The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League Catchers, Nos. 1-20
We’ve finally made it. Over the next 31 days, the writers at TDG take you through our rankings position-by-position. As I mentioned in the primer, this year we’re doing things a little differently. Instead of having my personal rankings up on this site, like last year, these rankings for 2014 are of the consensus variety and being brought to you by all of the TDG staff. Everyone put a lot of work into this project, so we hope you enjoy the end result. And if you are looking for my personal dynasty league rankings, you can find them this off-season at Baseball Prospectus.
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Catcher can be such a tough position to grade on a long-term basis for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the best prospects usually fail early and often, especially when compared to other positions. Second, players move off the position for various reasons–though usually it’s because they either can’t do it defensively anymore or it doesn’t make sense for them to given the strength of their bat. Finally, it’s a position that nowadays is extremely deep in mid-level options and therefore it slightly devalues the players in that class who don’t have the helium to raise above it.
Now, your top 20 dynasty league catchers:
1) Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 1)
Last year’s top-ranked dynasty catcher retains his title thanks to a strong 2013 campaign that saw Posey take a step back in power but continue to post the excellent average we’ve come to expect. Entering his age-27 season, Posey should rebound in the homer department and continue to be one of fantasy’s best, safest backstops. He’ll see the occasional start at first base, but Posey projects to remain a catcher for at least the next three to four seasons, and is athletic enough to remain there even longer. If you own him in a dynasty league, you won’t have to think about catching too hard until 2017 or so, and not thinking about catching is a wonderful thing.
2) Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 3)
Santana is a bit older than many people realize – he’ll turn 28 on April 8 – and so is firmly entrenched in the prime of a career that’s providing fantasy owners with plenty of power. Santana has averaged 19 homers, 75 RBI and 73 runs over the past two seasons, and can be expected to mirror that output moving forward. His average leaves something to be desired but it won’t drag down your team, and with his ability to play 1B and now potentially 3B, Santana sees more PA than almost any other catcher in baseball. A move from behind the plate could be coming a few years down the line, but dynasty owners are safe for now and if the hot corner is his future destination, his bat would be playable there.
3) Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 4)
Is it possible to garner MVP discussion and still be underrated? That might be the case with Molina from a fantasy point of view, as the Cardinals long-time backstop has been one of the game’s best offensive catchers over the past three seasons. He’s on the wrong side of 30 with a lot of miles on him, but Molina is a lock for a .300 average with double-digit homers, and in his best years he’s capable of nearing 20 homers and swiping a few bags, too. Throw in the talented lineup around Molina and the insane amount of playing time he gets for a catcher, and you have a recipe for dynasty success.
4) Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 2)
That Mauer is falling only two spots on this list despite 2014 being his last season with eligibility behind the plate speaks to his offensive upside. It’s easy to forget in the wake of all of his recent injuries, but Mauer is one of the game’s best pure hitters, capable of hitting .300 in his sleep and hitting well above that when he’s completely right. The loss of C eligibility is a big negative and you can argue he should rank lower here, but the flip side of Mauer’s move is that he should be able to stay healthy, making a .330/.420/.475 line well within his reach in 2014.
5) Brian McCann, New York Yankees (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 10)
McCann gets a big bump in these rankings after landing in the best spot imaginable for his fantasy value in New York. With the short porch in right field at his new home, it would be unsurprising to see McCann reach 25 homers next season, and the ability to occasionally DH should both afford him more PA and extend his career behind the plate. It’s reasonable to question McCann’s hit tool after consecutive lackluster seasons, but McCann is in his prime and could return to the .270 range with some better luck. His next several seasons should be excellent.
6) Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 7)
Perez has youth and the ability to hit for high averages on his side, and those factors, plus the good lineup he plays with, make him among fantasy’s safer catchers moving forward. It’s dangerous to assume that Perez will see a major jump in power as he ages but I buy that he could approach the high teens in his prime, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him settle into a similar offensive player as Yadier Molina over the long haul. He’s a popular name right now and tends to be a bit over drafted, but his value is very real.
7) Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 15)
Lucroy continues to be criminally underrated in the fantasy community, but at TDG we’re doing our best to put an end to that. Never considered much of a prospect in the minors, we now have nearly 1,000 PA suggesting that Lucroy is a well above average hitter for a backstop, and there’s no reason to think he’ll decline in his age-28 season. Pencil him in for an average north of .280, at least 15 homers and sexy RBI totals, and expect him to receive enough playing time at first base to give him a healthy total of runs scored, too. The potential for 5-10 steals is gravy.
8) Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 11)
Rosario gets labeled as a “one-tool player” some times, and while power is obviously his calling card I think it’s unfair to doubt his ability to hit for decent averages at this point. The biggest concern here is that Rosario’s atrocious defense will force him to first base a few years down the line, but Rosario should be eligible at catcher at least through 2016, and he’ll always be a threat for 25 homers thanks in part to Coors. He’s a flawed player, but he’s still tremendously useful for fantasy purposes.
9) Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 5)
It’s safe to say that Wieters is unlikely to become the force at the plate that many anticipated him becoming when he was tearing through the minors. An inability to hit right-handers has caused Wieters’ average to drop in recent seasons, and while he was hurt by a .247 BABIP in 2013 expecting him to hit above .250 is setting yourself up for disappointment. That being said, Wieters is a lock to hit 20-plus homers and drive in 70-plus runs, and he’ll be a catcher until the day he retires. He’s an uninspiring but safe pick in dynasty leagues, provided you’re not still paying for his prospect reputation.
10) Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 9)
Considered one of the best catching prospects in the minors over the last several seasons, d’Arnaud should spend all of 2014 in the majors and has a shot to produce as a top-15 option right away. There are legitimate concerns about his ability to withstand the physical rigors of catching, though, as d’Arnaud has played in just 130 games over the past two seasons combined. You can argue that the injuries to d’Arnaud’s foot, head and knee were all freak accidents, but his inability to stay on the field is worrisome. The upside here is still a player who could hit .275 with 20-plus bombs, and those numbers, coupled with his youth, make him a high-risk, high-reward fantasy proposition.
11) Jason Castro, Houston Astros (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 41)
You don’t need a Fine Arts degree from Camden County Community College to understand the breakout Castro had in 2013, and it shows in the substantial jump from his previous ranking. In 200 more plate appearances, he tripled his home run total from 2012 and nearly doubled his run and RBI totals while hitting .276. That’s a batting average I will take from a catcher all day long, even if he does whiff a little too often trying to maintain the power breakout. At just 26 years old, he’ll continue to be a part of an improving Astros lineup for the foreseeable future. Now go ace that puppetmaking final.
12) Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 8)
Betting on a bounce back isn’t always a good idea, but Montero put up back to back seasons of almost identical stats prior to last year. More ground balls, less fly balls, and a depressed BABIP probably led to the down year, and if those numbers swing back the other direction, there’s reason to believe he can again put up 15-18 homers and 70-80 RBIs with a full season of at-bats. He fell a bit from last year’s ranking and he’s the oldest of the #11-20 tier, but don’t hold that against him as he’s still got some gas left in the tank.
13) Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 17)
If an entire nation can put their trust in a rodent to tell them the weather forecast, surely a few dynasty owners can put their faith in a young MLB backstop who hails from the same town. Mesoraco will get a full season’s worth of plate appearances this year with Ryan Hanigan on the move, and at just 25 years old we should start to see the offensive production we’ve been waiting for. His plate discipline is fine, and if the power he flashed in the minor leagues starts to show up in the bigs, watch out.
14) Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 12)
He whiffed 25% of the time across two levels in 2013, but in Zunino’s case you’re likely paying for his power and not his average anyway. An improved Seattle lineup should help his cause and Jesus Montero is out of the equation behind the plate at the moment. The .250+ ISO he displayed across three levels of the minor leagues is what fantasy players will be looking for a taste of as he develops, and he’s got plenty of time to do it at just 23 years young. He wasn’t so great at catching baserunners last year, but he was pretty darn good at it in 2012 (43%) so look for his defense to improve as well.
15) Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves (Age: 27, Previous Rank: NR)
Gattis was a late arrival to the party at 26 years old and we’ve all become familiar with the amazing story of El Oso Blanco. He slugged 21 homers in just 382 plate appearances last season and given his approach and age, he could be a 20 home run threat for the next couple of years with Atlanta. When choosing between him and another homer-hitting catcher, the dual eligibility in the outfield that he will possess in some leagues only adds to his fantasy value.
16) Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 25)
There’s a lot to like about Ramos. He doesn’t strike out a lot, he hits for power, and he’s part of a solid Nationals lineup that should provide opportunities for runs and runs batted in. He’s entering his prime years and while he might not hit as many homers as some of the other bats on this list, he makes good contact (81% in 2013) and should provide fantasy owners with a solid batting average in the .270 – .280 range. Put it all together and you have more than enough reason to take a chance on him as your primary backstop in dynasty formats.
17) Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins (Age: 25, Previous Rank: NR)
Pinto looks to be the catcher of the future for the Twins and he made the most of his brief run with the club last year. He swatted 4 homers in just 21 games and hit line drives at a 24% clip. While the Twins struck a deal with Kurt Suzuki to share catching duties with Pinto in 2014, Pinto is a good defensive catcher and it shouldn’t take long at all for him to become the Twins primary backstop. He’s a bit of a late-bloomer, but fantasy players can’t be too concerned with the timing of blooms as long as they’re along for the ride when it happens.
18) Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 13)
Grandal won’t be on the field for the start of the 2014 season due to a significant knee injury he suffered in 2013. The same was true for the start of last year, but that was for a 50-game PED suspension. At any rate, there are questions marks hovering around this guy like whirlybirds and it shows in the slight drop of his ranking since last year. He’s still a solid switch-hitter who should provide some power and a decent average, but the lost time over the last two years has deflated some of the balloon that came from his stellar performance in the second half of 2012. The great news in all of this is that he is still just 25 years old and has time to put these obstacles behind him.
19) Jorge Alfaro, Texas Rangers (Age: 20, Previous Rank: 24)
The Rangers have a nice catching prospect on their hands in Alfaro, who blasted 18 homers and stole 18 bases across two levels in 2013. He’s a bit of a free swinger with a 26% strikeout rate to go along with a 7% walk rate. He has the raw tools, but dynasty owners might want to keep an eye on how his plate discipline progresses over the next year or two. If he is able to work out some of those kinks at his next stop in the minors, he’ll likely shoot up the rankings and the window to obtain this guy will have been slammed shut.
20) Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 36)
After three years with the Red Sox, Salty now finds himself in the shadow of the great multicolored “thing” in Miami. It’s too easy to write him off as someone to avoid now in that lineup, and savvy owners might be able to get some really cheap power here. Like most catchers he’s not going to help your average (his 30% K rate is practically tattooed on his forehead) but what he is good for is about 15-20 homers, and the change in scenery really shouldn’t do much to change that.
Commentary by Bret Sayre, Ben Carsley and Mike Buttil.