This week is catcher week here at The Turf Sports. And by that I mean I have arbitrarily decided to make this week the one where I talk about catchers. No one else on staff is writing about catchers here that I know of. Just me. CATCHER WEEK. BIG TIME STUFF!
I’ll be honest with you guys, this is a tough position to write about. It’s very difficult to name 20 catchers that are worth rostering, and after about #14 (spoiler: it’s Robinson Chirinos!), they’re all pretty much dart throws. Let me say this before we begin. I don’t buy into the position scarcity nonsense and using that to justify grabbing a catcher too early. As much as I like Sanchez and Contreras, they are going far too high for my blood. Yes, they’re far superior options compared to the rest of the field, but I can’t justify passing on the other positional players/pitchers going around their ADPs.
Missed the previous rankings? Here they are!
That being said, let’s see what we’ve got behind the dish!
TOP 20 CATCHERS FOR 2018
Tier 1: It’s Just Gary Sanchez.
1. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
Catcher seems to be offensively bleaker than ever this year, and Sanchez is in a tier by himself. He followed up his breakout 2016 half-season with a full-year of top-tier stats by producing a line of 79 R/33 HR/90 RBI. He led all catchers in each one of those categories, and most projections have him repeating that feat again this season. He also put up a very solid .278 batting average last year, and based on xBA track record and projections for 2018, there’s no reason to think he won’t do that again. One word of warning with Sanchez: the price is sky-high and growing thanks to the positional scarcity factor. Sure, you want a solid catcher, and no one else provides the floor of Sanchez. However, he’s not worth the pick if you’re leaving guys like Jose Abreu on the board. Don’t get carried away here.
Projection: 70 R/30 HR/95 RBI/2 SB/.280
Tier 2: These Guys Are OK!
2. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
Contreras never really profiled as a homerun hitter in the minors, but he has seen tremendous growth over the last two seasons since coming to Wrigley Field. More plate appearances at the major league level have equaled more power for the young backstop. Last year, he built off his 2016 debut by doubling almost all his counting stats (including the 21 HR) with just 100 more plate appearances. He improved his BB/K rate, and he’s now put up 2 seasons around 0.45 in that category. It may seem low compared to other positions, but it’s great for catchers. His OPS took another step forward as well as he finished with a .855 mark. What’s most notable about his 2017, though, is his tremendous 2nd half where he batted over .300, greatly improved his plate discipline, and made lefties his b***h. Oh, and that improved 2nd half contact rate of 78% wasn’t too shabby either. There are tons of arrows pointing up for him, and if he can build off that excellent 2nd half, he could be closing the gap on Sanchez in a hurry.
Projection: 60 R/25 HR/75 RBI/5 SB/.275
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
The former top option at the position has taken a step back thanks to some sexier options, but do not forget about ol’ reliable here. Sure, the power is vanishing more and more every single year, and he’s no longer a 20 (or even 15) HR threat, but there are few who can match Posey in terms of plate discipline at catcher. He’s still among the elite in batting average and OBP and remains an excellent buy to boost those respective categories. In fact, 3 out of the last 4 seasons have seen him log an average better than .310, and his OBP cracked .400 a season ago. That’s Votto-esque type production! Spoiler: you won’t find anyone else with those numbers in this article. Even with regression the last few years, he’s still a great hitter and possesses a mid-80s contact percentage. There is no indication we should expect anything less this season. He isn’t the across-the-board contributor he once was, but you could do far worse.
Projection: 60 R/12 HR/72 RBI/5 SB/.310
4. J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
Oy vey, Miami. I feel so bad for guys like Realmuto and Bour who have talent but are just left standing among the rubble that is the Marlins’ lineup. There won’t be much around either guy this year, and you can knock their stats down a peg as a result, but that doesn’t mean Realmuto is void of value. In fact, he’s shown improvement across the board in his counting stats each of the last three seasons, but it’s the speed that really drives his value. Unfortunately, he did lose a step in 2017 as he went from 12 to 8 SB. I wouldn’t be too worried about that, though. Stolen base fluctuation is tough to predict, and the speed skills aren’t going away while he’s entering his prime. On top of the speed, he’s flirted with a .300 batting average each of the last two seasons. The gains in HR/FB rate, flyball percentage, and hard contact rate last season make me think he can get to 15 HR or more this season. It’s a garbage lineup, but he’s still a talented player.
