The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League Catchers, Nos. 1-20
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We’ll kick off the 2015 version of our consensus ranks by donning the tools of ignorance, and hazarding a guess at the top 20 long-term catchers for dynasty leagues. Tomorrow will bring the back half of the list, and hopefully some new names to light.
Catcher is always a difficult position to handle, not only because of the low offensive bar, but also because if a player has to move off the position, they generally slide from the top of the defensive spectrum, to the bottom. In doing so, they go from the lowest offensive bar to contribute, to the highest.
Our top-20 dynasty league catchers are led off by a familiar, yet boyish face:
1) Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 1)
Let’s face it. Before you even clicked into this list, you knew who was going to be number one. Posey is the rare catcher these days that transcends the position and is truly valuable, not just valuable for a backstop. In his four healthy seasons, Posey has been good for .310 with 20 homers and 80-plus RBI on average and he’s smack dab in the middle of his prime. As if that wasn’t good enough, he’s played in at least 147 games in each of the past three seasons—making his strong batting average all the more valuable. Hitch your wagon here, kids.
2) Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 7)
Posey gets credit for being the leader of this group, but Lucroy is the reliable deputy who rarely gets as much credit as he deserves. As he gets more experience in the majors, his strikeout rate keeps dipping—hitting a career low 10.8 percent in 2014—which makes his batting average heights easier to predict. The power is unlikely to reach 20 homers in a single season, but the value of his overall game (including the handful of steals he accumulates) still is underappreciated. The former Ragin’ Cajun has another season left before he turns 30 and like Posey, he continues to pace the field in playing time (he has 147 and 153 games played, respectively, in the last two years).
3) Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 27)
There’s a certain amount of progress fantasy owners need to make when it comes to accepting strong fantasy value out of a player without the proper pedigree. For example, a former top-50 prospect puts up a year and a half of great catcher stats and he’s fawned over. An unheralded prospect does the same and he’s questioned. We’re all guilty of it, just for different players. Gomes is doing his best to break the mold, and although his strikeout-to-walk ratio will likely scare some owners off, he’s a strong bet to keep producing a solid average (.260-.270) and 20 homers going forward.
4) Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 13)
The former top prospect is just the latest in a long line of catching prospects who took two steps back before they jumped forward. Of course, we also don’t know how much of Mesoraco’s jump forward was real. The power spike was extreme, and his want to drive the ball left tracks in his contact rate. His 23.4 strikeout rate was a career high, but a course correction in BABIP led to a batting average improvement. In that bandbox, Mesoraco could be the one guy on this list to contend for 30 homers in a full season, but he’ll have to prove he can play a full season first.
5) Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 3)
At this point, it’s fair to say that his 22-homer season in 2012 was the outlier and expectations should fall in line with the 12-15 he’s paced for around that. Molina has also struck out exactly 55 times in each of the past three seasons, which is yet another example of Cardinals’ voodoo magic. With Jose jobless and Bengie closing down a buffet somewhere, Yadier becomes the last Molina standing—and is likely to remain a strong fantasy contributor, particularly in batting average, for the next 3-4 years. Outside of Posey, Molina remains the best bet to hit .300 each year at the position.
6) Brian McCann, New York Yankees (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 10)
For the injuries and inconsistencies, McCann has still hit 20 homers in each of the last seven seasons, dating all the way back to 2008. The batting average has been spotty recently, partially due to an increase in the shift against him, but even with a .232 average in 2014, he was still a top-10 catcher. An advantage McCann has over some of his counterparts is that the Yankees like to play him at 1B/DH when he’s not catching, which led to him playing in 140 games despite missing time with a concussion. The short porch still remains awfully tempting, and if he can add to his whopping four homers on the road from last year, he can power his way towards an early 30’s resurgence.
7) Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 6)
By the time he made the last out in the World Series, Perez looked like a mechanical bull that had been torn to shreds by an all night fraternity party. The real Perez is a better hitter than the lasting impression left in our heads from post-season coverage—as the guy who will swing at any ball within ten feet of home plate. Yes, he swung a lot more in 2014 (55 percent, in fact), but the last two seasons showed much more restraint on his behalf (both below 50 percent). A return to more normalcy would put a .280 season with 15 homers squarely back on the table—but for the love of God, let the man rest.
8) Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 15)
Any ranking of Gattis on a long-term catcher list comes with the caveat that he’s less than likely to maintain his eligibility after the 2015 season. Of course, it’s not like he’s dying or anything. Gattis still ranks prominently on this list because he’ll be an extremely strong value for 2015—as a catcher who doesn’t play catcher, repeat after me—but there’s no reason he can’t hit his way into being a solid third or fourth outfielder with the constant potential for 25 homers. Also, this isn’t a Joe Mauer situation where he’s certain to lose the eligibility. All it takes is Christian Bethancourt to suck, which is certainly in the realm of possible.
9) Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 10)
There’s so much obvious analysis with d’Arnaud that it’s tough to know where to start. We know that he was sneaky good after his brief demotion to Las Vegas. We know that he’s an injury risk, as his minor league career is littered with fluky injuries that delayed his development. With a full season like the second half he put up in 2014, he’ll cement his place as a top-5 catcher on next year’s list, but there’s still a big question as to how much average he will actually hit for.
10) Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 9)
The former top prospect in the game has had a fascinating career thus far—jumping from offensive wunderkind to defensive catcher gradually over the course of a few seasons. And with the 2014 campaign being lost to Tommy John surgery, his future remains difficult to peg down. No one would be shocked if he went off for a monster season that his prospect heights hinted at, but expecting it and/or predicting it is a fool’s errand. If healthy, he should be an undervalued asset at the moment, but he does have some shiny 2014 stats on the page (albeit in an extreme SSS) to help remind the folks who drafted him of what he could be.
11) Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 23)
The veteran backstop was the beneficiary of a career-high .336 BABIP last season, which contributed to an inflated .290 average (his highest since 2007). Likely regression will bring his batting average crashing back to earth, but the 32-year old should benefit immensely overall from the move to hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, where he will bat second in a loaded Toronto lineup ahead of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson.
Martin’s biggest impact from a fantasy perspective may be the effect his strong pitch-framing skills have on the performance of the Blue Jay’s talented young pitchers Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez. Martin, who didn’t even crack the top 20 on this list last season, is a relatively low-risk investment for dynasty owners despite his advanced age.
12) Derek Norris, San Diego Padres (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 28)
Norris broke out with a stellar first half (.304 with eight home runs and a pair of stolen bases) leading to an All-Star Game appearance last season, but a brutal second half (.243 with just two home runs) and a disastrous defensive display in the AL Wild Card Game when the Royals reprised the role of “The Grinch” and stole everything in sight, led to Norris’ subsequent banishment to “Mount Crumpit” (San Diego) by Billy Beane in the offseason.
Norris is still only 26 years old and if he can return to the first half form he showed last season in Oakland, then he has a chance to make a major impact despite the move to PETCO Park. The upside of a backstop capable of hitting over .280 with 15-20 home runs is still present. Invest.
13) Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 16)
A pair of DL stints cost him 46 games last season and his power potential remains limited by an extremely high ground-ball rate (over 55% for three straight seasons), despite an extremely high HR/FB rate (17% last year and over 20% in each of the previous to years). Ramos is a solid contact hitter who consistently posts quality batting averages, but has a very strange offensive profile overall.
The big problem for Ramos is that it just seems like he can never stay healthy. If he could piece together a full-season, he would be intriguing, but that’s a big if. Health is not a skill, but if some players have all of the luck, Ramos isn’t one of them. As he enters his age-27 season the odds of him ever putting it all together get slimmer with each injury marred campaign that passes during his prime.
14) Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 18)
A savvy pickup by the Farhan Zaidi/Andrew Friedman front office; they acquired a young pitch framing specialist (a skill they covet) and a power bat with legitimate upside that could materialize quickly with the change of scenery leaving PETCO Park.
Only 26 years old, Grandal continues to walk at an excellent clip (13 percent walk rate in three straight years) and made strides in the power department, swatting 15 home runs in just 377 at bats, despite a dip in contact rate last season. There might not be a better breakout candidate at catcher than Grandal, who should get to play everyday in a loaded Dodgers lineup.
15) Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox (Age: 22, Previous Rank: 30)
Switch-hitting catchers capture the hearts and minds of real-life and fantasy GM’s, which makes Swihart the most coveted prospect at the position heading into 2015. He might be a year away from having a significant impact at the big league level with Christian Vasquez (a defensive wizard who is less magical at the plate) set to open the year as the Red Sox primary backstop, but Swihart’s raw talent is impossible to ignore.
Swihart hit over .300 with 12 home runs in Double-A Portland and made it all the way to Triple-A Pawtucket late last season and could potentially make his Major League debut late in the 2015 season. There isn’t a sexier dynasty league prospect at the position than Swihart and the time to acquire him is now, before he makes it to The Show.
16) Jorge Alfaro, Texas Rangers (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 19)
Alfaro is the rare catching prospect that possesses both power and athleticism, which makes him a highly sought after commodity for dynasty leagues. The strikeouts are the biggest issue for Alfaro at the moment (he struck out 123 times and walked just 29 times in 536 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A last season).
There is a ton of risk with Alfaro as he is far from a finished product both offensively and defensively heading into 2015, but the Rangers have a gaping hole behind the plate that Robinson Chirinos is plugging admirably at the moment and his potential upside as a middle of the order bat capable of hitting for both average and power with a few stolen bases sprinkled in just for good measure, is extremely tantalizing.
17) Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 14)
The power (22 home runs) appears legitimate, but it came at the expense of any semblance of a batting average (.199) last season, especially in the second half of the year, when he bottomed out hitting just .168 over his final 202 at-bats. Assuming Zunino can rebound and at least hit above the Mendoza Line, he should provide plenty of fantasy value because of his power alone. If he continues to strike out at the rate he did last season (33 percent) then he could easily find himself without a job, especially when you consider that Jesus Montero is reportedly in the best shape…I can’t do it…I tried…Sorry Bret…
18) Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs (Age: 22, Previous Rank: NR)
The Cubs have, at least for now, committed to trying Schwarber at catcher full-time heading into 2015. Whether or not he is the long-term answer there remains to be seen as the Cubs brought in veteran Miguel Montero to hold down the spot in the meantime. Schwarber does have the versatility to play in the outfield and could turn into an extremely valuable asset for the Cubs and fantasy owners as well if he can play both positions well enough to be in the lineup everyday.
The 22-year old hit .344/.428/.634 with 18 home runs across three levels in his professional debut last season and could turn out to be the rare fantasy catcher that contributes across the board fantasy-wise. He’s one to watch and invest in for 2015 and beyond.
19) Jason Castro, Houston Astros (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 11)
Castro’s stock fell considerably last season when both his BABIP and HR/FB rate regressed to the league average as many predicted coming into the year. His value took another hit this offseason when the Astros brought in a pair of excellent pitch framers in Hank Conger via trade and called up top prospect Max Stassi.
The Conger/Stassi duo should syphon playing time away from Castro and while it would be nice to project a bounce-back for Castro in 2015, his skills across the board (contact, walk and line drive rates) all declined last season while he posted a career-high ground-ball rate, so don’t bank on the power rebounding completely. Castro is 28 years old and while he remains a decent option in two catcher leagues, there are younger, more appealing options out there.
20) Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 8)
Home: .343/.387/.540/.927 (217 plate appearances)
Road: .183/.212/.306/.518 (189 plate appearances)
Rosario’s drastic home/road splits reached an epic peak last season and his power away from Coors Field has all but evaporated. The Rockies certainly haven’t given up on Rosario yet but fantasy owners should have a clear image of his offensive profile by now. He’s a low average, free-swinger, with some power in Colorado. It’s a profile that has some fantasy value, but unless he charms the BABIP luck dragons and starts hitting away from the Rocky Mountain altitude, understand that there are limits to its value. Don’t expect a huge breakthrough. In the words of Bill Belichick: it is what it is.
Commentary by Bret Sayre and George Bissell.