The Dynasty Guru’s Top 50 Dynasty League Catchers, Nos. 1-20
It’s been over two months since the Cubs won their first World Series in 108 years, ending the 2016 baseball season. But if you’re like most fantasy baseball owners, those two months probably feel like two years. Considering it’s still another month until Spring Training even starts, late January has to be the worst time to be a baseball fan. It’s too late to reflect on last year, but next season is too far ahead to look forward to. Luckily, with a little help from The Dynasty Guru, the next month is survivable, as we’ll be ranking and commenting on a whole lot of players over the next six weeks.
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Without further ado, it’s time to begin our 2017 consensus rankings by looking at the league’s top-20 finest catchers in dynasty leagues. I’ll hand it over to our old friend Buster Posey, who, shockingly, is our number one dynasty catcher.
1) Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 1)
For the fifth consecutive year—as long as the site’s existence—the 2012 National League MVP sits atop TDG’s catcher rankings. That said, Posey did have some competition for the coveted top spot, as he did last season with Kyle Schwarber. There was an intensive conversation among the staff whether to take Gary Sanchez over him, though Posey did end up winning out despite some legitimate concerns.
Posey’s power output has declined over the past three seasons, with his home run totals dipping from 22 to 19 to 14 and his ISO from .179 to .153 to .147. While expecting a small rebound from 14 is certainly reasonable, he’s unlikely to be a big contributor in the home run department. But even after considering the power decline, a catcher who can club 15 long balls while driving in and scoring 80 runs with a great average is a premium fantasy commodity. To make things better, Posey’s positional eligibility has been solidified with last deadline’s trade that sent Andrew Susac to Milwaukee, meaning there aren’t any potential successors on the horizon that could displace Posey to first base.
2) Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 20)
Mike Piazza, Mike Napoli, Billy Dickey, Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, and Javy Lopez. These are the only players since 1901 to have a season of 200-plus plate appearances and an OPS+ higher than Gary Sanchez’s mark of 168 last season. That list of names consists of two Hall of Famers, two future Hall of Fame candidates, and two members of the Hall of Very Good.
Hopefully, that little factoid puts into context just how historical Sanchez’s debut was. It isn’t hyperbole to say The Kraken had one of the best debuts we’ve ever seen, and that .299/.376/.657 line with 20 home runs over 229 PA is enough to net him the second spot in our catching rankings. While he’s (probably) not going to hit 60 home runs next season, Sanchez is loaded with talent and has a legitimate argument for being top dynasty catcher. Even if he regresses some next year when the league adjusts, his elite power and strong bat—as well as a cannon for an arm that should insure his spot behind the plate for a long time—make for a potentially dominant player who could certainly leap over Posey next season.
3) Jonathan Lucroy, Texas Rangers (Age: 31, Previous Rank: 3)
After an injury-plagued down year in 2015, Lucroy bounced back with a career high in home runs and his second All Star honor in 2016, proving he’s still one of the best backstops in baseball. Barring another injury, you can expect him to have another typical Lucroy season in 2017 before he hits free agency: something along the lines of last year’s .292/.355/.500 line with high-teens home runs. The 30-year-old is another player who should remain at catcher for a long time, as “Cool Hand Lucroy” is an excellent receiver and one of the best defensive catchers in the league.
4) Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 2)
It’s not normal to see someone who went 0-4 the previous year end up in the top five at any position. Then again, Kyle Schwarber’s bat isn’t normal, even after losing the entire 2016 regular season to a torn ACL. He reminded us of that in a triumphant and shockingly productive return to the Cubs in the World Series, and the small sample size success gives us confidence that Schwarber’s precocious hitting abilities remain intact. The former fourth overall pick should be able to build off his rookie performance— a .246/.355/.487 with 16 dingers in 273 PA—next season, which will be a key to his value since a move off the catching position is imminent. Schwarber was already a poor catcher before his knee injury, and now the Cubs have no need to test him at backstop with the next guy on this list’s emergence. Still, Schwarber’s bat is strong enough to make him an OF2 in most leagues.
5) Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 25)
Since 1901, seven players with first name “Wilson” played in the big leagues. Last year, Contreras became the first player in Major League history with first name “Willson.” In that regard, he added another historic note to the Cubs’ historic 2016.
Contreras was given an opportunity to catch after Kyle Schwarber’s knee injury last season and hit the ground running, batting .282 with 12 home runs over 283 plate appearances in his rookie campaign. Now expected to receive the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate for the reigning World Champions, fantasy owners can expect solid power and average from an emerging stud in baseball’s best offense. And given Joe Maddon’s tendency to use everyone at everywhere, Contreras is highly likely to continue playing some left field for the next few years as well, increasing his fantasy flexibility.
6) Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 10)
At this point, everyone is aware of Grandal’s top-notch pitch-framing skills. By Baseball Prospectus’ calculations, his framing runs ranked second-best among big-league catchers, behind only Buster Posey. Unfortunately, his excellence behind the plate doesn’t matter in fantasy. Luckily, Grandal’s bat is nearly as strong as his defense. Despite a .238 career average, the Cuban descendant is one of the better fantasy catchers thanks to the 25-plus dinger potential he showed in 2016. And in on-base percentage leagues, you can make a case for him being higher on this list, as his career 14.2% walk rate will buoy his OBP. Grandal, whose last name means “grandeur” in the Galician language, has lived up to his name and well-exceeded the hype he had as a prospect.
7) J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins (Age: 26, Previous Rank: 14)
At this point, everyone is aware of Realmuto’s dreadful pitch-framing skills. By Baseball Prospectus’ calculations, his framing runs ranked fourth-worst among big-league catchers last year. Thankfully, his difficulties behind the plate don’t blemish his value as a top-ten fantasy catcher. In his second full season, the Marlins backstop managed a solid .303/.343/.428 line with 11 bombs while swiping 12 bags. As you know, catchers don’t usually steal bases, which makes Realmuto’s speed all the more valuable. Although it may be unfair to expect the Marlin to repeat the .357 BABIP he had in 2016, being a 10-10 threat, with a chance to even go 15-15, should make him an awfully productive catcher.
8) Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals, (Age: 27, Previous Rank: 8)
By now we have a clear idea of who Perez is: a guy who hits 20-plus homers with an average around .260 on a yearly basis. That’s solid enough, though his 3.2% walk rate, which is lower than all but three players with at least 1000 plate appearances since 2011, may hurt his value in OBP leagues. As for playing time concerns, you shouldn’t have one for Salvy. Over the last four seasons, he has appeared in 550 games as a catcher, the highest total during the stretch and 39 games more than the second-place Yadier Molina. The side-effect of this heavy load is regression in the second half, as his career wRC+ after the All-Star Break drops twenty points from his first half mark.
9) Evan Gattis, Houston Astros (Age: 30, Previous Rank: 16 at 1B)
After spending 2015 as a full-time DH, El Oso Blanco was back squatting behind the plate for 55 games in 2016, and managed to set a career-high in home runs while doing so. Granted, everyone set career-high in home runs last year, but Gattis became the first player in 10 years to club 30-plus dingers in fewer than 500 plate appearances. With the Astros’ acquisition of Brian McCann, Gattis is likely to see less time behind the plate and more time between DH and left field. Still, given Houston’s catching depth, it’s safe to assume that Gattis will spend enough time at catcher to retain his eligibility for 2018. If he can do that, he’ll remain one of the best power-hitting catchers in baseball while retaining a batting average that isn’t great, but certainly better than other one-dimensional backstops you’ll find lower in this list.
10) Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 16)
With Lasik-rejuvenated eyes, Ramos set career bests in most offensive categories despite losing the final week of the season to a blown knee. That knee injury is likely to keep him out for at least the first couple of months of 2017, but Ramos still can hit near .300 with some power, enough to make him a borderline top-10 catcher next year, even in three-quarters of a season. Still, the 29-year-old is unlikely to ever reach the 20 home run plateau again, especially in the poor hitter’s ballpark Ramos now calls home.
