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There’s nothing quite as alluring as a stud fantasy catching prospect.

Predicting which catchers beyond the obvious names will produce on a yearly basis is a tedious, difficult exercise that often leads to disappointment. Just ask people who drafted Miguel Montero, Wilson Ramos, or Matt Wieters this season, only to see the likes of Yan Gomes, Dioner Navarro, and Kurt Suzuki outperform their backstops by a long shot.

The idea of plugging in a Yadier Molina or a Buster Posey or a Jonathan Lucroy for years and reaping the rewards of above-average catcher production is intoxicating, and rightfully so. Getting Posey-like production from a position at which nearly 30 percent of ESPN owners are still rostering Jason Castro can give you a substantial leg up on the competition.

But if we take a look at the recent past, we’ll see that catching prospects aren’t always what they’re cracked up to be. In fact, the evidence suggests that if you’re banking on a young catcher to provide for you in fantasy next season, you had better come up with a Plan B fast.

There are quite a few decent catching prospects in the game today. I conferred with Bret Sayre and Craig Goldstein, and we agreed that Blake Swihart, Jorge Alfaro, Kyle Schwarber, and Gary Sanchez are probably locks to make a fantasy top-100 lists this offseason. Max Pentecost, Kevin Plawecki, and Christian Bethancourt (in no particular order) follow closely behind.

Players like Reese McGuire, Clint Coulter, Chance Sisco, and Francisco Mejia are a bit too far away, and players like Austin Hedges don’t quite have the bats to profile as fantasy-relevant players, but we’re working with a talented crop of youngsters right now nonetheless.

That being said, we’ve seen quite a few supposed fantasy studs climb through the ranks over the past three seasons, too. And while that collection of players has made a few fantasy owners happy, they’ve led to a lot more riding the A.J. Pierzynski/Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Alex Avila merry-go-round that owners with injured or underperforming primary backstops know all too well.

With that in mind, I thought it would be useful to take a look at the performance of all former fantasy catching prospects from 2012-2014. My criteria for picking these players was pretty simple: they had to have been highly regarded as fantasy prospects at some point in their minor-league careers, or they need to have made an impact in fantasy ever since. Players are sorted by the year in which they lost rookie eligibility.

Here are the 162-game averages for said catchers, reduced by 25% to make up for the fact that MLB starting catchers don’t start a full slate of games (h/t to @WillysTeam for giving me a closer estimate). No, this is not an exact science; guys like Evan Gattis who play multiple positions should have more PA, and middle-tier guys should have less PA. But it’s a starting point, and if you nag me about it, I’ll go back to writing about sandwiches.

Lost in 2012

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

R

SB

Welington Castillo, CHC

.257

.325

.400

12

44

38

0

Yan Gomes, TOR/CLE

.279

.321

.467

17

57

53

1

Yasmani Grandal, SD

.242

.345

.406

13

50

32

2

Ryan Lavarnway, BOS

.204

.253

.321

7

44

32

0

Devin Mesoraco, CIN

.246

.316

.432

17

59

48

1

Jesus Montero, NYY/SEA

.258

.302

.396

15

55

40

0

Derek Norris, OAK

.245

.335

.493

11

51

48

5

Wilin Rosario, COL

.276

.310

.440

22

72

62

3

Remember these guys as prospects? Rosario and Gomes are the only players here who’ve really blossomed into consistent fantasy players, and Rosario is in the midst of a down year. These numbers paint too kind a picture of Grandal and Montero, who’ve taken steps back in their careers, but are unkind to Mesoraco and Norris, who are both much better now than they were in their early days. Castillo is really only in consideration in deep leagues, and Lavarnway washed out.

Still, moving forward we can consider Mesoraco (ranked third on ESPN’s player rater for catchers), Gomes (fourth) and Rosario (11th) as surefire top-12 catchers headed into 2015, with Norris (13th) probably somewhere in the next three-to-five names. That’s not bad for an eight-player grouping. Let’s move on.

Lost in 2013

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

R

SB

Evan Gattis, ATL

.256

.307

.493

25

68

50

0

Austin Romine, NYY

.196

.243

.272

2

16

30

2

Stephen Vogt, TB/OAK

.260

.335

.454

11

41

38

1

Mike Zunino, SEA

.204

.266

.384

18

49

50

1

This is a more complex collection of catchers without any real cohesion. Gattis brings power and RBI production to the table in a big way, enough to rate as the ninth-best catcher in standard 5×5 leagues this season despite his weak average and modest run totals. Vogt (22nd) is having a good year, but is no one’s idea of a safe bet moving forward. Romine (93rd) stopped being considered a top prospect a while back, but he was highly regarded once upon a time. And while Zunino (21st) has power, he’ll absolutely kill your average.

