2019 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Previews: Analyzing one of the toughest positions to draft

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<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9097/" data-ylk="slk:Gary Sanchez">Gary Sanchez</a> should be the first catcher off fantasy draft boards — with good reason. (AP Foto/Charles Krupa)
Gary Sanchez should be the first catcher off fantasy draft boards — with good reason. (AP Foto/Charles Krupa)

Position scarcity has proven mostly a myth, with the exception being catcher, which didn’t produce a top-110 fantasy player last year. J.T. Realmuto was the only backstop to finish inside the top-175, and the No. 6 fantasy catcher (Yan Gomes) finished the year No. 339 overall.

No catcher hit more than 27 homers or exceeded 80 RBI last season, while only one hit .300. No backstop scored 75 runs, and just two scored more than 55. None stole more than seven bases. It’s a position without any depth that also makes the least impact on your standings.

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The biggest reason for this is volume, as only one catcher reached even 500 at-bats last year, and the top-12 at the position averaged a modest 432.7 ABs. Because of the recent trends, catcher isn’t being addressed during drafts until later than ever, with the first tier (Realmuto and Gary Sanchez) having an average cost of a sixth-round pick. The next group doesn’t come until round 11 (Salvador Perez and Buster Posey).

[Positional Rankings: Top 300 Overall | C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | OF | P ]

Still, that doesn’t mean catcher should be ignored, as it also provides an opportunity to get a real advantage at a position unlike any other, especially in difficult to fill 2-C formats (think tight end in fantasy football, who have a similar positional scarcity issue with limited upside, thanks to a target ceiling).

Let’s get to our backstop recommendations.

Which catcher is a strong buy for the 2019 fantasy season?

Andy: Jorge Alfaro‘s projected fantasy value isn’t quite what it would have been if he’d remained in Philly as a starter, but he has clear 15-20 homer power. He’s also slashed .270/.327/.422 over 143 major league games, which is perfectly consistent with his minor league history. All I’m looking for at catcher is an inexpensive player who can make a positive contribution somewhere without being a liability anywhere. Alfaro fits that description as well as anyone in the player pool. He falls outside the top-200 picks in an average Yahoo draft, so there’s absolutely no risk involved.

Scott: Yadier Molina has finished as the No. 2, No. 2, and No. 5 fantasy catcher (5×5 grading) over the last three years. So why is he the sixth or seventh catcher taken in most leagues, around the 140 mark in Yahoo ADP? Because we’re wired to fear 30-something players, especially at this position.

May we all age as gracefully as Molina. He’s clubbed 38 homers the last two years, and that’s the best two-year period of his entire career. He’s also stolen 13 bases over that span; every little bit helps. And we can plan on 50-60 runs scored, not insignificant at a position where some of these guys need an escort from station to station. And heck, just showing up is part of catcher value, and Molina averages 136 games over the last four years. I didn’t have Molina on my Ibanez All-Star list, but perhaps that’s an oversight. He’s still playing at a high level and welcome on my rosters.

Dalton: Gary Sanchez is one season removed from posting a .278-79-33-90 line as a sophomore after recording an impressive 1.032 OPS as a rookie. Last season was a disaster in which he hit .186, although that included 18 homers in just 89 games (only five catchers had more), and there’s little reason not to expect a bounce back (Sanchez’s BABIP dropped to .197 last year despite a Barrel% that was top-five percent in the league. He also set a career-high in BB%, so it sure seems like some bad luck was involved in 2018).

Sanchez is 26 years old, likely batting cleanup in a loaded lineup behind OBP machines and in a home park that’s boosted homers for right-handed batters by an American League-best 22 percent over the last three seasons. While moving to Philadelphia helps J.T. Realmuto’s value, no catcher’s upside approaches Sanchez, who can separate himself from the next best at his own position unlike any other. He’s someone to target in fantasy drafts, and I’d argue no player’s ADP is more mispriced.

Conversely, who do you think will be a fantasy bust at the position?

Andy: The guys you want to avoid at this position, as a general rule, are any catchers who require top-60 picks. It’s exceedingly rare for a fantasy backstop to deliver a season worthy of a selection in the first five rounds of a mixed draft. So, this year, it’s highly unlikely that I’m going to roster either J.T. Realmuto or Gary Sanchez in any leagues.

Only two catchers over the past ten yearsBuster Posey and Joe Mauer — have finished any season as top-60 overall fantasy assets, per Baseball Monster. In two of the last three years, the top catcher in fantasy has actually finished outside the overall top-100. This is a position at which injuries are common and almost no one will reach 500 at-bats. Unless you’re playing in a two-catcher A.L-. or N.L.-only league, avoid the high-priced backstops.

Dalton: Wilson Ramos was a solid addition by the Mets, but he’s being over-drafted in fantasy leagues (his ADP sits between Yadier Molina and Yasmani Grandal). In 416 plate appearances last year, he scored 39 runs, and that was with an inflated hit rate (the difference between Ramos’ batting average (.306) and xBA (.262) was the seventh-biggest in baseball).

Hitting in New York’s lineup won’t do his counting stats any favors, and Ramos isn’t the most durable player (he’s reached 400 at bats just twice in his career). He also now calls an extreme pitcher’s park home, as only Miami has suppressed run scoring more than Citi Field over the last three years.

Scott: I grew up in New England, so if anyone’s drinking the dirty water here, it’s me. But why is Blake Swihart the No. 13 catcher off the board in Yahoo leagues? What am I missing here? Those six steals are lovely, but they come with an anemic .229/.285/.328 slash and three piddly homers over 82 games. And Swihart was so insignificant to Boston in the playoffs, he batted three crummy times in October. The Red Sox say they’ll give Swihart a chance to win a starting gig, but with Sandy Leon’s defense still in the mix, I can’t see Swihart taking over.

Okay, you want a name player. I look at the Buster Posey scan and get sad. This is Joe Mauer 2.0; something went wrong on the way to the Hall of Fame. Posey’s had thumb problems and last year it was a hip problem, requiring surgery. The home park crushes his power, obviously. With the Giants rebuilding, we can dream of Posey finishing his career with a legitimate contender. Posey’s price has come down but it’s still with an expectant tilt — one I’m unlikely to pay. I can’t see the upside any longer.

[Batter up: Join or create a 2019 Yahoo Fantasy Baseball league for free today]

Let’s look ahead. Which backstop prospect do you think will impact 2019?

Andy: It’s fair to say that Francisco Mejia hasn’t really done anything special in his 69 career MLB at-bats, but he’s been terrific in the high minors. Mejia hit .293 at Triple-A last season with 14 homers and 46 XBHs over 427 at-bats. He just turned 23 in October, so there’s plenty of room for development here. Mejia also has a clear chance to win an early-season big league role with a strong spring. His name still belongs on your cheat sheet.

Dalton: It’s especially tough for rookies to make a major impact at catcher, as the position usually takes some patience, but Danny Jansen looks like the best shot to help fantasy leaguers in 2019. Jansen makes good contact and should be able to get on base, but don’t expect a ton of power from the 23-year-old. Something like 15 homers and five steals are within reach for Jansen, who should be Toronto’s new starter with Russell Martin gone.

Scott: If we’re looking through a dynasty lens, Keibert Ruiz has my attention. The Dodgers pushed their teenage prospect to Double-A in the middle of last year, and he didn’t look lost (.268/.328/.401, after an .841 OPS at Single-A) despite the tender age. Ruiz is a switch hitter and someone who should provide above-average defense. When he eventually hits the majors, look for a plus average and double-digit homers through his peak seasons.

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