Last Minute Pickups: The Catchers
This entire week at TDG, we’re going to be tackling one subject as a team–which I’m very excited about. The premise: go around the diamond to single out a few players at each position who are worth picking up in your dynasty league before free agency ends this coming Sunday. Additionally, the idea is for this to be helpful to everyone, so we’re going to (more or less) limit this to players who are in the major leagues, so that it can be used in all leagues, including ones where minor league pickups are not allowed in season.
Catcher is that strange position, not too dissimilar to quarterback in fantasy football leagues, where their trade values can be well diminished solely because of a lack of a market. You’re unlikely to have a situation where you play a catcher at a utility position (or another spot if they are eligible), so there are rarely going to be more than a handful of teams looking for a catcher at any given moment. Well, unless you play in a two catcher league–then they become much more valuable as players and commodities. So while stockpiling an extra catcher can certainly come in handy, it may not pack the same punch as stashes you can find at other positions.
With that said, here are a few guys who are worth carrying into next season if you have a spot for them:
Derek Norris, Oakland Athletics
I’m not exactly shy about sharing my love of Derek Norris. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the Athletics didn’t give him all of the playing time he could handle this season once John Jaso got hurt (and frankly, even before then). Norris will turn 25 during Spring Training, but age isn’t a particularly important detail when it comes to catchers and their development. Just ask Carlos Ruiz or Jonathan Lucroy. With improved defense, Norris is giving himself as good of a chance as he can to take this job and run with it for 2014. He’s also made the types of strides from a similarly sized sample in 2012, raising his walk rate by 3.5 percentage points, lowering his strikeout rate by 5.0 percentage points and raising his Isolated Power.
And he’s been putting his best foot forward in the second half of the 2013 season, at least while he’s been able to stay on the field. In 81 at bats since July 1, Norris is hitting .333/.413/.568 with five homers and a steal. Which brings us to another important topic when it comes to addressing his value–his base running ability. Norris has deceptive speed and instincts for a catcher and could steal 10-12 bases if given a full season of at bats (for a catcher at least). Combine that with potential 20-25 home run power (along with enough walks for his low batting average to not kill you), and you get the makings of some real impact here. But with Jaso back in the fold for 2014, assuming he’s over his concussion issues by then, the Norris show may have to wait a little longer.
Welington Castillo, Chicago Cubs
Overall, it’s been a decent season for Castillo, but not one which has seen him owned in very many single-catcher formats. But in September, he’s shown what he’s capable of–hitting .310/.370/.690 with four homers and nine RBI in 42 at bats. Of course it is September, so this all must be taken with a grain of salt. The question is what Castillo can develop into if he continues his progress. And the biggest question there is his power, which has yet to show up in the majors the same way it has in the upper minors. Between his time at Double-A and Triple-A, Castillo had 51 homers in 1,145 at bats–and that works out to a pace of approximately 20 homers per 400 at bats. Given his ability to hit for decent average, that could be an attractive package for a backstop.
The Cubs may have a strong farm system, but there’s very little at the catcher position in the minor leagues and the odds are not terribly high that they will spend big to bring in a catcher this off-season. That means Castillo should still be looking at a good chunk of the playing time at the position in 2014 for his age-27 season. Maybe he’ll be able to unlock some of that magic.
J.R. Murphy, New York Yankees
For leagues with farm systems that aren’t obnoxiously deep, Murphy was likely available when he made his major league debut this September. The Yankee backstop had a strong season in 2013, hitting .269/.347/.426 with 12 homers in 108 games and he’s looking to parlay that into a shot at the starting role in 2014. Right now, the biggest thing Murphy has going for him is the lack of any organizational depth at the position in the upper levels (including the majors). Right now, his competition is looking like Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine–which is one of the more eminently winnable jobs in the league.
But let’s be realistic; he’s not likely to set mixed leagues on fire, especially next season. Murphy is best left for leagues where more than 16-18 catchers are owned–leaving either very deep single-catcher formats or all two-catcher formats. That way, if he wins the job, great. Otherwise, you can stash him on your minor league roster (he’ll certainly qualify since he only has eight at bats in his career) until he does get the call. Though he will have a short period of time to prove himself, since the long-term future of the position in the Bronx is still likely Gary Sanchez.
Honorable Mention: Josmil Pinto and Hank Conger.
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