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Don’t Sweat the Catcher Position This Season

Thomas McFeeley Staff Writer January 13, 2016 1:38PM EDT
Sometimes something is so ridiculous it’s laughable. The Patriots’ run over the last 15 years. Michael Phelps in the pool. Odell Beckham Jr.

It works the other way as well. Catchers are so bad in Fantasy baseball it almost hurts. And most leagues force you to draft TWO of them. When a catcher emerges as a solid Fantasy contributor, we worry about not only injuries, but a shift in position.

So it’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “All catchers suck,” and just pick two names off the pile late in your draft. But your Fantasy championship could come down to a home run or two, or the maddening batting average category. A catcher hitting .220 might give you a dozen runs, but he might also pull you down just as far in batting average. Proceed with caution and know the risks.

Last year, I told you that you could wait and draft Yasmani Grandal and/or Derek Norris late in your draft and be very competitive at catcher. Grandal did provide 16 HRs and I hope his .234 average in 355 AB didn’t hurt you too much. Norris? He gave you 14 HRs and a .250 average. We’re not talking MVP-caliber players, but I bet you’d take 30 HRs and a .240-plus average out of your catchers.

Travis d'Arnaud could deliver a 20 HR season in 2016. Photo Credit: Paul Hadsall

Travis d’Arnaud could deliver a 20 HR season in 2016 if he can stay healthy.
Photo Credit: Paul Hadsall

So, know the market. Know the risks. And don’t be afraid to ride a catcher carousel; stream the hot hand for a week or two. Maybe trade a hot catcher for a decent mid-line starter. It’s bad, but it doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud bad.

Let’s take a look:

Kyle Schwarber – Schwarber is very much a man without a position, but the good news is that he played exactly 20 games at catcher last season. That’s good and bad news. He’ll be in demand, with 16 HRs and 43 RBIs (and even 3 steals) in just 273 plate appearances. He owned a 13 percent walk rate, helping him to finish sixth in runs at catcher in just a half season. He will be in demand at the draft table and Cubs hitters will generally be in vogue. I say pass. Schwarber’s a power source, but he’s not a very good hitter. Of all catchers with 150-plus plate appearances, only Alex Avila and Mike Zunino had worse contact rates than Schwarber’s 67.8 percent. He’s a strikeout machine. He’s also a terrible defensive player. He was somewhat lucky last season, and he will experience long slumps this season. He might struggle to get into the lineup at times. For a catcher he’s wonderful, but any draft slot higher than number 70, to me, is a FLUSH.

Travis d’Arnaud – The Mets catcher is a poor man’s Kyle Schwarber. In 268 plate appearances (5 fewer than Schwarber), d’Arnaud produced 12 HRs and 41 RBIs (4 HRs and 2 RBIs fewer than Schwarber) while hitting 22 points higher at .268. Injuries are a concern, so bid or draft with some caution. But if he can play in 120 games, I think d’Arnaud is almost a lock for 20 HRs. Early drafts have him going in the 120s, which is a steal, especially in a keeper league. CRUSH

Devin Mesoraco – Mesoraco is a player who will be all over the rankings and draft spots this spring. I was very high on him last spring after a 25 HR/80 RBI season, but a hip injury shelved him for most of the year. A hip injury is no joke, especially for a catcher, so don’t expect a lot of experts to be high on Mesoraco. I say because he’s 28, not 38, he can return to form and provide nice numbers from the catcher position (assuming he slots back there in the spring). Watch his Average Draft Position this spring, know the risk, and try to grab him as a second catcher. Bump him up if you must because, well, it’s catcher. CRUSH

Matt Wieters – The rare non-pitcher Tommy John surgery cost him most of 2014. Upon his return mid-season in 2015, he suffered wrist and hamstring injuries as well, so this 30-year-old catcher will be in the discount bin. He’s not likely to be one of the first 10 catchers off the board, but with any health and his skill set, he could easily climb into Top 10 status. I always think catchers are worth the risk because you’ll likely be shuffling free agent catchers, so wouldn’t it be nice if one returned nice bounce back value? If Wieters is being drafted outside of the Top 200, then it’s an easy call. CRUSH

