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.
In short, for long-term leagues this position is a mess. Generally speaking, the more consistent performers are all older and the future of the position is clouded in injury and performance risk. On top of that, the prospect well is relatively dry—outside of a few names that most are already very familiar with. Because it’s such a flat structure, it gives us opportunity to take risk we might not otherwise take at another position. As far as turnover at the position, there really isn’t much to speak of aside from Evan Gattis losing eligibility (which certainly hurts as the second-best fantasy catcher in mixed leagues last year.
No more mincing words or depressing macro statements on the position, let’s go right into the list.
There isn’t an easier pick to sit atop one of these lists—though Kershaw is a somewhat similar slam dunk—so I’ll just sit back and enjoy the calm for now. The batting average is elite and his strikeout rate has been on a consistent downhill trek over the last 4-5 seasons, which makes it sustainable. The power may never reach the 25-homer level, but it doesn’t need to for him to be a high-end own in all dynasty leagues.
If there is anyone on this list who could nip at Posey’s heels over the next year or two, it’s certainly Schwarber, but even as one of the most ardent Schwarber supporters, we’re clearly not there yet. The contact rate and position eligibility are the most pressing matters, but the first is more important than the second, since he’s plenty valuable at any position if he can hit .270. Also, even if the Cubs are unlikely to play him as their everyday catcher, he doesn’t need to be in the squat daily to maintain eligibility, and moving around could garner him extra at-bats (at least versus everyone but Posey, who plays a lot for a catcher).
4) Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets
See how quickly this devolves? Swihart has a potentially bright future ahead of him, but he may not be a top-12 option in 2016 and he has a track record of strong fantasy performance for about 40 games. On the other hand, d’Arnaud had an .825 OPS in 2015 (a continuation of his strong performance after returning from Las Vegas in 2014), yet he was the 18th-best fantasy catcher last year because he could only stay on the field for 67 games. That’s clearly going to have to change if he wants to stay at this level—though in mixed leagues, if you can grab a player in the 20s on this list to cover for him while he’s injured, it’s still a net positive. And if he plays in 125 games one of these years, it’s a boon.
So yeah, I guess this is my way of saying that I’m buying the Lucroy bounce-back for 2016. He doesn’t have the age or the mileage to make me concerned that it’s a straight line down from here—and he’s still hit .291 with 50 homers over the last four season (and is primed to occupy an important lineup spot in Milwaukee again). I wrote about Grandal on Monday in the Players to Target piece, and don’t need to get too much into him here. It’s a very fine line between him and Lucroy. McCann and Martin are steady performers right now, but each are on the precipice of their decline—which is a fine line to balance since they each set career highs in homers in 2015. Yet at 32 and 33 years old,respectively, that shouldn’t be the expectation beyond 2016, even if you’re optimistic about their current-year performance. Perez has been worn as much as any catcher in the game recently and the recent step forward in power is going to need to be repeated if he wants to jump into the top-five.
As much as he deserves to be in the previous tier (or even the one before it) on talent alone, Mesoraco has a serious injury to deal with that could affect his ability to catch both in the short and long term. That hip impingement that limited him to just 45 at bats is a bigger impediment to staying on the field as a catcher than Grandal’s shoulder injury, Wieters’ Tommy John surgery or the assorted maladies of Travis d’Arnaud. If he is healthy in 2016 and showcases his 2014 power, the 27-year-old could rise very quickly, but this is a little too much risk for me.
14) Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs
This tier begins and ends with a couple of my personal favorites. Norris took a step backwards in his plate discipline, but a step forward in his framing—which bodes well for him sticking behind the plate into his 30s despite a lackluster arm. Castillo finally showed off the power in the desert this year, and while that pace isn’t sustainable, a 25-homer season is not out of the picture in 2016. Montero, Gomes and Wieters should continue to provide solid value over the next few years—though the name bump that the Oriole carries (and to an extent, the Indian as well) will make him a difficult target in startup leagues and in trades. We’re also at the point here where preference isn’t quite of the essence. This whole tier is practically interchangeable, so if you’re waiting on the position, know what you’re waiting for.
16) Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
Now we start to get to some actual prospects (even though these are not elite prospects), since major-league depth is less important at catcher than at any other position. Sanchez is closest to the majors, but has the greatest impediment of any of the three on here in the short-term. Though with McCann’s diminishing defensive value, the Yankees could play him a bunch at designated hitter starting in 2017. Not that it helps Sanchez much in the near term. Nottingham and Alfaro were pitted against each other in today’s Tale of the Tape, so I’ll let Greg spew knowledge on that one—just another case of the upstart versus the establishment. Cervelli is fine in the near-term and his glove will keep him playing for a while, but if that average slips at all, he’s mostly useless in mixed leagues. Realmuto might need to get to double-digit homers and steals to be worthy of some prognosticators’ evaluations, and I don’t see either as being all that likely (though if I’m betting on either, it’s the power). He also was one of the worst framers in baseball last year, which could launch him off the position sooner than some of the 30-year-olds on this list.
22) Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics
24) Yadier Molina, St Louis Cardinals
25) Andrew Susac, San Francisco Giants
26) Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets
27) Caleb Joseph, Baltimore Orioles
28) Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies
29) John Ryan Murphy, Minnesota Twins
If you’re of the “going down with the ship” persuasion, Molina is a solid add here. He’s probably going to be a little undervalued in 2016, but that power isn’t coming back and he hasn’t been reliable to stay on the field in the recent past. If you’re a “wave of the future” kind of person, Susac and Murphy (the J.R. version) offer solid future potential with the added benefit of being in the majors now. Unfortunately for Susac, he has a slightly better first string ahead of him than Kurt Suzuki—that said, he has the better bat to bet on. The story with Ramos has always been proraters prognosticating that if he played a full season, he’d be an elite backstop. Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case. Hundley and Vogt were both very strong fantasy catchers in 2015, but the former edges him out since he’ll still be able to call Coors Field home and the latter slumped badly over the last four months after an absolutely bananas April and May (he hit .230/.302/.358 with seven homers after June 1st).
31) Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
He’s like Jacob Nottingham with time-delayed hype. Also, he’s going to have to give that extra L back to former organization mate Welington Castillo at the end of 2016—so don’t feel bad about the misspellings.
34) Chance Sisco, Baltimore Orioles
35) Max Stassi, Houston Astros
37) Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners
38) Max Pentecost, Toronto Blue Jays
39) Tyler Stephenson, Cincinnati Reds
This won’t be a popular McCann placement, but he’s essentially J.T. Realmuto without the speed. Betts and Stephenson are the top two catchers from the 2015 draft, and though neither should be taken in the first two rounds of most dynasty drafts, I prefer Betts slightly because the quality of the bat (not the power—they both have above-average power potential) is a little more advanced. Pentecost would rank higher if there weren’t growing whispers of him having to move off catcher after another shoulder surgery last year. He has the athleticism to play elsewhere, but he’d be much less interest in our space.
40) Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians
42) Josh Phegley, Oakland Athletics
43) Josmil Pinto, Milwaukee Brewers
44) Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
45) Reese McGuire, Pittsburgh Pirates
46) Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
48) Andrew Knapp, Philadelphia Phillies
49) Chase Vallot, Kansas City Royals
Take your pick of likely weak bats or offensive-minded backups. Hedges and McGuire may never get be a fantasy starter, but their defensive chops will keep them employed. They make for much stronger stashes in two-catcher leagues. Pinto and Mejia both should not be forgotten about, even though the former has already been moved off the position (likely for good). Vallot has some pop, but not much else. Phegley is Josh Phegley—for better or worse—but he at least may play a bit this year. The Phillies have two catchers likely to play in the majors this year whose names end in “pp.” If you have to chose, you want this one.
50) Luis Torrens, New York Yankees
If he comes back strong from the shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the 2015, Torrens is a name to keep an eye on as a potential pop-up guy in the Sally League this year. He has a long way to go with the bat, but the defensive profile is strong and the ability to hit for some average and power are there.