Projection: 55 R/15 HR/50 RBI/10 SB/.290
5. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
Ol’ Yady found the fountain of youth last season as he blasted the most homeruns (18) in his career since 2012. It was also the highest RBI total of his career, and he even swiped 9 bases as well! Come on, speedy old guy! Age is just a number! Anyways, the batting average did as expected and dropped off to .273 from the unsustainable .307 from 2016. He did see his BB/K rate rise a bit to 0.38 in 2017, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the power growth means that number stays in that range. That’s all well and good, but can we depend on Yadier to produce the big lumber again this year? Well, last year was the 2nd year in a row of hard contact growth, and it was his highest HR/FB rate since the outlier 2012 season where he hit 22 HR. He seems to be trading the contact skills for power, and the almighty Statcast supports this finding. He’s up there in age, but Yadier tends to stay on the field more than most.
6. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
Hey, look! It’s another catcher surrounded by a garbage lineup. They’re everywhere. Perez has seen his homerun total go up each of the last 4 years, but it definitely feels like he’s reached the peak. I think an expectation of 20-25 this season is a fair one. While he does feel like one of the safer power options at the position in terms of homerun total, there may not be much else going on here thanks to his middle-of-the-road average and lack of other counting stats. His dip in batting average last season can be blamed on a rough second half where he battled injuries, but he should be able to get back to .260 assuming health. His minuscule walk rate makes him a liability in OBP leagues (.297 last year!!!), but the 20-25 HR floor balances out the OPS with a decent slugging number. He’s been pretty consistent over the last few seasons, and even factoring in a dip in runs scored and RBI, he’s still got the stuff for a top 5 fantasy season.
Projection: 55 R/23 HR/70 RBI/1 SB/.260
Tier 3: Lower Your Standards. You’re Just a 6, After All.
7. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners
Raise your hand if you have ever felt personally victimized by Mike Zunino. Everyone, basically? That’s what I thought. Zunino is doing his best to reel us back in with a 25 HR season a year ago and a not completely terrible average, but I’m not falling for it! Jokes. He’s #7 on this list, and I’m kind of in, tbh. He has always had massive upside in terms of the power, but it’s those seemingly endless slumps he goes through every year that burns us. In the past, you’ve pretty much had to draft another catcher for when he inevitably gets sent down to AAA. If you drafted him at all. Despite the roller coaster of emotions he always puts us through, he actually showed some signs of legitimate improvement last season. Every aspect of his triple slash got better, and he got up to a double-digit walk rate last season. He improved his hard contact and HR/FB rates for the 2nd year in a row, his hit percentage took a step forward, and he’s finally showing signs of putting it all together. He went on a tear in the 2nd half last year especially in September, and there is legitimate 30 HR upside here. He’s a solid contender for a surprise top 5 finish at the position this year.
Projection: 55 R/26 HR/75 RBI/1 SB/.245
8. Welington Castillo, Chicago White Sox
Beware the outlier year! Beef showed big improvement last year in a myriad of categories including homeruns, batting average, OPS, HR/FB rate, and flyball percentage. He gave lefties haunting, recurring nightmares all year, and he really turned on the jets in the 2nd half with a line of 23 R/12 HR/28 RBI/.292. Like so many other catchers on this list, his BB/K rate will never be the stuff of legends sitting in the mid 0.20 range, but that’s standard for the position. He’s maintained a solid contact percentage over the last few years, but the xBA tells us to expect a return to the .250 range rather than the .280 from last season. I don’t expect a full season of what he did in the 2nd half last year, and regression should be expected. However, I think he’s a safe bet for 15-20 HR and a decent average with middle-of-the-road counting stats.
Projection: 45 R/18 HR/60 RBI/0 SB/.260
9. Evan Gattis, Houston Astros
Remember that outlier year I mentioned with Castillo? Well, Gattis was doomed to regress last season after his 2016 saw him crush 32 HR. He fell off more than people expected with a disappointing 12, but you can blame the lingering injuries that limited him to just 84 games. Even with the loss of power, he improved his batting average for the second year in a row, improved his contact percentage by 10 points, and raised his BB/K rate for the third year in a row. As you can probably imagine with the loss in homeruns, he experienced a big decrease in HR/FB rate, but it’s easy to call for some positive movement back towards his career average. Ron Shandler tells us to look for a bounce back here especially if he can build off that 83% contact rate and gain back some homers. 2016 won’t happen again, but full health should make him a viable option in most leagues. He also benefits from a lineup that will once again be a World Series contender.
Projection: 55 R/18 HR/70 RBI/0 SB/.260
10. Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays
Health issues to start the season a year ago meant he didn’t really get going until the 2nd half. After the break, he was able to improve his batting average greatly from the injury-influenced .242 he put up the in the 1st half. The injuries also may have caused the 8% dip in contact percentage as well. The 22 HR from 2016 feels like an outlier, and with that over 50% groundball rate he routinely puts up, you shouldn’t expect it anyway. Now completely healthy, I do expect Ramos to bounce back and gain back some batting average and contact percentage. He’s always lived in the mid-80s in the latter category, and I could see him challenging .270. As much as I can see a positive gain in many areas, a knee injury to a catcher on the wrong side of 30 makes me very nervous.
