Jonathan_Lucroy

Fantasy Baseball Catchers 2014: Tiers, Not Fears


Lukewarm for Lucroy
Photo Credit: Jon Konrath

Fantasy owners should no longer feel the temptation to give up on the catcher position. The position is as deep as ever, with plenty of pop filling up the ranks despite power being down league-wide across the majors. Admittedly, if you play in a two-catcher league, it won’t feel so deep since virtually every fucking catcher who gets regular playing time will wind up being owned (and make no mistake, the position still yields a good number of useless fantasy options). Still, the fact that you have a wider selection of startable catchers to fit into your starting spot is a good thing.

 

More after the jump:

 

The “Worth It” Winners

1. Carlos Santana

2. Wilin Rosario

3. Buster Posey

All three of these guys are tremendous talents whose stats this year will be good enough to play at any position. Yet for some reason, they will all make it past the first four rounds in most leagues, and may not be taken until the sixth or seventh round in others. The old adage is that you shouldn’t pay for catchers, but that should not apply when thinking about these new-age backstops. You see, catchers usually only play around 110-130 games due to the physically grueling nature of squatting for nine innings behind home plate. The three players in this tier, however, are all looking at 150-game seasons if they stay healthy. That’s because their teams will be playing them at different positions on their off-days from catching in order to keep their bats in the lineup. That gives these catchers a huge advantage over the their competition, and makes them worth the reasonable price tag on draft/auction day… Santana deserves the top spot because he is simply the best overall offensive player at the catcher position. His plate patience rivals that of the very best hitters in baseball (14.5 BB% last year) and he still has untapped offensive potential. 25-30 HRs is possible if he is at his best, but even if his floor is good enough to put him top two or three among backstops… Lord Wilin’ has a .277 BA, .227 ISO, and 21.1 HR/FB over his first 949 big-league PAs. Those power numbers are elite at any position, let alone at catcher. The only thing keeping Rosario out of the top spot is his plate patience (or lack thereof). With a 3.2 BB% and 23.4 K% last year, Rosario literally had to do serious damage when he put the ball in play to come away with great numbers. He pulled it off last year and it’s possible he can continue to do so despite a super-aggressive approach. Yet because he doesn’t have the discipline Santana possesses, he just comes up short of owning the position… A lot of people have Posey as their number one catcher. He certainly is a top-tier squatter, but he’s lacks the power upside of Santana and Rosario (career .179 ISO). In his defense, he bulked up a bit in the offseason, so maybe he can eclipse the 20 HR plateau in 2014. Yet even if he is just a 13-16 bomb bat, he makes up for it with the ability to hit for average (career .308 BA) and accumulate quality counting stats as a middle-of-the-order presence in San Francisco’s lineup.

 