Josh Phegley – Much like last year’s Grandal/Norris crushes, Phegley showed good power, a fly ball tendency and a decent average: Nine HRs, 34 RBIs, and a .249 average in 243 plate appearances. Stephen Vogt fared even better in OAK, but Vogt performed in his age 30 season and Phegley is three years younger. Vogt will be drafted much higher, but Phegley is a really nice late catcher who will provide some power but not drag down your team’s batting average. Keep his name in the back of your head on draft day. CRUSH

Wellington Castillo – Prototypical Fantasy catcher. Great power, ordinary average. After playing for three teams last year, Castillo was named the starting catcher for the Diamondbacks this winter. If he stays in that role, expect at least the 19 HRs and 57 RBIs he produced in 378 trips to the plate last year. But given his average fly ball distance was about 300 feet (43rd in the league) we know his power is real. His .237 is the drag here, but he’s in a good hitter’s park and I think he’s a steal anywhere after ADP 150. CRUSH

Salvador Perez – When I flush someone, I’m not saying they aren’t a good contributor to your Fantasy team, but mostly that I don’t like their draft spot/value relative to their skill set. Perez will be on almost every Top 10 catcher list, and with 21 HRs, 70 RBIs and a .260 batting average, he should be. I’m telling you, do not draft Salvador Perez. Those numbers are fine but he played in 142 games to accumulate them. He walks less than three percent of the time. That’s REALLY hard to do. He swings at 43 percent of pitches outside the zone, contributing to a 14 percent infield fly rate. He makes decent contact but with a 42 percent groundball rate, I don’t see him topping his numbers. I would assume 15 HRs and 55 RBIs. He’s either got to break down a little and/or be punished for his free swinging ways. The draft price, for me, is just too rich for the risk. FLUSH

J.T. Realmuto – Another catcher posting 10 HRs and 47 RBIs, but there are some big differences. Realmuto batted .259, he stole eight bases, and he’s just 25 years old this season. Don’t go crazy, as the Marlins’ lineup is nothing to write home about, particularly if/when Giancarlo Stanton gets hurt. However, in terms of catchers with true breakout potential, I think Realmuto is the real deal. Monitor his ADP in the spring and pounce 10 spots before that. CRUSH

Yadier Molina – It’s over, right? He’ll be 33 this year, coming off an injury. Managed but four HRs in over 500 plate appearances. I just don’t see a full year of production. And there’s not enough power for me to be interested. FLUSH

Wilson Ramos – Who doesn’t love 15 HRs and 68 RBIs from a catcher? When it comes with terrible plate skills, I don’t. How can you possibly hit even 15 HRs with a 56 percent groundball rate and a 25 percent fly ball rate? He swings a lot and almost refuses to walk, so he does put the ball in play. But come on, Wilson. You’re playing with fire. FLUSH

Caleb Joseph – A part-time option, sharing time with Wieters, but in his age-29 sophomore season he showed good power. Notched 11 HRs and 49 RBIs in 355 plate appearances. He batted only .239, but I think that jumps to the .255 range this season. He owns decent plate/contact skills and a 17 percent line drive rate should improve enough to afford him a few more hits. I don’t *love* his age, but I’m banking that he’s another catcher who blooms later than other hitters, and he’ll be available late in drafts since he is technically a backup. Wieters/Joseph is a rare case in which I’d draft both catchers from the same team and play them both as starters. CRUSH

I wouldn’t worry about drafting a catcher too early. If there is a run, show restraint and grab another talented starting pitcher instead. If you like a guy like d’Arnaud, have at it, but similar power numbers at least will be available late in your draft. If you drafted good batting average hitters earlier in your draft, you’ll have a nice selection of catchers late. Besides, catcher is the true waiver wire position, so don’t sweat it at the draft table.

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