Gattis is the only top-12 name here for 2015 for me, and I don’t think Vogt or Zunino would make my top 20.

Lost in 2014

AVG

OBP

SLG

HR

RBI

R

SB

Travis d’Arnaud, NYM

.233

.299

.381

12

35

48

1

Josmil Pinto, MIN

.257

.338

.451

18

47

56

0

Tony Sanchez, PIT

.254

.297

.381

11

47

31

0

The numbers here are a bit misleading, since none of the players in this group has actually reached 162 games played in his career yet. Still, this should highlight just what a fool’s errand it is to rely on immediate production from rookie backstops. d’Arnaud (19th) has been much better in the second half of the season than he was in the year’s opening months, but he still projects out to an ugly final line. Pinto’s (42nd) decent line derives mostly from his solid 2013 audition, and he’s taken a step back this year. And Sanchez (49th), like Romine, stopped being a serious fantasy prospect years ago, though he looks to at least have a spot as a legitimate MLB backup.

Add it all together, and d’Arnaud is the only player even worthy of top 20 consideration next season, though Pinto’s career is far from over.

So, what lessons can we take from the recent past and apply to the current crop of fantasy backstop prospects?

For one, we should note attrition. Of the 15 prospects listed here, only four (Mesoraco, Gomes, Gattis, and Rosario) are likely to be top-12 fantasy catchers next season, and only Norris comfortably slots in the next range. The numbers look a little better if you give d’Arnaud, Zunino and Pinto the benefit of the doubt, but they’re still not wholly encouraging.

Secondly, notice that only Rosario, Gattis and Grandal transitioned seamlessly from “fantasy prospect” to “fantasy producer,” and that Grandal has fallen off a cliff since. It took Mesoraco and Norris quite some time to figure things out, and that’s where we see the Zunino/d’Arnaud/Pinto trio now.

And third, it should be noted that guys like Gomes, Castillo, and Vogt weren’t really considered fantasy prospects when they were still in the minors. It felt unfair to exclude them, but at the same time, their inclusion should serve as a reminder of just how inexact a science fantasy prospect prognosticating is, especially when you’re talking about seeing short-term MLB results.

It’s fair to wonder what this tells us about the future fantasy catchers who are in the minors right now. After all, comparing top-100 prospects from different years isn’t a level playing field, and oftentimes Prospect no. 32 from one year is as different as can be from Prospect no. 32 the following season.

To combat this, I asked the prospect team at BP to paint with broad strokes and compare our current crop of fantasy prospect backstops with the groups of yesteryear.

As you might expect, I received differing responses.

Nick Faleris said he prefers the current group, and gave a thorough response explaining why:

"The post-2014 grouping is younger on average (or will be at the time they debut) and, as a collective, shows a better feel for contact than does the 2012-2014 group, lessening the probability risk. Alfaro has the single highest offensive ceiling of the lot, with a chance to be a legit four- to five-win player, and Schwarber, Swihart, Plawecki, and Susac are all relatively high floor talents that should produce at a solid offensive clip. Out of that grouping, only Schwarber is a question mark as to whether or not they stick at the position. Tyler Marlette and Max Pentecost could catch up to this post-2014 grouping with a strong 2015, and, while he's a little farther away, Chance Sisco's bat has an outside shot at fast-tracking him to the majors if the Orioles let Wieters walk, provided Sisco shows enough improvement behind the plate so as not to be a liability (he's the lotto ticket of the group).”

Chris King addressed the weaknesses within the current group of prospects, stating that “only Plawecki seems to be a safe bet” to hit at the highest level, while also acknowledging Swihart’s improvement. For that reason, he sides with the last batch of catching prospects.

And Jordon Gorosh compared the two groups directly, as you can see below:

“Last crop was better, in my opinion. It's hard for me to include Schwarber in this year's crop, although he has the biggest upside. TDA/Zunino/Gattis were all looked upon as big offensive producers. I don't really think anyone in this class less Alfaro (again, not counting Schwarber) is going to be a starter in a 12-team league.”