The “Cost-Effective” Curmudgeons

4. Joe Mauer

5. Evan Gattis

6. Yadier Molina

7. Matt Wieters

8. Brian McCann

9. Salvador Perez

The price starts to come down significantly with the players in this tier as most of them will start disappearing in the double-digit rounds of drafts. Granted, they don’t have the “their stats can play at any position” fantasy value, but you do stand a solid chance of making a profit on one of these players. Plus, it’s not like these guys are total bums, they just simply wouldn’t be anywhere near as valuable if they weren’t eligible at catcher… Though Mauer’s move to first base makes him the best bet to lead all fantasy catchers in PAs, he misses out on top tier status for a couple of reasons. First, he’s a low-end power option (11 HRs in 2013). Second, he suffered concussion-like symptoms last year and was moved to first base to preserve his health. You have to believe his body will hold up better now that he’s moved from behind the plate, but then again, head injuries are hard to predict. If he’s healthy, you are looking at a high batting average (career .323) with excellent counting stats for a catcher… Gattis has a legit shot at leading all catchers in HRs. He hit 21 bombs in just 382 PAs last year, and he should wind up hitting towards the middle of the lineup this season. Sure he might only hit around .250, but the power numbers should be elite for the position… Aside from one 22 HR season, Yadier Molina has been an underwhelming power threat (12 long-balls last year). Yet because he said he wants to hit for more power this season, we have to take seriously the concept of him being a 20 bomb catcher. He has essentially willed himself to become a perennial .300 hitter and a productive middle-of-the-order bat in St. Louis. The numbers may say he’s barely a double-digit HR hitter, but he also was supposed to be a glove-first backstop with little offensive upside. I ain’t putting shit past him… He’s never quite lived up to the lofty expectations, but Matt Wieters is still a very productive fantasy option (even with his career .255 BA). With at least 22 HRs in each of the last three years and a cushy spot in a potent Orioles offense, Wieters has become a reliable fantasy backstop. It cannot be forgotten that he’s 27 years old, so there might be some untapped upside discovered in 2014… Despite being banged up the past couple of years and sporting a BA under .260 in each of the last two seasons, Brian McCann’s fantasy outlook is looking sunny. Yankee Stadium’s short porch in right field should do well for his left-handed stroke, and the DH spot should allow him to garner more PAs. If he’s healthy, he should top 20 HRs with ease while generating quality counting stats… Perez might end up being the steal of the catcher position. He’s only 23, but is brimming with upside. Perez has hit .301 in his first 989 major-league PAs, and has shown a knack for driving in runners (79 RBIs and a .377 BA with runners in scoring position last year). He should hit towards the middle of the order in 2014 (as he was towards the end of 2013) and should wind up with very good counting stats for a catcher. He’ll also come cheaper than any of the backstops in this tier.

 

The “Wait And See” Society

10. Jonathan Lucroy

11. Jason Castro

12. Travis d'Arnaud

13. Wilson Ramos

Depending on the size and set-up of your league, these players could all end up being way cheaper than they should be. Of course, it’s possible some owner in your league reaches on one of these backstops because of a catcher run in your draft or because they happen to really, really like one of these guys, but the majority of you should see a pretty reasonable price tag attached to these players (who can all provide startable and perhaps elite production at the catcher position)… Lucroy is going as a top five-to-seven catcher in most mock drafts, but I don’t see any reason to reach. Sure he’ll hit in the middle of Milwaukee’s lineup and has the contact rate to post a .280-ish BA, but I don’t think his numbers will be as good in 2014. For starters, he simply won’t play as much. His 580 PAs were the result of Milwaukee playing him at first during his off days from catching last year. With the Brewers healthy entering the season, his off days behind the plate will likely be spent on the bench now. Additionally, Lucroy’s pop, while solid, is hardly “elite” for the position (.175 ISO last year). Don’t get it twisted, he seems poised to be a top 12 fantasy catcher who can hit 15-17 bombs and swipe a handful of bases. Yet his “upside” is limited and his 2013 production is truly a best-case scenario for this season… Houston’s weak offense will force Jason Castro to hit third in their lineup, which should help him post appealing counting stats. Yet the foundation of his fantasy value lies in his power (.209 ISO and 18 HRs in just 491 PAs last year). If he didn’t strike out so much, he might’ve snuck onto the above tier, but even with the whiffs, he’s a threat for 20 HRs and 70-plus runs and RBIs (which is damn good for a catcher)… Despite being a top catching prospect with power, Travis d’Arnaud isn’t getting a lot of love in fantasy drafts/auctions. A big reason is likely his meek numbers during his major league call-up last year, but he’s admitted that he was very jumpy and swinging for the fences on every at-bat. After spending the offseason simplifying his approach, expect him to produce closer to his impressive minor league numbers (ISO over .230 over his last three minor league seasons). Yes Citi Field suppresses power, but I think d’Arnaud can still swat 20 bombs this year and he could wind up hitting in the middle of the lineup in New York’s below-average offense… Knee issues have kept Wilson Ramos off the field quite a bit over the last two years, but when he plays, he looks like an elite fantasy catcher. He’s posted a HR/FB over 20-percent each of the last two seasons and would threaten for 25 bombs if he stayed healthy. Of course, he’s as risky a catcher as their is in fantasy, so be prepared to carry an extra backstop to cover you in case of injury.

 

The “Potentially Profit Earning” Pariahs

14. A.J. Pierzynski

15. Devin Mesoraco

16. Miguel Montero

17. Russell Martin

18. Yan Gomes

19. Mike Zunino

Some fantasy owners will view these names as useless, last-ditch options they’d rather not have on their roster. Yet despite the fact that some owners may try to avoid these players like the plague, their cheap price tag leaves plenty of room for profit on these interesting options for those owners who miss out on the better players… Though he’s 37 years old, Pierzynski has been plenty productive over the last two years. Granted, he made less contact and took fewer walks last year, so a decline is certainly possible. Yet if he can continue to play at a high level, you are looking at a .270-.280 BA, 15-18 HRs, and solid RBI totals… Last year, Devin Mesoraco was a coveted sleeper. One disappointing season later, and he’s going undrafted (in many leagues). There is some lottery ticket appeal with Mesoraco, who was revered for his power stroke when he was coming up. Now that he has a clear path to everyday PAs, he’ll get a legit shot to prove he can hang… Miguel Montero was once a high-teens HR hitting, counting stat producing catcher who hit in the middle of Arizona’s lineup. Last year, an increase in whiffs and grounders, coupled with a dip in pop, caused him to fall into the mediocre levels of the fantasy catcher ranks. Because he’s only a year removed from a 15 HR, 88 RBI, .286 BA season (and is only 30), there’s hope he can get back to a more acceptable level of production. Then again, his 2012 numbers are really his ceiling-level of production, which is why you should not feel the need to invest anything substantial for Montero… The fact that he has hit less than .240 in the last three years is troubling, but Martin is the only catcher (other than Jonathan Lucroy) who can bop 15-18 HRs and steal 7-10 bases. Yeah, his BA will suck balls, but don’t completely disregard Martin as he does possess some fantasy value… With Carlos Santana likely moving into more of a backup catcher role in Cleveland, the door has opened for Yan Gomes. He rocked a .188 ISO last year and owned a career .294 BA in the minors, so there is a chance he could be a cheap, top 12 caliber fantasy catcher. He’ll have to improve his plate patience (5.6 BB% and 20.8 K% last year), but Gomes isn’t a bad option to consider if you want to wait on a catcher… Because he posted a .251 ISO in AAA last year, Mike Zunino just sneaks onto this tier. It should be noted that those numbers came in the PCL, where hitters stats gets bloated. It’s also worth pointing out that he struggled mightily with strikeouts last year, so his BA is certainly a liability. Fortunately, he has been working on swing, so there’s hope that he can experience something of a breakout in 2014 (though it will be hard to do that hitting in SafeCo Field).

 

The Job Squad

20. Carlos Ruiz

21. Jarrod Saltalamacchia

22. Dioner Navarro

23. Welington Castillo

24. Geovany Soto

25. John Jaso

26. Derek Norris

27. Chris Iannetta

28. Nick Hundley

29. Alex Avila

30. Tyler Flowers

31. Ryan Hanigan

32. A.J. Ellis

33. Kurt Suzuki

34. J.P. Arencibia

35. Jesus Montero

36. Josh Phegley

37. Ryan Doumit

38. Josmil Pinto

39. Yasmani Grandal

Obviously the least exciting tier of the catcher position. Most of the players on this tier made the cut because they simply are the starting catcher on their respective club. You also have a pair of interesting young pups who may force their way into a bigger role (Phegley and Pinto) as well as a pair of greasy veterans who could find their way back into the fantasy limelight with some good fortune (Doumit and Arencibia). Hell, I even threw Yasmani Grandal in here for good measure just in case he comes back healthy. Yeah, the bottom of the catcher rankings still blow donkey dick.

 

*Last updated 3/9/14.

Starbonell

About Starbonell

Starbonell is the co-founder of Sons of Roto and one of the most insightful and colorful fantasy analysts in the game. Mixing intelligent and well-researched advice with an entertaining style of writing that is easy to digest, Starbonell is the king of info-tainment.

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