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January 9, 2017

Fantasy Players to Target


by BP Fantasy Staff

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Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers
In the last three seasons, the only full time catchers with more home runs than Yasmani Grandal are Brian McCann (69) and Salvador Perez (60). Grandal has 58. His batting average, runs, and RBI have drained some of his fantasy value over those seasons, but I think there’s some untapped potential with Grandal going forward that might be a little under the radar.

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:

  • Pre July 1: .179/.292/.347, 7 HR, .168 ISO
  • Post July 1:.267/.376/.581, 20 HR, .313 ISO

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
Let’s start with the obvious. Devin Mesoraco hasn’t produced anything worthwhile in fantasy since 2014. Nothing illustrates this point more clearly than the fact that he hasn’t hit a home run since 2014. He missed most of the 2015 and 2016 seasons due to a series of injuries, playing only 23 games in 2015 and 16 games in 2016.

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
The catcher position is about as bad as I can remember this year and it's noticeable everywhere. It's probably most glaring once you get outside the top-8 (which we'll get to tomorrow). There are old guys and oft-injured guys. There are has-beens and never-beens. There's risk everywhere and upside is tough to come by.

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
So it turns out that it’s much easier to hit if you can, you know, see the ball. Following offseason LASIK surgery, Ramos cashed in on his oft-discussed potential, mashing opposing pitchers en route to a line of .307/.354/.496 with 22 homers in 523 plate appearances. Always a high contact, low walk guy in the past, he even improved in those areas, raising his walk rate to 6.7 percent (still bad, but it’s relative) and cutting back on strikeouts by nearly five percentage points. All of this is good news, especially for a catcher.

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
As we shift into 2017 mode, one of the toughest tasks I’ve encountered is ranking catching’s middle class. I just don’t see much differentiation within in the two- and three-star tiers. It’s not a new problem, but it’s one I’ve avoided in recent years by ponying up for Posey. He now has legitimate company at the top though, in the form of a healthy Lucroy and a sophomore who only needed two months to finish in the top ten at the position in 2016. I still like Posey as best-in-class but I’m not as willing to pay the premium when the comparative advantage has shrunk to the extent it has. Unwillingness to spend at the top and a lack of conviction in the middle will probably leave me digging in the dollar bin. If you find yourself there too, don’t reach for that copy of Hotel California (Derek Norris) or Night Moves (James McCann). You already know they’re boring. It’s gonna be okay if you never hear “Born In The USA” (Jason Castro) or “More Than A Feeling” (Yan Gomes) again. Grip one you’ve never seen or heard before. There’s a decent chance it’s going to be bad, but you can’t say with much certainty until you give it a spin. If there isn’t power in those grooves, throw it back and get you a new one. I promise there’ll be any number of plain options freely available whenever settling becomes more appealing than adventure. —Greg Wellemeyer

Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees
As Jason Parks wrote in Extra Innings, “Good catchers take time to develop, as their skills need refinement through repetition and situational experience.” There may not be a greater embodiment of that statement than Sanchez, who spent nearly a decade on industry top prospect lists, and in the minor leagues focusing on his defense behind the plate, before his powerful bat exploded onto the scene last season. After hitting .299/.376/.657 with 20 home runs in just 229 plate appearances in his brief debut, he’s going to require a substantial investment in drafts this spring. However, there isn’t as much risk as you would think.

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
This is pretty simple for me. Contreras can really hit and has some positional versatility, and that means he'll find playing time even on a crowded Cubs roster. I think the .282/.357/.488 line he posted in 283 PA last season is a bit too much to hope for, but if you dial that back by 15%, it's quite representative of what Contreras can do over a full-ish season in the majors. Will he play as often as backstops on teams with no other options? No. But how many of those catchers might also steal a few games in the outfield, and how many of those other catchers will play with a better supporting cast? I like Contreras as a back-of-the-top-10 fantasy catcher for 2017. Maybe that sounds lofty, but basically what I'm saying is "I think he's better than 2016 Wellington Castillo." Not such a high bar now, is it? —Ben Carsley

BP Fantasy Staff is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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Fantasy Freestyle: Twe... (01/07)
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