The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League Catchers, Nos. 1-20
It’s the time of the year where we offer congratulations to those of you brave dynasty league owners that survived the offseason. The greatness that 2016 will surely offer is upon us and that means we’ll be spending the next six weeks moving our way through the positional landscape, offering thoughts on the respective values of roughly 700 players throughout the process.
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To kick off our 2016 consensus rankings, we will first take a look behind the plate in an effort to determine the top-20 catchers for dynasty purposes and tomorrow we will look at the players who we ranked 21-50.
Catcher is always among the most volatile positions on a dynasty league roster, but a familiar product pitchman once again leads off our 2016 rankings:
1) Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 1)
For the first couple of sentences, I’m just gonna repeat what we wrote about him last year. Over the last three years, Posey has posted a 139 wRC+, which is the highest number among backstops with at least 1000 plate appearances over that time frame. The gap between Posey’s 139 mark and second place Russell Martin’s 118 wRC+ number is larger than Martin and Jason Castro, who checks in at 12th place. Moreover, the former Florida State shortstop has never been sidelined for a significant amount of time, save for a now-banned vicious collision. As the end of his twenties gets closer, he may eventually call first base home in the near future.
2) Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 18)
His prodigious power is no secret, as it mesmerized all of us when he launched a monster shot that appeared to leave Pittsburgh entirely in the Wild-Card game off of Gerrit Cole and followed that blast with a moonshot that landed on Wrigley Field’s scoreboard in Game 4 of the NLDS against the Cardinals. The former Hoosier has the ability to match Posey’s offensive production, not to mention his remarkable music talent. Schwarber’s 131 wRC+ was the second-highest among catchers who amassed 200 plate appearances in 2015, trailing only Posey. The biggest concern about Schwarber is his defense; many scouts and observers question his ability to stay behind the plate. For fantasy purposes, all he needs to do is catch enough games to be eligible, and if he does, he’ll have a good chance to climb past Posey as the best fantasy catcher in the next few years. Even if he ends up in a corner outfield position, his power plays anywhere on the field.
3) Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 2)
A broken foot and a concussion limited Lucroy to only 103 games in 2015, but he is only one year removed from his career-best 2014 season, where he hit .301/.373/.465 and finished fourth in MVP voting. While repeating 2014 is probably too much to ask for, another year of above-average contribution is not out of hand if he remains injury-free in 2016. Even after a down year in 2015, hitting for a .264 average with seven home runs in 103 games, he still ranks as one of the best catching commodities. He could be a prime trade target this offseason if the owner of him in your league is selling low this winter.
4) Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 11)
Known as one of the best pitch framers in the game, the Ontario native clubbed a career-high 23 home runs in 2015, and as I noted in the Posey section above, he’s had the second-highest wRC+ among catchers over the past three seasons. Hitting in the middle of the juggernaut Blue Jays lineup should provide Martin with a boost in the runs scored and RBI categories as well. It’s not usually a great idea to invest in a 33-year old catcher in dynasty leagues, but Martin is athletic enough (and a good enough hitter) that the Blue Jays could look to keep his bat in the lineup at other positions over the next few seasons — enabling Martin to have few more years of solid contribution while maintaining eligibility at a premium position.
5) Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 9)
While his 2015 was injury-plagued, the 26-year old d’Emonstrated his elite offensive upside in his 268 plate appearances, posting a .268/.340/.485 line that included 12 home runs, a walk rate of just under nine percent, and a strikeout rate of just over eighteen percent. Each of these numbers were in the top-tier among catchers, and his 131 wRC+ tied Schwarber for the second- best mark — behind only Posey. If he d’Oes manage to stay healthy, he should establish himself as a top-five catcher in the dynasty world. As he enters his age-27 season in 2016, he has some pretty d’Arn good years ahead of him.
6) Brian McCann, New York Yankees (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 6
Here’s the complete list of catchers with more seasons of 20 or more home runs than McCann, who’s accomplished the feat nine times in his career: Mike Piazza (11 times), Johnny Bench (11 times), and Yogi Berra (ten times). That’s it, that’s the list. Barring a major injury, McCann has a good shot to tie with his Yankee catching predecessor, with help of the right-field porch at Yankee Stadium. Despite stepping further into his thirties, he’s likely to remain a solid offensive asset, as he could see more time at 1B/DH when Gary Sanchez is finally deemed ready for action.
7) Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 15)
Swihart entered the 2015 season as the game’s one of the best catching prospects, made his big league debut on May 2nd and after struggling for the first couple of months, the switch-hitting catcher took off, posting a .303/.353/.452 line 168 plate appearances over the season’s second half. The stratospheric .391 BABIP that accompanied Swihart’s solid second-half work will likely regress, but even if so, he profiles as a backstop capable of putting up league-average-to-above-average rate numbers, along with double-digit bombs and a few helpful stolen bases along the way. While the total package could propel him up our list in short-order, it’s always important to remember that sometimes prospects will Blake your Swihart.
8) Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 7)
Since bursting onto the scene in 2011, Perez’s overall performance at the plate has been in a steady decline. In 2015, he put up a mediocre 87 wRC+, meaning that his overall offensive production was thirteen points lower than league average. Worse yet, his continued inability to draw a walk dragged his on-base percentage down to .280 in 2015, a number worse than all but five catchers with at least 200 plate appearances. He posted a microscopic walk rate of under three percent, which tops only eight qualified player seasons since 2000.
However, Perez seems likely to post totals in the neighborhood of a .260 average, 20 home runs and 70 RBI, numbers that put him in the top-10 on a yearly basis. While Perez’s notoriously high workload may not prove to be the best thing for his long-term health, dynasty owners are appreciative of the 1,685 plate appearances he’s received over the last three seasons — second-most behind Buster Posey.
9) Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 4)
After a breakout campaign in 2014, Mesoraco’s 2015 was cut short to a mere 23 games due to a hip injury–further putting into question his ability to stay healthy. With Cincinnati’s catching depth being a total wasteland, and top prospect Tyler Stephenson having a long way to go, Mesoraco has no challengers to the starting job for the foreseeable future. The offensive upside he possesses is magnificent, as he showed in 2014, where he posted a monster .273/.359/.534 line that included 25 home runs. He offers the potential to be a good buy-low catching option this offseason, even though he’ll likely be surrounded by Joey Votto in the Reds lineup–and not much else.
10) Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 14)
In his first season as a Dodger, the former Miami Hurricane slashed a glorious .282/.401/.526 in the first half, his 159 wRC+ topping any other catcher (min. 100 plate appearances) in the first three months of the season. Grandal saw his numbers plummeting to an abysmal .162/.280/.218 mark (49 wRC+) in the second half — numbers affected by a sore left shoulder.
Overall, his production in 2015 led to a solid .234/.353/.403 line, good for a 115 wRC+, and assuming his shoulder fully recovers, Grandal should be able to replicate his 2015 seasonal line in the future. Additionally, his career walk rate of 14.3 percent and .351 OBP make him a more valued property in OBP leagues.
11) Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 3)
Gomes is yet another cautionary tale regarding the volatility of catchers, as he put up a 2014 season that almost nobody saw coming (.278 average with 21 home runs) and had much of his 2015 value sapped by knee injuries that hobbled him for much of the season’s first-half. Virtually the only statistically commonality between Gomes’ last two seasons is his unseemly strikeout-to-walk ratio — which slipped further in the wrong direction in 2015 — walking only 13 times and striking out 104 times in 389 plate appearances. A healthier Yanimal over the second-half hit for a .725 OPS with nine home runs — solid numbers that allow him to hover around the top-10 in our rankings — despite the looming youth movement that should inject long-needed upside into the position.
12) Derek Norris, San Diego Padres (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 12)
Despite changing leagues and moving to Petco, many predicted a breakout campaign in 2015 for Norris, but he enters 2016 in the exact same spot in our rankings. Norris’ cold-spells were maddening at times, as he hit only one homer in four separate months of the year, hitting for power (eleven home runs) and a lackluster average (.233) over the first-half of the year, followed by a lack of power (three home runs) with a much better average (.278) over the second-half. Owners who stuck it out with Norris were rewarded with a career-high total in home runs (14), runs batted-in (62), and runs scored (65) over 147 games played (second most at the position behind Posey). As an investment, Norris may be more of a low-yield bond, but don’t be surprised if he’s sitting in this exact spot next year, too.
13) Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 10)
Recovery from Tommy John surgery kept Wieters out of the lineup until June, limiting him to eight home runs in 75 games played on the year — arguably the most disappointing season in a career that has continually fallen short of the impossibly high expectations that preceded his debut in 2009. While Wieters accepted Baltimore’s qualifying offer in lieu of testing free agency this winter with the intention of rebuilding his value, the presence of Caleb Joseph — a capable (and lesser expensive) backup — could eat into his playing time in what might be his last year in Baltimore.
14) J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 48)
While Realmuto lacks the flashy tools and high-upside of the other young catchers that surround him on this list, he uses his athleticism to help in multiple categories –including stolen bases– where he led all catchers with eight in 2015. Realmuto’s home ballpark diminishes his already-average power potential, but does enable him to utilize his strong contact rates. He led all catchers in triples with eight and finished in a tie for eighth in doubles with 21 in his rookie season. Realmuto features the type of profile that usually is undervalued at the beginning of the season, but ends up near the top of the positional leaderboards by the end — and his skillset plays up even better in points leagues.
15) Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 5)
Molina underwent his second thumb surgery during the offseason, which could cause him to miss most of Spring Training. His poor 2015 season with the bat has put into question whether or not he can pair his close to .300 batting average with double digits home run totals as he enters his mid-thirties. If his thumb surgery enables him to regain the power that he’s lost over the last couple of seasons, he could be a good buy-low candidate, but if he misses an extended amount of time or his average continues to drop further south of .300, he could be waiver wire fodder, even in deeper leagues.
16) Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 13)
Ramos finally stayed healthy enough to reach the 500 plate appearance mark for the first time in the big leagues, but the newfound health was met with a precipitous drop in production, as he posted a .229/.258/.358 line, adding 15 home runs. A .256 BABIP (eighth lowest among qualifiers) explains some of the loss of production, as does the increase in his strikeout rate (from 16 percent in 2014 to 20 percent in 2015), but there was no clear change in his underlying batting rates to trigger a major cause for concern going forward.
17) Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics (Age: 31, Previous Rank: N/A)
Vogt had a breakout first-half of the 2015 season, hitting for a .325 average with 11 home runs over the first two months of the season, leading to a sixth-best finish among catchers in standard mixed leagues. The second-half of the year was much less kind to Vogt, as his .217 average with four home runs after the All-Star break indicates. Entering his age-31 season in 2016, Vogt will have to quell the concerns about his long-term value by continuing to mash right-handed pitching, and his contractual status (not eligible for arbitration until 2017) should give him every chance to do so.
18) Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs (Age: 32, Previous Rank: 21)
After a few seasons of up-and-down performance in the desert, followed by a miserable 2013 with the bat, Montero’s productivity has stabilized to the point where an average of .240-.250 with 12-15 home runs can be expected over his time in Chicago. Montero should have plenty of opportunities to knock in runs (as well as score them) while hitting in lower portion of a stacked Cubs lineup over the next few seasons. However, Montero will have to remain productive both offensively and defensively to fend off the other catching options that appear in our rankings for regular playing time over the next few seasons.
19) Welington Castillo, Arizona Diamondbacks (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 31)
If you had asked The Dynasty Guru staff last winter for scenarios that would have seen Castillo ranked inside the top-20 heading into 2016, the top answer likely would have been, “BRET IS MAKING US DO THIS– PLEASE SEND HELP.” Castillo predictably received his much-needed change of scenery in May 2015, but it wasn’t until June–when the Mariners shipped him to the Diamondbacks–that the opportunity to regain fantasy relevance was given to him and he capitalized to the tune of a .255 average and 17 home runs over 80 games in Arizona, earning the full-time job heading into 2016. If you’ll please excuse me, Bret has ordered that we all write “I was wrong about Welington Castillo,” 1000 times before midnight.
20) Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 26)
The 2015 season was seen as a “put up or shut up” year for Sanchez in dynasty circles, as he needed to show improvement defensively and ease concerns about his makeup in order to show that he could stick behind the plate. He also needed to translate his raw power into game production and he succeeded on nearly all fronts; clubbing his way to an isolated power mark north of .200 across Double-A and Triple-A while showing enough improvement defensively to put him in position to be Brian McCann’s backup in 2016. After years of appearing on various prospect lists, it’s easy to forget that Sanchez is only three months older than Kyle Schwarber, and although he doesn’t have a clear path to regular playing time over the next few seasons, injuries can, and likely will, open to the door for Sanchez over the next few years.
Commentary by Kazuto Yamazaki and Tyler Baber