Projection: 45 R/14 HR/60 RBI/0 SB/.265
11. Brian McCann, Houston Astros
It doesn’t get much better from here, folks! McCann has an interesting profile, but the two biggest factors you have to accept right off the bat with him is age and health. He’s 34, a lifelong catcher, and based on his 2nd half decline last season, all those innings are really catching up to him. Please tell me you saw what I did there. Anyways, McCann started well last year with 10 HR and a .265 batting average, but it all went to hell in a handbasket as he fell to .209 with 8 HR in the 2nd half. That’s with a sub-.300 OBP too. Ouch. He struggled particularly against lefties, and if that continues, we could see the Astros get cute with a platoon this season. Bright spots of 2017 include the slight gains he made in BB/K and contact rate. He also kept his HR/FB rate stable despite the second half struggles. However, the fact remains there are major questions about his health moving forward, and the fact that he failed to hit 20 HR for the first time in a minute last year adds to my worries.
Projection: 50 R/19 HR/65 RBI/0 SB/.245
Tier 4: The Final Tier for Relevance
12. Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
It looks like 2016’s 27 HR was the power peak as Grandal was able to “only” hit 22 HR a year ago. He did, however, gain some points on batting average going to a still-mediocre .247. Grandal used to be one of my secret weapons in OBP leagues with his quietly productive numbers in that format, but he posted a disappointing .308 in 2017 thanks to a plummet in his walk rate. What used to be a 15% BB rate suddenly dropped to 8% a year ago. Perhaps he was selling out for more contact? Anywho, I still have faith that Grandal can bring a power bat to the table albeit with a less-than-stellar average. The lineup is once again rock solid, and there are production opportunities aplenty. The main concern I have with Grandal is how much playing time Austin Barnes will be able to steal away from him.
Projection: 50 R/21 HR/55 RBI/0 SB/.240
13. Austin Barnes, Los Angeles Dodgers
Yes, I am putting the two Dodger backstops right next to each other. Even though I anticipate Barnes being on the short-side of the platoon, the upside is there for him to force Grandal to the bench in a hurry. Barnes is a tad behind this spring thanks to an elbow injury, but he should be fine to start the season barring a setback. As for the skills, we are forced to do a lot of speculating here as we have a painfully small (but very encouraging) sample size to work with. In his 218 at-bats in 2017, Barnes posted a promising .289/.408/.486 triple slash. He also posted a 15% walk rate with an 80% contact rate. He flashed some speed and has me thinking he could challenge for double-digit steals as well. Oh, and he should qualify at second base this season. All those factors make me want to shoot Barnes up this list as he has many factors pointing up and to a potential breakout, but with the playing time questions, I have to put him here until further notice.
Projection: 30 R/7 HR/35 RBI/5 SB/.260
14. Robinson Chirinos, Texas Rangers
You have a question to ask yourself when it comes to Chirinos this year. Do you believe in the 1st half, slugger or do you believe in the 2nd half, patient contact hitter? You see, it was a tale of two halves for Chirinos as 12 of his 17 HR came in the first half. He was clearly selling out for power and sacrificing batting average as a result. In the 2nd half, Chirinos only hit 5 HR as his approach suddenly changed. He started trading flyballs for groundballs, showed more plate discipline, made less hard contact, and got more hits. All of that meant he was able to hit for .271 with a .384 OBP as a result in the 2nd half. So, who is the real Chirinos? I tend to side with the latter as the first half slugger feels like an outlier compared to his track record. Sure, it’s nice to hit the big fly, but he was more of a complete hitter when he changed his approach. He is getting up there in age, but he can be a sneaky productive option this year.
Projection: 45 R/12 HR/40 RBI/0 SB/.260
Tier 5: Stop Here For Leagues 12 Teams or Smaller
15. Chris Iannetta, Colorado Rockies
Add his name to the list of dudes who switched to an uppercut swing a year ago in order to jack more dongs. He unleashed the boom last season in Arizona and promptly set a career-high in homeruns with 17. This year, he moves to an even better hitter’s park in Coors, and so I wouldn’t call you crazy if you expect at least 15 HR again this season. His .254 batting average was his highest mark since 2014 in Los Angeles (Angels), and I’m very intrigued by the improved .354 OBP from a year ago. That was mainly thanks to a .390 OBP in the 2nd half, which came after he started getting more playing time. The walk rate was rock solid at 15%, and he also more than doubled his HR/FB rate from 2016. xBA says the improved .254 was legit, but don’t be surprised if he takes a slight step back. He is 35 after all. He will start the season behind the dish, but if he struggles, Tom Murphy may get a chance behind the plate. When he does, I feel it’s Murphy all the way.
Projection: 40 R/14 HR/40 RBI/0 SB/.250
16. Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets
Ron Shandler gives d’Arnaud a well-deserved F grade in terms of health in his forecaster, but I’d give him an F- personally. d’Arnaud is maybe one of the biggest “what could’ve been” at the position, and we can only dream about what he could do over the course of an entire (healthy) season. Despite the injuries, d’Arnaud was still able to post a respectable 16 HR with 57 RBI and a .244 average a year ago. His OBP stinks thanks to that small 6% walk rate, but he did post a solid low 80s contact rate that we can work with. He showed major improvement against lefties last year especially in the first half, and he began to hit more flyballs in general. That factor combined with improved hard contact and actually staying on the field meant an uptick in homeruns. Like Chirinos, he traded some of that power for average in the 2nd half, but it was an encouraging season from the once-promising prospect. Health is the name of the game here, and until he can show he’s good for at least ¾ of the season, he stays ranked towards the bottom.
Projection: 40 R/12 HR/50 RBI/0 SB/.255
17. Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
Hedges looks like a dude who will provide some 15-20 HR pop but absolutely cream you in batting average. He’s not the Joey Gallo of catchers, but I mean maybe he kind of is? You could make the case. I won’t. Anyway, Hedges has posted horrible batting averages since he got to the big leagues, and xBA says that’s exactly who he is. Although he slugged 18 HR a year ago, you had to swallow that unsightly .214 batting average and .262 OBP. Barf. And despite the almost 20 HR, his slugging was below .400. Miniscule walk rate, nearly 30% strikeout rate, contact rate in the 60% range…yeah I’m going to pass on Hedges. There’s power in them thurr hills, but you can find way better options.
Projection: 35 R/15 HR/40 RBI/1 SB/.215
18. Jonathan Lucroy, Free Agent
Homeboy just doesn’t have a team yet. I can’t rank a guy higher than this when he’s had the past few seasons Lucroy has…and he’s getting a late start on the year. He already has a lot to prove, so he’s just making it harder on himself quite frankly. Still, we can’t deny that he’s two years removed from a season in which he hit 67 R/24 HR/81 RBI with a triple slash of .292/.355/.500. So, what the heck happened last year? Well, for starters, he experienced a huge uptick in GB/FB rate as he rocked an over 50% groundball rate for the first time in his career. As you can imagine, this contributed to a bottoming-out of his HR/FB rate, and he lost 10% on his hard contact rate as well. Even though the contact rate stayed respectable at 88%, the hit percentage dipped, which is never good. There have been some injuries, but 2 out of his last 3 seasons have been well short of expectations, and there are too many red flags for my blood.
Projection: 40 R/10 HR/45 RBI/1 SB/.265
19. Jorge Alfaro, Philadelphia Phillies
There’s tons of raw power here, but it comes with one of the worst plate disciplines at the position. He’s still young and very raw, so don’t throw in the towel just yet, but we need to see major improvements. I wouldn’t anticipate a strikeout rate below 30%, and the 0.09 BB/K mark from last year doesn’t inspire confidence. In 114 plate appearances a year ago, he was able to post a line of 12 R/5 HR/14 RBI/.318, but the BABIP of .420 and the horrendous plate skills scream for regression. He also must improve upon that 65% contact rate. As bad as this all sounds, the scouts don’t hand out 70 Raw Power grades every day. He has potential, but there’s a long way to go.
Projection: 30 R/10 HR/40 RBI/1 SB/.230
20. Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians
And speaking of prospects, want to take a shot on Mejia? Terry Francona says Mejia will more than likely start at AAA Columbus, and I have to agree with Tito on this one. He struggled mightily in the 2nd half at AA last season, and it would seem that more time in the oven is necessary. Despite the struggles, Mejia was still able to produce a line of 52 R/14 HR/52 RBI/7 SB with a .297 average. Not bad for a guy who struggled, eh? If you don’t pay attention to prospect lists, first of all…you should. Second, know that Mejia is a guy who profiles with great contact skills, has the potential to hit .300, and the power is developing as well. He has the goods to shoot up this list in short order, but we probably won’t see him at the big league level until after the All-Star Break. Still, not a bad stash if you have the roster spots to do so.
Projection: 25 R/7 HR/20 RBI/5 SB/.260
Thanks for reading, and join us next week for the beginning of the outfield rankings!