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January 8, 2015

Dynasty League Positional Rankings

The Top 50 Catchers

by Bret Sayre

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The Primer:
Because dynasty league rankings are relatively league-dependent, I set up parameters for ranking the players below (and the ones who will follow at other positions). The list here presupposes a 16-team standard dynasty format, in which there are no contracts/salaries, players can be kept forever, and owners have minor-league farm systems in which to hoard prospects. So feel free to adjust this as necessary for your individual league, whether it’s moving non-elite prospects without 2015 ETAs down if you don’t have separate farm teams or moving lower-risk, lower-reward players up in deeper mixed or -only formats.

Catcher is a highly divergent position, and it leads to a slightly different ranking style than other positions—which we’ll get to over the course of this series. The fact that these rankings are designed for one-catcher leagues (those of you in two-catcher leagues can bump up any player either in the majors or who gets dinged for their defense) helps make the band of usefulness at the major league level smaller than a position where you could start a player at either a mash position (CI/MI) or at a utility spot. The low ceiling of the average fantasy catcher and the high floor of the average waiver wire catcher puts the focus more clearly on upside at the plate. Of course, it’s also mildly offset by the fact that catching prospects are often slow to develop both in the minor leagues and in their early careers.

It’s also a position hinging on fewer established names, especially after losing Joe Mauer and Carlos Santana this season. And on the other side, there are very few prospects who could see real playing time this year—so those spots are going to have to be filled by 20-somethings who will try and prove that their steps forward at the major league level are real and sustainable.

And now, your top 50 catchers in dynasty league formats:

1) Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
2) Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers

There’s a pretty clear top tier here, and it’s not just Posey anymore. While the Giant has the edge in power, everything else is more or less even. And while that still gives Posey a pretty good advantage, we’re at the point where Lucroy is closer to the top spot than he is to the next players on this list. If you own one of these two players, there’s no reason for you to even think about the position for the next 3-5 years.

3) Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds
4) Brian McCann, New York Yankees
5) Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
6) Yadier Molina, St Louis Cardinals

The next wave of names here are a combination of two players in their mid-20s who have the talent to join the top tier in the coming years, and two 30-something catchers who once occupied that top tier. Mesoraco hit 25 homers in just 384 at-bats last year, and if he even comes close to repeating the average and power (think .270, 20), he’ll be in the top tier come 2016. McCann has his warts (struggles with the shift, downtick in power), but he’s still just 30 years old and not only plays in a very favorable park, but often plays at DH when he doesn’t catch. Perez was worn down by the end of last season, but still has the talent to consistently hit .280-plus with 15 homers and is just 24 years old. Meanwhile, Molina is the best bet outside of the top tier to hit .300 on an ongoing basis—and despite the thumb injury in 2014, remains a great bet to rack up at bats.

7) Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

This one likely isn’t going to be popular, but readers and listeners likely remember that I was pretty down on Gomes coming into this year. He’s certainly proven me wrong, but the profile still makes me a little nervous. Playing time isn’t a concern any more, but his 120 strikeouts versus 24 walks are. It looks like the 20-homer power is likely here to stay, but the batting average will be a constant challenge to maintain.

8) Derek Norris, San Diego Padres
9) Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets

Norris and d’Arnaud have the talent to be in the Mesoraco/Perez class of second tier catchers, but neither has put it together for a long enough stretch for us to trust it. Moving from Oakland to San Diego won’t actually hurt Norris all that much, but he was a drastically different player in the second half, watching his OPS drop from .879 to .638. The opposite was true of d’Arnaud, as his performance spiked after a demotion to Las Vegas—and hit .272/.319/.486 in 257 at-bats (for reference, Gomes hit .278/.313/.472 last year).

10) Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves
11) Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
12) Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
13) Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays
14) Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals

Now we start to get into the “pick your poison” area of this list. Gattis has the power, but is a risk to lose eligibility and drag down your batting average. If he’s really going to play outfield this year, he becomes a great target solely for 2015—always target catchers who don’t play catcher. Wieters is coming off the injury, but has top-five upside at the position and makes for a good trade target this off-season. Grandal should see his value spike in Los Angeles, and while Martin will likely regress a little, that regression should be less obvious because of the move to Toronto. Then there’s Wilson Ramos who has plenty of talent (and power), but just can’t seem to stay healthy.

15) Kyle Schwarber, Chicago Cubs

There’s no elite catching prospect in the minor leagues these days, but the best fantasy catching prospect is a player who may not even be a full-time catcher at the major-league level. Schwarber’s potential with the bat could make him a top-three option at the position, if he sticks—and even if he doesn’t in the long run, you’d take a .275 hitter with 25 homers anywhere.

16) Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs
17) Jorge Alfaro, Texas Rangers
18) Blake Swihart, Boston Red Sox
19) Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

The new Cubs full-time catcher leads this next group of up-and-coming fantasy catchers. Montero could bounce back to reliability in Chicago, but will turn 32 before the All-Star break this year and hasn’t posted a .700 OPS since 2012. Alfaro and Swihart are the best “traditional” fantasy catching prospects, as they both should stick at the position. The legendary one carries the upside and future Boston backstop carries the floor—but don’t undersell Alfaro’s floor or Swihart’s ceiling. Zunino was a high-profile draft pick with power, but has had contact issues his entire major league career so far, including a horrifying 158 strikeouts to 17 walks in 2014.

20) Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies
21) Jason Castro, Houston Astros
22) Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
23) Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins

This tier sees us move from the guys who have upside to the guys who have upside and more question marks. Rosario may not stay at catcher for very long, and his struggles against RHP hit a new low in 2014. Castro saw his TAv drop form .305 to .245, which doesn’t mean much for fantasy purposes but did cause Houston to bring in Hank Conger to challenge him. The competition may be good for the Astros, but it’s not for Castro’s fantasy value. Sanchez still has potential with the bat, but it’s become more and more likely that it comes at another position. And Pinto found himself buried behind Kurt Suzuki in 2014, and he needs to take a step forward both at the plate and behind it, to change things in 2015.

24) Max Pentecost, Toronto Blue Jays
25) Andrew Susac, San Francisco Giants

The next two prospects on the list are both highly likely to be fantasy usable in the future, but much less likely to be high-end options. Pentecost’s value comes from his overall value, and he even throws in a modicum of speed—which could push him to be a slightly lesser version of early career Russell Martin. Susac is closer to the majors, but the Giants just happen to have a pretty good full-time catcher, in case you haven’t noticed.

26) Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays
27) John Jaso, Oakland Athletics
28) Tyler Flowers, Chicago White Sox
29) Welington Castillo, Chicago Cubs
30) Chance Sisco, Baltimore Orioles
31) Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
32) Hank Conger, Houston Astros
33) Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins

The tiers start to get bigger at this point. Navarro and Jaso may be catchers in name only these days, but they can still hit enough to be solid, but unspectacular options if you don’t have a strong backstop. I’m not giving up on Castillo just because the Cubs have—he will end up with a starting job somewhere, and he can build off what he accomplished in 2013 yet. Sisco can hit, and while his defense may hold him back in real life, he can stick and could be a strong fantasy option. If Conger gets the full-time job in Houston, he has the stick to run with it.

34) Kevin Plawecki, New York Mets
35) Reese McGuire, Pittsburgh Pirates
36) Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels
37) Francisco Mejia, Cleveland Indians
38) Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins
39) Max Stassi, Houston Astros

If you’re relying on a catcher in this tier to be your starter or starter of the future, you better start moving on another option. Plawecki is close but lacks fantasy upside and even at peak is likely too close to replacement level. McGuire will get love for his defense on prospect lists, but will move towards carrying more trade value than fantasy value as he moves through the minors. Mejia has a ton of upside, and there’s plenty of good reason to hold onto him, but he’s going to be a slow mover and may not be a viable fantasy catcher until 2019, even if things go swimmingly.

40) Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres
41) Christian Bethancourt, Atlanta Braves

These two names are going to be the cause of plenty of disagreement again this off-season, as they accentuate the difference between looking at regular prospect lists and dynasty prospect lists. Hedges is a great prospect, but the bat has not come along so far, and despite the playing time he’ll likely receive throughout his career, he’s not a good bet to be much of a fantasy contributor. Same with Bethancourt, except he has slightly more upside with the bat, but is a lesser prospect overall.

42) Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers
43) Jakson Reetz, Washington Nationals
44) Peter O’Brien, Arizona Diamondbacks
45) Luis Torrens, New York Yankees
46) Nick Hundley, Colorado Rockies
47) Ryan Hanigan, Boston Red Sox
48) Justin O’Conner, Tampa Bay Rays
49) Chase Vallot, Kansas City Royals
50) Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox

The end of this list is a complete hodgepodge. Avila and Hundley could hold some 2015 value. Reetz and Torrens have some pretty fun upside, but are light years away. And Vazquez barely squeezed onto this list, as despite his awesome defense, is just so unlikely to hit enough to warrant starting in anything but a two-catcher or AL-only format.

Just missed: Rob Brantly, Rene Rivera, J.T. Realmuto, James McCann, Caleb Joseph

Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Catchers,  Dynasty Leagues,  Keeper Leagues

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