Fantasy Baseball 2018: Catcher Rankings

HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 20: Gary Sanchez

The catcher position is very shallow this season. You either draft a top guy early or wait until the end for your starting catcher.

Drafting a catcher for your fantasy team is a conundrum this season. There are a few names worth drafting in the early rounds. However, that may not be the best option for your overall success.

It depends on your roster construction. If you do get a top-tier catcher, you may lack value in another position. But, with little depth, you may have to draft a catcher early. Or, you stack up at the other positions and wait until Round 17 to draft your starter.

If you compare the stats of my No. 4 catcher (Sal Perez) and my No. 16 catcher (Yasmani Grandal), they weren’t that different. Perez hit 27 home runs, 80 RBI and .268 in 129 games last season. In the same number of games, Grandal hit .247 with 22 home runs and 58 RBI.

Yes, there was a big drop off in RBI but you could have easily made the difference up with another player and been able to wait a few more rounds before drafting your starting catcher.

Most leagues are one-catcher leagues anyway, so you can build up stock at another position. I look at catcher like I do quarterbacks in fantasy football. If you don’t get one of the top-five names, you are better off being one of the last to draft one. The difference between tiers is not enough to draft one six rounds earlier than another.

Before we get started, I want to talk about some catchers that fell just outside my top-20 rankings.

Martin Maldonado (LAA) – Maldonado had his breakout season last year. He played in 138 games and hit .221 with 14 home runs, 38 RBI and 43 runs scored. While he shouldn’t be your starting or only catcher, the improved Angels lineup should help Maldonado’s counting stats in 2018.

Jason Castro (MIN) – In his first season in Minnesota, Castro posted his best season since his All-Star 2013 season. He hit .242 with 10 homers, 47 RBI and 49 runs scored. The Twins don’t have the best one thru nine lineup but with Miguel Sano, Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton, Castro should be able to drive a few batters home as their No. 9 hitter.

Stephen Vogt (MIL) – Vogt played in just 99 games last year after playing in at least 136 in each of the prior two seasons. His batting average dropped as he still managed to hit 12 home runs and 40 RBI. He will hit in the bottom of a revamped Milwaukee lineup. With the additions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich along with Ryan Braun and Eric Thames, Vogt will have his chances to drive home runs.

Austin Barnes (LAD) – Roster Resource lists Barnes as the Dodgers starting catcher. Yasmani Grandal is still on the roster and will take away from his playing time. After playing 41 combined games in 2015 and 2016, Barnes broke out with 102 games played, .289 average, eight home runs and 38 RBI. The Dodgers have one of the best lineups in the National League and even all of baseball. He’s worth drafting in an NL-only or deeper league.

Chris Iannetta (COL) – Iannetta has had an up-and-down career. He’s had some good seasons with power and average and some when one or the other is up. In his most recent season in Arizona, he finished with a .254 average, 17 home runs and 43 RBI. It’s hard to join a team better than the Diamondbacks but he did when he signed with the Colorado Rockies. Plus, hitting in Coors Field for half of your games will help. Though, Iannetta hasn’t played in 100 games in three seasons so durability is in question.

I will reference the main stats used in fantasy leagues. There are a lot of numbers that go into home runs, RBI, etc., but they aren’t important to the majority of fantasy owners. Now, here are my top 20 catchers for the 2018 season.

 

ARLINGTON, TX – JUNE 4: Robinson Chirinos

Robinson Chirinos (TEX) – Chirinos didn’t play much early in the season but after Jonathan Lucroy was traded, he took over the catcher job. In 88 games, he hit a career-high 17 home runs with 38 RBI and a .255 average. With a full season ahead of him, Chirinos could reach 20 home runs with 65 RBI. The downside is that the average may drop to about .235 but not many catchers hit over .260 anyway.

James McCann (DET) – McCann will have the catching job to himself in 2018. Even so, he hit a career-high 13 home runs and 49 RBI with a .253 average. The Tigers heart of the order is getting up there in age with Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez. The rest of the lineup is question marks with limited fantasy value. McCann should still be able to hold his own as the No. 6 batter.

Travis d’Arnaud (NYM) – d’Arnaud is another catcher that had a career high in power. It’s like home runs were up across the league. He hit 16 homers with 57 RBI and a .244 average. He also doesn’t strike out a lot, only 59 in 112 games. The Mets added three veteran hitters to help the team be competitive in 2018. d’Arnaud will likely benefit with the additions of Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez hitting in front of him.

Alex Avila (ARI) – I recently talked about Avila joining the Diamondbacks. As the new starting catcher in Arizona, Avila will have a fantasy-relevant season. With a six-year high .387 on-base percentage, Avila will be on base to score a lot of runs. He should be drafted as a low-end No. 2 catcher.

Yasmani Grandal (LAD) – Grandal will likely split time with the aforementioned Barnes in Los Angeles. He hit 22 home runs, 58 RBI and .247 in 129 games. If you are looking for power to fill your catcher spot late in the draft, Grandal is your guy.

NEW YORK, NY – JULY 05: Russell Martin

Austin Hedges (SD) – Hedges was one of the many catchers to provide in the power categories but struggled with contact. He hit 18 home runs, 55 RBI and scored 36 runs. Hedges also hit .214 in 120 games. The San Diego Padres improved their lineup by bringing back Chase Headley and adding Freddy Galvis. I like this Padres team and Hedges is one of my sleeper picks, as I mentioned here.

Brian McCann (HOU) – McCann is still a power-hitting catcher but the lack of playing time hurts his value. He has dealt with some injuries and Evan Gattis is still hanging around. While Gattis may be the full-time DH, he can easily move back to catcher if needed. McCann hasn’t hit above .250 in four seasons. He is someone to draft as long as you can pair him with someone in a higher tier.

Matt Wieters (WSH) – Wieters had a down year with the Nationals. He hit just 10 home runs, 52 RBI and .225 in 123 games. You would think moving to the pitcher-deprived NL East would help Wieters. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. He struck out 94 times with just 38 walks. The Nationals have one of the best lineups with a couple of key pieces coming back. Wieters will hit behind the power core of this team. If you can stack up your batting average, Wieters’ power should return.

Russell Martin (TOR) – Martin has been one of the more consistent catchers in fantasy. Though, last year was a down season for the veteran. He played in just 91 games after playing in at least 111 games in each of the last six seasons. Martin still hit double-digit home runs but the rest of his numbers were down. If he can stay healthy, with the improvements to the Blue Jays lineup, Martin should get closer to 20 home runs and 50 RBI but still hit close to .230.

Welington Castillo (CWS) – I wrote about Castillo signing with the Chicago White Sox here. He succeeded in his first and only year with the Orioles. He hit 20 homers, 53 RBI and .282. While the White Sox are rebuilding, there are still offensive stars like Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada and Avisail Garcia. He could easily move into the top 10.

Mariners

SEATTLE, WA – JUNE 27: Mike Zunino

Jonathan Lucroy (FA) – Currently, Lucroy is not signed to a team. Regardless, he has the potential to finish as a top-10 catcher. Take out the down year he had in 2017, Lucroy averages .284 with 13 home runs and 60 RBI per season. Those are great numbers from a catcher. The latest news from Rotoworld is that the Mets were reaching out but that was back in January. There’s still time for him to sign with a team.

Wilson Ramos (TB) – Ramos missed most of the season recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in 2016. He returned on June 24 and played in 64 games and finished with 11 home runs, 35 RBI and a .260 average. The Rays traded their top hitter in Evan Longoria, so the potential for RBI drops. Though, he still hits in the AL East, a division with few star pitchers. With the injury behind him, Ramos will look to reclaim his spot as a top-five catcher.

Evan Gattis (HOU) – I mentioned Gattis in the last slide. He will hit as the Astros DH but enters 2018 with catcher eligibility. He played in just 84 games last season but still hit 12 home runs, 55 RBI and .263. I don’t project any long absences from Gattis as he will not be playing the field every game like most of his contemporaries. If he has catcher eligibility in your league, he’s worth the add.

Mike Zunino (SEA) – My colleague Gavin Tramps wrote a piece on Zunino. I don’t want to spoil what he wrote so definitely check it out.

JT Realmuto (MIA) – Realmuto is the catcher for the Miami Marlins for now. I’ve talked about him a lot. Even with all of the other trades around the team, Realmuto’s value is still rising. He is one of a handful of catchers that can hit double-digit home runs and steal 10-plus bases. With steals at such a premium, Realmuto gets the boost over 90 percent of catchers. Even if he gets traded, Realmuto is still a top-10 catcher.

Yadier Molina

PITTSBURGH, PA – AUGUST 17: Yadier Molina

I’ve talked about Yadier Molina in each of the last two offseasons. In 2017, I said he was underrated. This year, I questioned if he has one more good season left.

Despite playing in just 136 games, Molina had his best power and speed season in five years. He finished with 18 home runs, 82 RBI, nine steals and a .273 average. While his average was down about 30 points from 2016, .273 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you look at the rest of the position.

The Cardinals added Marcell Ozuna in December but they did trade away some important pieces. I still think Molina and the Cardinals have one of the better offenses in the league.