What does this tell us? Essentially, there’s a healthy debate as to which group you should prefer, but there aren’t a whole lot of definitive differentiators for us to look at from a fantasy point-of-view. And with the possible exception of Schwarber, there’s no one prospect in this up-and-coming group who stands far above his peers or above many of the recent graduates listed above.

Because the samples are so small, it’s entirely possible that this next group of prospects could wind up with a disproportionate amount of success stories or busts. But catchers failing to hit right away in the majors is not a recent trend, nor is the notion of prospect attrition.

It’s still worth owning top-tier catching prospect in dynasty leagues, of course, and they shouldn’t be entirely ignored in keeper or redraft league formats, either. But those in dynasty leagues should be prepared to sit on catching prospects for a year or two even once their rookie eligibility is exhausted. That means that rostering a catcher with top-10 upside can be a prudent move, but holding on to a catcher who’s more likely to be in the 15-20 range can be a waste.

In redraft leagues, I’d be hard-pressed to trust any of the current “elite” catching prospects as rookies. Swihart lacks the upside, Alfaro and Sanchez lack an attractive floor, and Schwarber is still no sure thing yet, either. Conversely, however, second- and third-year catchers can make nice buy-low candidates once their prospect luster has worn off.

Overall, the lesson here is clear: Proceed with caution when planning on fantasy production from young backstops.

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Behemoth
9/23
I'd be curious to see how this compares with other positions, and also to work in something on just how highly rated the prospects were.
boatman44
9/23
With Santana no longer eligible at catcher next season, there are only two elite catcher's left on the books in points leagues, Posey and Lucroy, it's possible that Mesoraco may join them next year but the catcher to keep a close eye on for fantasy purposes, for me is Andrew Susac of the Giants, he has some nice pop in his bat,and isn't the worse defender at the position, by any means. With first base looking iffy in San Fran, maybe Posey features ther a lot more next year.
BenC22
9/23
I think Susac will be a nice player, but he's certainly nowhere near the Posey/Lucroy tier for me, and I don't think I'd have him as a top-20 guy for 2015, given the playing time concerns and all. That being said, I was surprised by how much Nick Faleris liked him in my discussions with the MiLB team for this piece, and it's opened my eyes to his understated MiLB production.
boatman44
9/23
Not expecting him to be elite Ben, but at $3 dollars or less, and with the caveat of more playing time Susac could be projected at 270+ points in a H2H points league for next year, if nothing else he's the first sleeper we have for 2015 :) Thanks for the column by the way, very interesting.
BenC22
9/23
Thanks for reading! And yes, at $3, Susac is a worthy gamble.
LlarryA
9/23
And here I was hoping for more sandwich-related content. So which catcher (if any) is a Croque Madame? (Now I'm hungry, and it's not even lunchtime here yet...)
BenC22
9/23
There's always more sandwich-related content to be had here. You just have to ask. I believe Swihart would be the Croque Madame here because he does a little bit of everything (hit for avg, hit for power, decent defender), just as the Madame has something for salt-lovers, egg-lovers and grilled cheese-lovers. If you get a truly perfect Croque Madame, it's a 60+ sandwich, but it's more likely that it's slightly too salty or the egg makes the bread runny and you end up with a role-50 snack.
sfrischbp
9/25
LOL
sporer24
9/23
I've never understood why so many in the fantasy community waste their time with young Cs, but maybe this will open their eyes a bit. Remember when Wieters was supposed to take over the world? There's just so much more to the role than hitting that it's really no surprise that the transition is rarely smooth. Throw in the lowered playing time outputs just as a part of the position and it makes little sense to go hard after catchers.
username49
9/23
I'd be curious to see you take this study back back even further to the 2009-2011 years. If one of the morals of the story is to sit on young catchers a little longer, I would like to see how the top guys from previous years are doing 3-5 years into their career.
dcapofari
9/23
yes!!!!!!! makes me feel great about taking/trading for Alfaro at high prices. great article, changes the way to see things for me
smcfee
9/29
After some time my position has evolved to the following. Unless you are in a two-catcher league or similar deep format (-only league, 30-team league, etc.), never ever draft a catcher prospect. You will almost always be passing up a better bat at another position, and in non-deep formats it's not hard to find someone who is "good enough" on waivers. It's hard to get a top-3 catcher but it's really easy to get someone who hits for middling average and 12-15 homers. Also catchers develop so slowly that guys tend to lose their hype, which makes it harder to flip them for pieces you need to contend. You'll get a higher profit on a shiny new toy doing well in A-ball.