This is the start of the 2016 Fantasy Baseball Outlook. This first segment of the series will feature a tiered ranking system of the top players at each position for the upcoming season. To keep it simple, this analysis assumes a 16-team mixed-league keeper format, with a standard 5×5 scoring system, and a 22 man roster with the following position requirements: C (1), 1B (1), 2B (1), 3B (1), SS (1), CI (1), MI (1), OF (5), UT (1), SP (5), RP (4). As the title of the post suggests, today we will start by focusing on the catchers.
All statistical information is referenced from FanGraphs.com
Buster Posey (SF)
This guy is the cream of the crop and has been for years now. He has lifetime batting average above .300 against both right handed (RHP) and left handed pitching (LHP), and makes consistent hard contact at the plate. Posey is the heart and soul of the San Francisco Giants and, given his durability and ability to play first-base, is a lock for 500+ at-bats per year. His profile stands alone in the catcher rankings once again this season.
Kyle Schwarber (CHC), Brian McCann (NYY)
Schwarber is a lock for keeper leagues. He may lose his catcher eligibility after this season, but no matter where he plays and whether he learns how to hit for a higher average, he has elite power. Then there is McCann who has caught more MLB games than Schwarber has played in total. I put him in the category because he is a proven asset. Another plus: his average fly ball ratio over the past three seasons lends itself to some juicy slugging potential at Yankee Stadium. Schwarber will go much earlier in the draft because of his keeper prospects and a bullish market, so McCann may offer the better value pick of the two.
Travis D’Arnaud (NYM), Jonathan Lucroy (MIL)
These two are high risk, high reward players. They both have concerning injury histories (D’Arnaud more so than Lucroy) and the latter has openly stated his desire to leave Milwaukee. Neither of these are promising developments for fantasy owners. D’Arnaud has a higher ceiling of the two if you’re willing to take the chance, but neither are comfortable picks.
Salvador Perez (KC), Russell Martin (TOR), J.T. Realmuto (MIA)
Perez plays nearly every inning for the Royals and although his walk rate somehow fell to just 2% last, his consistent contact rate (86%) and line drive tendency (21%) over the past three seasons show the potential to continue to succeed. Russell Martin took his talents to Canada in 2015 and once again produced solid numbers. While is high home-run to fly-ball ratio last season (21%) suggests some power regression and he struggled against right-handed pitching last year, Martin is the workhorse for Toronto whose offensive output will get help from that potent lineup. This last player in this tier is Realmuto. He may not sound familiar but remember the name. Only 24 years old, he has been a line drive hitter in his two seasons in MLB (27%) and makes consistent contact (82%). On top of the intriguing bat tool, he runs very well for a catcher and a 10+ SB season is conceivable.
Stephen Vogt (OAK), Nick Hundley (COL), Welington Castillo (AZ)
Vogt stands out statistically among these three but his struggles against left-handed pitching last season (.631 OPS) could land him in a platoon role for the Athletics this year. Rockies’ starting catcher Nick Hundley had the best season of his career in 2015 with a .300 batting average and 10 HR. He has historically been a better hitter against RHP in his career, but in the second half of last season exploded for a .915 OPS against LHP after managing a mere .575 OPS in the first half. Don’t expect a full repeat of 2015, but if he can carry this success against RHP in to this season Hundley will have a productive season at Coors Field. Finally, Castillo. He didn’t show the ability to make consistent contact last year (73%) but the 2015 ISO of .216 demonstrates his raw power. He has the potential to hit 15-20 HR, especially at Chase Field.
Miguel Montero (CHC), Yasmani Grandal (LAD), Blake Swihart (BOS), Yadier Molina (STL)
Montero and Grandal are both mid-level power options that won’t hit for much of an average. Montero simultaneously had his contact rate drop to 70% and line drive rate rise to 26% last season, which led to a substantial power increase. Meanwhile, at 27 years old, Grandal has had trouble making contact over the past three season (73%) and hits for a low batting average. He is the starting’ catcher for the Dodgers, A.J Ellis is sure to take some at bats. Swihart is in this tier because of his keeper value. He is a blossoming hitter and has above average speed for a catcher. The problem in the short term is Red Sox’s catching depth, as he and Vasquez will likely to split the bulk of the time this season. Then there is Yadier Molina. Long gone are the days of Molina’s fantasy prominence. He has proven himself a line drive hitter that makes consistent contact, but he is no longer going to provide double digit home runs. Will play every day if he avoids injury, but don’t expect the Yadi of the past.
Derek Norris (SD), Francisco Cervelli (PIT), Yan Gomes (CLE)
Yan Gomes has injury history that is worrisome, and while he has hit a lot of line drives in the last two seasons (25%), his low contact (71%) and walk (3%) rates do not show me a comfortable hitter at the plate. Cervelli will catch everyday for the Pirates IF he can stay healthy, but that is a big if. His high contact (78%) and line drive rates (25%) produce a high average but the problem is he is a one category contributor. Norris, conversely, had trouble making contact last season (75%) and exhibited a troubling platoon split (810 OPS vL, 678 OPS vR), neither of which inspire optimism. Austin Hedges and Christian Bethancourt are knocking on the door for his duties and a platoon in San Diego is the likely conclusion this season.
Devin Mesoraco (CIN), Wilson Ramos (WAS)
Devin Mesoraco, like Yan Gomes, is another risky player. I’m staying away him because of his low line drive (13.9%) and hard-hit ball rates (19.4%) in limited time at the end of last season. He is also coming off of hip surgery. He offers potential but has a lot to prove. Wilson Ramos seems to be on the decline as well. His contact rate has plummeted in each of the past two seasons and his average ground ball rate over the past three seasons (56%) does not suggest a power rebirth. What keeps owners interested in both of these catchers is the potential power output, but it does not look promising.
Get a top tier catcher or you’ll be fighting for the best of the worst. A common theme among the is consistency vs high risk, high reward. I tend to favor consistency at the catcher position, but it all depends on your strategy as an owner. My player to target from this list is J.T. Realmuto. He will handle the primary catching responsibilities for the Marlins this year and is potential keeper who could produce 15 HR and 10 SB for years to come.
Fishing for Prospects:
Before concluding each week, there will be a prospect you should keep an eye on throughout this season as a potential keeper for your team down the road. Depending on how many keepers your league allows this portion may or may not offer relevance. Fair warning on looking for keepers at the catcher position – they’re very rarely a good investment.
Reese McGuire (PIT)
The Pirates selected McGuire out of Kentwood Senior High School in Washington with 14th overall in the first round of the 2013 MLB draft. Now just age 20, McGuire has progressed smoothly in his two seasons of professional baseball and played last season in the Advanced Class-A Florida State League. The Pirates developmental philosophy for catchers stresses defense over offense, which McGuire as bought in to. This may hinder his progression as a hitter but puts him on a faster track to make his debut at PNC Park. McGuire’s naturally advanced, high contact approach from the left-hand batters box offers promise as a hitter, and with more time to develop he could become a strong catcher in MLB. Don’t expect him on the Pirates roster this year, but down the road McGuire is a name to keep an eye on.
We will move on to first-basemen next week.
Tags: Blake Swihart, Brian McCann, Buster Posey, Derek Norris, Francisco Cervelli, Jonathan Lucroy, JR Realmuto, Miguel Montero, Nick Hundley, Reese McGuire, Russell Martin, Steven Vogt, Welington Castillo, Wilson Ramos. Devin Mesoraco, Yadier Molina, Yan Gomes, Yasmani Grandal