The 35-year-old,eight-time All-Star doesn’t seem to be slowing down. While I wouldn’t rely on nine steals, he can easily drive in another 80 runs and hit .280 again. When drafting at any position, you are looking for consistency and Molina epitomizes consistency.

Despite being my No. 5 catcher, Molina is someone you can still wait on. FantasyPros projects a 164.0 ADP. ESPN ranks him No. 208 overall. That is great value for a player of Molina’s caliber. I’d take him every day of the week.

KANSAS CITY, MO – JULY 20: Salvador Perez

Salvador has been around for seven seasons but is still just 27 years old. He had a great bounce-back season despite playing in 10 fewer games last year.

He hit 27 home runs, 80 RBI and .268 in that span. Perez also struck out 24 fewer times while posting a .297 on-base percentage. The Royals, like many other teams, are in a bit of a rebuild as they lost most of their top hitters to free agency.

Yet, Perez is still there and can hit still hit for power. The only downside is that his RBI total may be lower this season. All three projections on Fangraphs have Perez driving in fewer than 80 RBI. The upside is that he’ll hit another 22-plus home runs and .270 in 130 games.

Perez ranks a few rounds higher than Molina. He will cost you anywhere between an 11th to 15th round pick if you want him. Even with some of the other catchers I mentioned and how similar their stats are, I think Perez will be worth a pick in the early double-digit rounds.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – JULY 25: Buster Posey

Buster Posey had his worst power-hitting season last year. With few offensive weapons with him, Posey pushed out just 12 home runs and 67 RBI while hitting .320 in 140 games.

This season should be a lot different as the Giants traded for Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen. Posey will hit in between his two new teammates, making that trio dangerous for any opposing pitcher.

Posey is also playing more first base as he gets older. He played in 41 games there in 2015, 11 in 2016 and 38 last year. You could draft Posey as your first baseman and draft another catcher later on. However, with the talent at first base, you may not want to do that.

For years, Posey would cost you a high draft pick as he was the only catcher to hit over .300 with 20 home runs and 90 RBI. Now, those numbers aren’t as rare and Posey’s shine is starting to wear off. However, he is still valuable. Gavin Tramps still thinks he’s the best fantasy catcher.

Posey will be drafted between the sixth and eight round in standard leagues. This is where I draw the line. If I can get Perez six rounds later, I will likely go that route. Posey will have his fans but the investment isn’t worth the reward.

CHICAGO, IL – OCTOBER 18: Willson Contreras

Willson Contreras broke out as the Chicago Cubs catcher as Kyle Schwarber transitioned to the outfield. He showed us what he could do in a shortened 2016 season and became a star in 2017.

He played in 117 games and hit .276 with 21 home runs, 74 RBI and 50 runs scored. The Cubs haven’t added any new pieces to their lineup but they really don’t need to. With Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Schwarber still on the team, Contreras will be a productive catcher.

While Contreras struck out more in 2017, he also walked more. However, with the increase in games played, his strikeout rate actually dropped a percent and walk rate went up a percent.

He is one of the few that can hit 20-plus home runs and maintain a respectable batting average. That is something worth investing in for your starting catcher.

Contreras isn’t ranked as highly as Posey but that’s from those other guys. I think he is the second-best catcher in 2018. The offense, the plate discipline and contact are all there. He’s only 25 years old with a bright future ahead of him. Though, may not be as bright at my No. 1 catcher.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 17: Gary Sanchez

Yes, obviously Gary Sanchez was going to be atop my list. I wrote a piece saying the catcher position is Sanchez in a tier of his own. and then everyone else. Everything favors him entering 2018.

He hits for power and contact. Sanchez hits in Yankee Stadium for half of the season. He has Aaron Judge and now Giancarlo Stanton as teammates. If everything lines up just right, Sanchez can have the best fantasy season for a catcher of all time.

He hit 33 home runs, 90 RBI and .278 in 122 games. If he can play up to 150 games, I think a 40 HR/100 RBI/.272 line is possible. However, catching is a taxing position, so he will likely play 130-135 games this season.

Sanchez struck out 120 times last year, so if your league penalizes strikeouts, you may want to avoid Sanchez. Then again, his fourth-round ADP may deter you from drafting him as well.

Overall, this Yankees team will be fun to watch all season long and Sanchez will be at the heart of their success, or downfall.

SEATTLE, WA – JUNE 07: Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino

The catcher position features some great hitters. There are also some names that would make it to a starting lineup in standard fantasy leagues.

What you do with your first few picks depends on how you address your starting catcher. If you go pitching heavy early, going after Sanchez or Posey will likely be your target.

However, if you draft some hitters first, you should be able to wait and select someone like Molina or Zunino later.

Regardless, this isn’t a position you should stress about when drafting.