11) Brian McCann, Houston Astros (Age: 33, Previous Rank: 6)
One of the newest members of the Houston Astros, Brian McCann will have the opportunity to be reinvigorated by a strong lineup. Although he still has a few more years left as a catcher, McCann certainly feels like an old 32; I would have guessed around 35, and his knees probably agree with me. His best days are behind him, but the former Yankee is still a pretty sure bet for 20 home runs. With the current state of catching, I guess that’s something, even if it comes with minimal impact elsewhere. We can cross our fingers that the youthful exuberance in Houston, along with an opportunity to re-grow his facial hair, gives new life to Brian McCann, but it’s far more likely we get another power-only season from him.
12) Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 34, Previous Rank: 4)
Despite not being known as a power threat, Russell Martin had his second straight 20+ dinger season in last year. Unfortunately, this newfound power has come at the expense of contact, with Martin’s strikeout rate shooting up by seven percent from the year before. That’s a major concern, as is the fact that nearly half of Martin’s home runs came in one month of 2016. With his speed and average no longer strengths, Martin is left as a one-dimensional player, though he is hitting in a great park and lineup for power. He has the look of a slightly older and less powerful Brian McCann, albeit in a better setting with more positional certainty. Buying Martin for next season is ill-advised given the red flags mentioned, but the power he provides behind the plate is plenty useful in fantasy leagues if you’re already holding shares.
13) Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox (Age: 24, Previous Rank: 7)
Wow, a breath of fresh youth. I needed that after feeling the pain of the old knees from the two guys above. Swihart, who dropped a steep six spots from last year’s rankings, saw his risk go up and hype go down after a lost season. Swihart was hampered by injuries and blocked by Sandy Leon’s surprising play, limiting the former top prospect to just 19 big league games (with 13 of those coming as an outfielder).
At this point, fantasy owners will have to trust scouting reports over performance, as it’s hard to draw meaningful conclusions from last season. This is an interesting case, because Swihart’s value could go any which way: he could easily leapfrog the old guys ahead of him given the tantalizing upside, but Swihart could also fall another ten spots next year. There’s also the question of playing time, though a healthy Swihart shouldn’t have too much trouble passing Leon and Christian Vasquez. While there’s volatility in this profile, the 24-year-old represents a great buy-low opportunity as a young catcher with a potentially very strong bat.
14) Welington Castillo, Baltimore Orioles (Age: 29, Previous Rank: 19)
Welington Castillo has recently made the transition from being a Diamondback to being an Oriole. Seems like a pretty good deal to me; he’s added wings, and he doesn’t have to worry about being stepped on. Alas, from a baseball perspective, the move seems slightly negative. While both parks are well-suited for right-handed power, Castillo is likely to hit in the bottom half of Baltimore’s lineup after spending most of last season in the middle of the order. As a result, his counting stats may go down a bit, but ‘Beef’ Welington should still provide solid offense in the neighborhood of his 2016 line of .264/.322/.423 with 14 HRs and 68 RBI. That may not seem especially exciting, but those numbers got him to tenth among catchers in ESPN’s player rater last season.
15) Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 5)
A ten spot drop from last year cannot be a pleasant sight for the Travis d’Arnaud believers. Previously a player that could hit but struggled to stay healthy, d’Arnaud managed to fail in both departments in 2016. A .247 batting average and 4 HR in 75 games resulted in an incredibly disappointing season, especially after hype was building following an .825 OPS from d’Arnaud over half-a-season of work in 2015. After last year, one may look at that spurt of offense as an anomaly and 2016’s performance as the norm, which…ouch. While TDA still has age and pedigree on his side, don’t overpay for a piece of this overrated pie. He may find his stroke again next season, but the odds of it coming with health are quite unlikely.
