January 9, 2017
Fantasy Players to Target
Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
I realize I am flirting with arbitrary endpoints and narratives here, but Grandal’s shoulder issues over the last two years are real to me. In 2015, he hit .285/.394/.500 with 14 HR in about 300 PA through the end of July. He hurt his shoulder sometime in August, and hit .129/.268/.198 after that with two home runs. He looked very limited offensively, and appeared to be gutting it out for a division winner that needed his glove and pitch-framing behind the plate. Grandal graded as BP’s best pitch-framer in 2015 with 25.6 framing runs above average.
He had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and it took a while for him to bounce back. Check out these splits:
I don’t know, this could all be randomness, but I am a believer in a healthy Grandal being an extremely potent offensive catcher. I’m targeting him in all of my fantasy drafts and think he could be in for his best season yet. —Tim Finnegan
Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds
Mesoraco is a pure upside play. He’ll turn 29 during the upcoming season, so he’s still in his prime. And he still has that tremendous 2014 season on his resume: a .273/.359/.534 line with 25 home runs and 80 RBI in 440 plate appearances. He’s expected to be healthy going into the 2017 season, and if he hits anywhere in the neighborhood of that line this year, he won’t have a problem finding playing time.
With the big Pennsylvanian sidelined in 2016, Tucker Barnhart played behind the dish for Cincinnati and held his own, hitting .257/.323/.371 with seven home runs and 51 RBI in 420 plate appearances. While the Reds were happy with Barnhart’s play, he’s a limited player with little power who has never hit double-digit home runs over the course of a full season in the majors or the minors. Even if the Reds decide that they prefer Barnhart’s defense behind the plate, they would likely move Mesoraco to an outfield corner, potentially enhancing his value as a catcher-eligible hitter playing more frequently than he would as a catcher, thereby racking up more counting stats. Don’t go for him early in drafts and don’t pay much for him in auctions, but make sure he’s on your list as a high-upside endgame play. —Scooter Hotz
Andrew Susac, Milwaukee Brewers
Enter Susac. The former Giant (who came over to Milwaukee in the Will Smith trade last July) was a top-101 prospect heading into the 2015 season on the strength of his power potential and his arm strength. Whether it’s been due to injury or limited playing time, we still haven’t seen that on a consistent basis, but such is life when you’re destined to backup Buster Posey. Now as the top dog with the Brewers (no disrespect to Manny Pina or Jett Bandy), he has a straight shot to 450 at bats and a wonderful home park to boot. Even if he’s the exact same hitter he’s been throughout his start-and-stop career thus far (which is an above-average hitter, per his .269 TAv), he’ll have a good shot to be a top-10 catcher if he can stay on the field. Oh, and he’s also developed into a good framer to boot, as his framing figures in Triple-A last year were among the best at the level.
Now, with all that said, this is more of a specific recommendation than a blanket one for all leagues—it’s where the strategy comes in. If you’re in a 10- or 12-team league that only starts one catcher per team, you don’t need to bother as anything more than a spec play (which probably doesn’t even make sense unless you’ve got a really deep bench and a risky starter). But if you’re in a 16-team league or a two-catcher format, Susac could be your guy. In the former, he can be grabbed at the end of your draft/auction so you can focus your energy and dollars elsewhere. In the latter, he makes for a great secondary target to keep you from creating an unnecessary hole on your roster. Don’t let the fact that he hasn’t done much yet distract you from the fact that he has a good chance to be, well, good. He’ll only be 27 on Opening Day. Catchers are weird, man. —Bret Sayre
Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays
Okay, now for the bad news, the 800-pound pink elephant staring at you from across the room type news. Ramos is still recovering from a torn ACL that abruptly ended his breakout campaign in September. Now, I know what you’re thinking: Why should I draft an injured dude? Ordinarily, I would agree with the sentiment. However, after signing with the Rays this off-season, Ramos and the team have been optimistic that the slugging backstop could return to the lineup as early as May.
In addition, the option to use Ramos at DH (guys with catcher eligibility that don’t have to get beat up catching are my jam) clears a path for him to potentially log a similar number plate appearances to some of his contemporaries. Currently, according to early NFBC average draft position data, Ramos is being selected as the 18th catcher off the board, nestled in between Sandy Leon and Derek Norris, neither of which are particularly inspiring options. With the catcher position having the depth of a contestant on The Bachelorette, I think it’s totally worth the risk to roll the dice and hope for another top-10 performance at nowhere near the price. —Mark Barry
Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies
Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
With high-priced veteran Brian McCann traded to Houston, Sanchez will not only be firmly entrenched as the Yankees everyday catcher, but he will also begin the year batting third in an extremely deep and talented lineup. Over the last decade, Buster Posey, Salvador Perez and Joe Mauer are the only catchers (age 25 or younger) to bat in the heart of their team’s lineup 50-plus times. During that same span, only 10 catchers have managed to hit 25-plus home runs in a single season. Sanchez has a realistic chance to accomplish both feats in 2017. The 24-year-old’s realistic floor as a solid three-category producer insulates a lot of the extreme risk that comes with selecting a catcher in the early rounds. —George Bissell
Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs