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Two years ago (wow I’m old), I wrote about why catching prospects were dubious propositions for fantasy leaguers. My theory was that between the inherent bust rate of all prospects, the rigors that come with learning to be an MLB catcher and the conventional wisdom that catchers develop late offensively, dynasty leaguers would be best off avoiding backstop prospects altogether. Sure, they’d miss out on Buster Posey, but they’d also avoid sinking roster spots on Jeff Clement, George Kottaras, and Tony Sanchez.

I think the logic there is mostly sound, but at the same time, fantasy catchers really suck. In 2016, the combined slash line for all catchers is .242/.311/.391. Compared to the overall line of .256/.322/.419, that’s not great, but it’s actually a bit better relative to the league than what we saw in 2014 or 2015. Sure, that line is weighed down by fantasy non-factors like backup catchers and glove-only starters, but make no mistake about it: The fantasy catcher position is a bit of a wasteland right now. Per ESPN’s Player Rater, only 17 catchers in all of baseball have made positive fantasy contributions this season.

That’s fine if you’re in a 10- or 12-team league. It’s brutal if you’re in a 20-teamer or a two-catcher format.

With all this in mind, should dynasty leaguers consider investing in fantasy backstop prospects once more? Let’s explore, looking both at the current crop of fantasy catchers and the upcoming wave of backstop prospects. I’ve attempted to break every relevant catcher into a few separate tiers below.

Why do some players have asterisks or plusses next to their names, you ask? We’ll get to that below:

Thanks for the Memories (Even If They Weren’t So Sweet)

Alex Avila (CHW), Jason Castro (HOU), Robinson Chirinos (TEX), Tyler Flowers (ATL), Chris Iannetta (SEA), James McCann (DET), Miguel Montero (CHC), Dioner Navarro (TOR), Carlos Ruiz (LAD), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (DET), Christian Vazquez (BOS)

There was some hope for a few of these guys before the season began. There is no hope now. Everyone here is old or has definitively proven he can’t hit MLB pitching. Or both. Maybe if you really squint you can see a bounce-back for Montero or Navarro, but eventually a squint just turns into closing your eyes (people forget this). These guys are useless for our purposes.

Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Christian Bethancourt (SD), Austin Hedges (SD), Chris Herrmann (ARI), Caleb Joseph (BAL), Sandy Leon (BOS), Cameron Rupp (PHI), Andrew Susac (MIL), Tony Wolters (COL), Mike Zunino (SD)

You might reasonably decide to gamble on some of these catchers in deeper leagues next year, but you probably won’t feel great doing so. Leon hits in a great offense and park, but something tells me that a.438 BABIP ain’t sustainable for a guy with the speed of an XBox One update. Rupp and Herrmann have put together decent-enough years, but they’re only mildly interesting and face playing time uncertainties moving forward. What you just read about Rupp and Herrmann qualifies as Joseph’s and Barnhart’s upside.

Hedges has been a terror in Triple-A and terrible in the majors. Bethancourt still looks like his understudy. Susac remains interesting but hasn’t proven anything at the MLB level. Wolters is only getting mentioned here because Coors made Nick Hundley interesting once. Zunino is back and doing mildly improved Mike Zunino things. He’ll hit for power but he’ll kill you everywhere else.

Maybe two of these guys finish as top-15 options next year if you’re lucky. It’s not an inspiring group.

Falling Fast

Francisco Cervelli (PIT), Travis d’Arnaud (NYM)+*, Yan Gomes (CLE), Nick Hundley (COL), Devin Mesoraco (CIN), Derek Norris (SD), Kurt Suzuki (MIN), Stephen Vogt (OAK)*, Matt Wieters (BAL)

This is the first tier where you’ll find some names worthy of serious consideration, but it’s really not looking good for most of these assets. It may seem odd to list a 27-year-old as falling fast, but we can’t trust d’Arnaud to stay on the field or be especially impactful when he is playing. Sure, he’s got upside, but not enough to slot him higher. Derek Norris is Mike Zunino without the draft pedigree. Gomes is now a .204/.240/.359 hitter over his past 651 PA/two seasons.

I hate Devin Mesoraco. I was high on him as a prospect, then finally gave up on him in 2013. He made me look like an idiot in 2014. I hopped back on the bandwagon and he’s made me look like an idiot since. Also are you kinda handsome or sort of scary-looking or what? So done with you.

Vogt has declined in pretty much every way since his career year in 2015 (aside from AVG). He has awful counting stats that don’t figure to get better as he gets older and the A’s stay bad. Wieters is an okay source of power and an eternal source of frustration. If you expected Hundley to hit .300 again you have no one to blame but yourself. Suzuki is having a solid year but offers the dependability of a Pokemon Go server. Cervelli’s age, lack of power, and inability to stay healthy dull the allure of his solid hit tool.

I think d’Arnaud is still worth hoarding in dynasty leagues and you could make an argument for Wieters or Vogt, but there’s very little upside here, and that’s a big part of the reason why fantasy catcher is so desolate right now. Mesoraco, Wieters, and d’Arnaud were supposed to be stars. Norris was a really interesting prospect. Gomes’ early career was so promising. Yet here we are.

Young Gambles

Willson Contreras (CHC)+*, Gary Sanchez (NYY)+*, Kyle Schwarber (CHC)+, Blake Swihart (BOS)+

Do you like to gamble? Contreras went from interesting prospect to MLB starter in like 18 months. His early success, supporting cast, and potential for multi-position eligibility make him pretty attractive, though the lack of track record is a little concerning. Sanchez has taken the opposite career path as Contreras, riding the prospect roller coaster for what feels like a decade. Somehow he’s still only 23, and good lord has he taken the majors by storm. He won’t hit like this forever, of course, but a top-10 backstop finish in 2017 is not out of the question. Neither is him slumping and failing to produce as a top-20 guy.

Schwarber and Swihart should give you a serious case of the sads. One would anticipate Schwarber being ready to go for 2017, but it would be reasonable for the Cubs to move him off catcher permanently given the leg injury and his shaky defense. You can say pretty much the exact same thing about Swihart, though his glove is better and his bat worse than Schwarber’s. Neither of these presumed young studs played enough at catcher (or anywhere) to qualify for positional eligibility next season, which is pretty disheartening.

Probable 2017 Starters

Welington Castillo (ARI)*, Evan Gattis (HOU)+*, Yasmani Grandal (LAD)+*, Jonathan Lucroy (TEX)+*, Russell Martin (TOR)*, Brian McCann (NYY)*, Yadier Molina (STL)*, Salvador Perez (KC)+*, Buster Posey (SF)+*, Wilson Ramos (WAS)+*, J.T. Realmuto (MIA)+*

We’re not gonna spend time on Posey, who is clearly the best dynasty-league catcher, or Lucroy, who, despite what Bret Sayre would have you believe about Schwarber, is clearly the runner-up.

It gets more interesting at no. 3. If you think Schwarber is going to retain C eligibility, it might be him. Realmuto doesn’t hit for a ton of power but he’s young, runs a bit, and is trending up. Ramos is having an outstanding 2016, and while you can’t bank on him staying healthy you can bank on his talent. If you value predictability above all else, Perez’s .260 average, 20 homers and decent counting stats are attractive.

The older guys on this list have more warts but tend to have more power as well. Grandal looks like he could challenge for 30 homers next season and drives in a lot of runs for a catcher, but the average hurts. Martin looked done earlier this year but has rebounded to settle into his late-career norms. Castillo’s power dip is disappointing but he’s fairly reliable. Gattis has caught 46 games so far this season, which is incredible. Every additional year of C eligibility we get from him is a hairy, burly blessing.

I considered dropping McCann to “Falling Fast.” He’s a lock for 20-plus homers, but he can’t hit for average and his RBI total plummeted this year. Molina is the mold-breaker, hitting for a good average but with no power to speak of. You’re not in great shape if one of the last four guys is your dynasty catcher, but you’ll live for another year or two.

That’s it for the MLB guys; 11 players in the “probable starters” category with a few more interesting names in the Young Gambles and Fading Fast tiers each. Considering many dynasty leagues feature 20-plus teams and a few catchers get hurt every year, there’s just not enough established talent to go around.

So what about the backstops on the farm? Well, it’s not desolate, but it’s not great either.

On the Farm (for 2017)

Jorge Alfaro (PHI)+, Austin Barnes (LAD), Jacob Nottingham (MIL)+, Carson Kelly (STL), Andrew Knapp (PHI), Reese McGuire (PIT), Tom Murphy (COL)+, Chance Sisco (BAL)+

Alfaro had a very encouraging year with the Phillies, cutting his strikeout rate a bit, hitting for power and earning a September cup of coffee with the big-league club. Don’t expect him to start 2017 in the majors, but don’t be shocked if he’s there for good and contributing by June or July. That being said, I wouldn’t bank on him for a ton of fantasy production until he’s a year or two into his big league career.

Nottingham struggled with an aggressive assignment in Double-A as a 21-year-old, but there’s still plenty to like. Sisco didn’t hit for power but did everything else in Double-A. He could be in line for substantial 2017 playing time in Wieters doesn’t re-sign in Baltimore. Murphy started slow and battled injuries, but he ended up positioning himself well for 2017. He’s probably the best value buy here.

I could take or leave the rest of the guys on this list. Barnes is more interesting in real life than he is in fantasy. Knapp should be behind Alfaro and Rupp on the Phillies’ long-term depth charts. McGuire has a great glove but hasn’t shown he can hit, though aggressive assignments may be partially to blame. Kelly came on strong this season but the scouting reports don’t always match the production.

Long story short, I think Murphy is the only guy here likely to do much for your fantasy team in 2017, with Alfaro and Sisco looking at an outside shot of doing the same. Blergh.

On the Farm (for 2018 and beyond)

Chris Betts (TB), Zack Collins (CHW)+, Brett Cumberland (ATL), Francisco Mejia (CLE)+, Max Pentecost (TOR), Tyler Stephenson (CIN), Will Smith (LAD), Luis Torrens (NYY), Meibrys Viloria (KC)

Breaking down these guys in-depth would require a whole additional post. Let’s just say that only Mejia, Pentecost and mayyyyybe Collins have a shot at being fantasy factors by 2018. There’s some talent here, but most of it isn’t very close to helping you win.

With all that said and done, I think it’s worth investing in the very top of the catcher prospect market, but not diving very deep beyond that. Off the top of my head and with absolutely no real research put into this statement, I’d guess that Alfaro, Nottingham, Sisco, Mejia, and Collins are the only fantasy catcher prospects likely to make a fantasy prospect 101 this offseason, and those are indeed the only five guys I’d be excited about rostering in a dynasty league. That doesn’t mean you should stay away from guys like Torrens, Viloria, or Pentecost if those are the best options on the market, of course. It just means there’s not a deep crop of catching prospects I’d be actively gunning for.

***

DYNASTY LANDSCAPE FOR 2017

So, how do you go about improving your backstop situation if you want to compete next season but don’t have one of the top four or five options on this list? If you have any of the players who have asterisks next to their names, my expert (lol) advice would be to … stand pat. Those players consolidated for easy viewing (and in very rough order) are:

  • Buster Posey
  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Salvador Perez
  • Evan Gattis
  • Wilson Ramos
  • Yasmani Grandal
  • Gary Sanchez
  • Willson Contreras
  • J.T. Realmuto
  • Russell Martin
  • Travis d’Arnaud
  • Brian McCann
  • Welington Castillo
  • Yadier Molina
  • Stephen Vogt

Are you going to feel great if you head into 2017 with your catcher as one of the last few guys on this list? No. But it’s probably not worth paying for a marginal upgrade.

If you have Schwarber or Swihart and none of the other guys listed above … well, it gets trickier. It’s tempting to say you should just hold out hope that they earn catcher eligibility early next season and should look to patch your way through the early days with a Wieters/Norris/Cervelli. If you play in a league in which they’ll have C eligibility from the get-go based on the past, this is fine.

But if you’re playing in a format that will strip C eligibility from these guys and make them earn it back, you need a backup plan. Schwarber is the worst defensive catcher on his team by a longshot and now has a serious leg injury … well … under his belt. It’s pretty easy to envision the Cubs deciding to move him to the outfield full-time. Swihart’s leg injury is less troublesome, but it’s pretty clear Dave Dombrowski doesn’t believe in him as a defender. If he’s traded, he’s the better long-term bet to catch. If he’s not, he might be an outfielder, too. You can’t wait weeks or months in the hopes these guys will earn C eligibility back.

If you don’t have any of the Young Guns or any of the top-15 names listed above, my advice would be to either go big or to play it safe. Put together a compelling offer for Posey, Lucroy, or Perez, or gamble on hitting on someone like Murphy, Leon, Wieters, or Cervelli. If you can get a guy in the middle for cheap, go for it, but there’s no use sinking a ton of resources into unproven guys like Sanchez or Contreras or players who are clearly trending down like Martin, McCann, or Castillo.

Maybe a bad team with an older catcher will be willing to sell on the cheap. Maybe you’ll luck into the 2017 version of 2015 Cervelli or 2016 Leon. Maybe you can snag Murphy on the cheap and get McCann-like production for very little. You’re better off going this route than giving up real value for a marginal talent.

THREE-YEAR DYNASTY LANDSCAPE

If you’re rebuilding, the catcher list looks substantially different. You’re mostly okay if you have one of the players listed above with a plus sign next to his name. Those players consolidated for easy viewing (and in very rough order) are:

  • Buster Posey
  • Jonathan Lucroy
  • Salvador Perez
  • Kyle Schwarber
  • Gary Sanchez
  • Willson Contreras
  • Yasmani Grandal
  • Wilson Ramos
  • Evan Gattis
  • J.T. Realmuto
  • Travis d’Arnaud
  • Blake Swihart
  • Jorge Alfaro
  • Francisco Mejia
  • Jacob Nottingham
  • Zack Collins

I’d say that honorable mention among this group goes to Sisco and Murphy. If you own one of these 16 players, you can be somewhat optimistic about your long-term prospects at fantasy catcher. If not, you’ll need to either trade for the one you believe in most or be prepared to cobble together a near-to-medium-term future with some of the veterans who are aging out and with some of the pop-up producers we see at the position every year.

The important thing is not to waste roster spots on prospects who you think might be back-end catchers some day. Don’t waste your time on mildly interesting guys like Murphy, Knapp, Kelly, or Pentecost until they’re within a half-season or so of receiving MLB playing time. Trust yourself instead to prey on post-prospect catchers who often develop late, or to find teams willing to undervalue decent veteran backstops as they rebuild.

Overall, it’s not a very inspiring scene for fantasy catchers right now. That’s unlikely to change in the near-term future, and you need to plan accordingly. But hey, it could be worse. You could’ve passed on Posey in real life.

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wilymo
9/16
there's still two seats left on the bruce maxwell dune buggy
wilymo
9/20
one seat now
touchstoneQu
9/16
Okay, so I'm in an AL-only 12-team Scoresheet league, so admittedly my standards are pretty low: I need at least 2 or 3 AL catchers on my roster. (The penalty for not having enough catcher at-bats each week is pretty high.) So I guess that explains why I see glimmers of hope in some of the catcher groups that have been written off. Still. James McCann v LHP in 2016: .265/.333/.522, 8 HRs in 126 PA. Tyler Flowers v RHP in 2016: .288/.370/.488, 5 HRs in 184 PA. (Hell, Flowers is having a pretty decent season, overall.) That's a pretty good platoon! Yeah, but, my bar is low I admit.
jfranco77
9/16
Cervelli has zero home runs. ZERO. In 91 games. Though he has somehow stolen 5 bases. And your well-reasoned argument is that I should at least consider keeping him for $3 in my 15-team, 2 catcher mixed league. Catchers, man.
cdt719
9/16
Reese McGuire is on the Blue Jays now after being part of the Drew Hutchison trade.