mejia had a great season and is likely another year (or another Yan Gomes disaster year) away from the majors. Castillo should fit in nicely in Camden Yards and could finally top 20 homers this year, assuming he got his league adjustment over with in his 28 plate appearances with the Mariners last year (yea, you forgot that happened too).
In the past three years, he’s been both one of the best fantasy catchers in baseball, injured and even more injured. He has to be treated as a prospect at this point—and an old one who may not stick at the position at that.
20) Matt Wieters, Free Agent
21) Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
22) Chance Sisco, Baltimore Orioles
25) Yadier Molina, St Louis Cardinals
27) Carson Kelly, St Louis Cardinals
28) Cameron Rupp, Philadelphia Phillies
And you thought the list was muddled earlier on. Who knows where Wieters will end up, but he’s likely to be a disappointing starter wherever that is. Gomes hasn’t been a viable fantasy starter since 2014, but at least he has been one at some point. Ranking Norris down here makes me sad, but he leaves me no choice. Rupp and Flowers were both way better than you’d think they were last year if you weren’t really paying attention and, let’s face it, I’m sorry if you were paying that much attention to either the Braves or Phillies. Both are unlikely to be long-term options for their teams, but weirder things have happened.
30) Jacob Nottingham, Milwaukee Brewers
31) Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds
32) Bruce Maxwell, Oakland Athletics
33) Tomas Nido, New York Mets
35) Max Pentecost, Toronto Blue Jays
36) Brett Cumberland, Atlanta Braves
37) Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs
38) Meibrys Viloria, Kansas City Royals
This is the part of the list where you just dream on prospects because the reality of major leaguers at this point is just so sad. Nottingham might still be the guy people thought he was 12 months ago. Stephenson might be able to stay healthy and reach his potential. Maxwell might actually have turned a corner and find himself in a starting role in Oakland. Nido might be able to keep up his hitting barrage in Double-A. Pentecost might be able to catch again. Cumberland might be able to catch at all (probably not). Viloria might have a consensus on how to pronounce his name. Torrens might get back on the development track after the Padres store him on the back of their roster for all of 2017. If you don’t want to dream, there’s always Cervelli and Montero. Ouch.
41) Sandy Leon, Boston Red Sox
42) Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets
43) Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
44) Garrett Stubbs, Houston Astros
45) Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
46) Chase Vallot, Kansas City Royals
47) Tony Wolters, Colorado Rockies
48) Manny Pina, Milwaukee Brewers
49) Dom Nunez, Colorado Rockies
There are four catchers who have reached double-digit homers in each of the last four seasons: Wilson Ramos, Sal Perez, Russell Martin and Jason Castro. The Twins may not have signed him for his pop, but there’s still a little there. Leon, Plawecki and Hedges (on the other hand) have combined for a total of 15 homers in their abbreviated major league careers. Amazingly, all three of them have gone deep off Scott Kazmir. That small lefty is such a big softy, handing out highlights to these bottom-rung backstops like that. Wolters and Pina could find themselves starting in really good home parks if Murphy and/or Susac don’t live up to their billing, or they may just be backups forever. Stubbs had a .918 OPS in his first taste of the upper minors and had more walks than strikeouts. He’s a stat projection system’s dream.
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