16) Jorge Alfaro, Philadelphia Phillies (Age: 23, Previous Rank: 21)
The full extent of Jorge Alfaro’s big league career is a 16 at bat cup of coffee this past September, so we won’t talk about that. Instead, let’s focus on the larger sample size of Alfaro’s prospect career, which has been longer than, well… I don’t know, I couldn’t think of something of equivalent length. The point is, it’s been a long time, but his years in the minors finally culminated in a strong performance at Double-A Reading last year. While that ballpark is known as being a hitter’s paradise, Alfaro’s .285 average with 15 bombs in just 97 games is a sign that everyone’s patience with the tooled-up catcher is paying off. The power potential remains high, and his hit tool is finally catching up, making for an exciting overall package that should be ready as soon as next season.
17) Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 28, Previous Rank: 9)
No offense to Punxsutawney Phil, but Devin Mesoraco is the pride of Punxsutawney, PA. However, the last few years haven’t been very prideful, as 2015 and 2016 saw Mesoraco on the field for a whopping total of 39 games. We have to go back to 2014 to see what’s so great about Devin Mesoraco; back in the day, he hit .273 with 25 HR and 80 RBI. Yeah, that’s not bad, especially for a backstop. With hip injuries clouding his future, there’s no guarantee he stays behind the plate, so we might be looking at the last year of Mesoraco’s catching eligibility. Still, there’s top-5 upside in his bat and Mesoraco could be a good value piece for this year given how many have forgotten about him. There’s a chance Mesoraco can only play a handful of games and never finds his groove with the bat, but you may also be able to land a stud for little cost.
18) Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 26)
In 2016, Tom Murphy hit .327 with 19 home runs. Albeit at Triple-A Albuquerque in a high-powered offensive environment, those are impressive numbers for a catcher. And hey, whatya know, Tom Murphy gets to go from one high-powered offensive environment to another, as he will now call Coors’ Field home. Having already had small successes in The Show, with five dingers in just 21 games, it’s time for the Rockies to give this University of Buffalo product a shot at the full-time gig. If he gets it, he will be the most talented guy to crouch behind home plate in the home uniform at Coors in a while, and that alone is extremely valuable. Remember, we’re talking about a run-producing environment that once made Nick Hundley look like a valuable fantasy asset.
19) Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners (Age: 25, Previous Rank: 31)
It really is rude that the Mariners have a tendency for ruining all of our favorite prospects: Dustin Ackley, Alex Jackson, and, of course, Mike Zunino. While Seattle may have ran into some bad luck with the other two names, Zunino’s struggles are on the M’s hands, as they rushed him to the big leagues far too quickly. He wasn’t ready to face MLB pitching, as his vomit-inducing stat lines showed. However, the Mariners seem to have righted their mistakes, giving Zunino a chance to finally develop in the minors last season before bringing him back to the show. Once promoted for the second half, the former third overall pick hit 12 HR and even drew some walks. While his .207 batting average and 33.9% strikeout rate shows that not everything has changed, Zunino’s got some serious power, so if you like low-floor, high-ceiling risks, I would direct you to Zunino.
20) Francisco Mejia (Age: 21, Previous Rank: 44)
Francisco Mejia is the proud owner of a 50 game hitting streak. No, I’m not talking about when he was ten years old; it happened last year, in professional baseball—A-Ball to be exact! Still a year or two away, Mejia is for the long-term thinkers of the group. A solid receiver who is sure to stay behind the plate, Mejia also possesses a crisp switch-hitting swing that proves he didn’t luck into that hitting streak. If there’s any catcher in the minor leagues who could contend for a batting crown someday, it’s this guy. Even if the power never truly develops, there’s still a very useful fantasy player here, and if Mejia can build upon his ten home runs in 102 games last season, well, watch out. It’s time to buy the 21-year-old before his helium pushes too high, because he possesses a rare bat that could help him fly up the minor-league ladder. Just don’t go all-in: even with the justifiable hype, Mejia’s still a 21-year-old catcher in A-Ball who hit .243/.324/.345 in 2015.
Commentary by Kazuto Yamazaki and Billy Heyen