January 9, 2017
Early ADP Analysis
Welcome back to our Positional Series, where this week you’ll find everything you need to know about the catching crop in 2017. Last year, we debuted our Early ADP Analysis feature, and it’s going to be continuing this year. For a refresher, I’ll be looking at the ADP data from NFBC leagues and searching for some trends based on last year. I imagine our audience is fairly split between 12- and 15-team leagues, but for the purposes of the tables below, the average round column reflects a 15-team draft. With all of that out of the way, let’s look at some backstops.
The Early Rounds
Buster Posey is hearing footsteps atop the draft board, but no one’s caught him yet…
Gary Sanchez, Yankees
Posey remains the top catcher for now, but the bulk of the excitement around this position is with the Yankees phenom. A five-time top-101 prospect, Sanchez quickly realized his potential in the majors last year, showing off an almost impossible power pace with 20 homers in just 53 games. Even with the acknowledgement that this pace is clearly not going to carry over to a full season, he’s given real hope he can be a 30 home run hitter. This is undoubtedly enticing behind the plate. On the other hand, Sanchez possesses some real swing and miss at the plate, and teams will have an entire winter to focus on stopping him. We’ve seen sophomore slumps before, and he could have the type of profile that’s asking for that. He might be the most enticing upside pick in the entire draft — and is certainly takes that title at this position — but he’s costing a steep price in early drafts.
The Middle Rounds
If you don’t want to spend an early pick on a catcher, perhaps look at this group of mostly proven, mostly boring catchers.
J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
The Marlins catcher was one of the more exciting later-round options in last year’s draft, and his solid year has moved him up about 60 spots. Realmuto won’t blow anyone away, but he brings AVG, SBs and youth to the table. With 2017 marking his age-26 season, one would imagine the catcher is just entering prime. He’s probably not going to his above .300 again this year, as his .303 AVG in 2016 was boosted by a .357 BABIP. However, he limits his strikeouts enough and has enough of a line drive approach to reasonably expect something in the .280 range. You’d like to see a bit more pop in the bat at this spot in the draft, but his double-digit steal potential is non-existent elsewhere at the position.
Welington Castillo, Orioles
Castillo hasn’t just changed uniforms, but he’s also moved himself up 50 spots on early draft boards after a solid but unspectacular season in Arizona. He showed off more solid power for the catcher position, smacking 14 dingers and tying for 11th at the position. It was a bit of a step back from the 19 he hit in 2015, but a move from the NL West to the AL East should help get that number back up. Furthermore, the Orioles should give him more opportunities for both RBI and runs. On the other hand, he benefited from an inflated BABIP to counteract a rising strikeout rate. It should be expected that his AVG will fall back towards .240. His rise in early drafts likely says more about the state of the position than it does about his skill set, but I’d still look elsewhere in this range.
Brian McCann, Astros
Last year at this time, McCann was just outside the top tier of backstops and was coming off a season in which he hit a career-high 26 home runs. Although his overall performance didn’t fall off by any significant measure, he’s fallen almost 50 spots on draft boards. Obviously, it’s worth mentioning that he’ll be entering his age-33 season, and his best days are likely behind him. Plus, he’s never going to be a big help in AVG, especially as he just continues to grow slower. On the other hand, he’s in what should be a loaded Astros lineup, giving him ample RBI opportunities. The power can always be counted on, too, as he hasn’t failed to reach the 20 home run mark since 2007. There’s not much upside here, but if you want a steady presence from the middle rounds, McCann is your guy.
Russell Martin, Blue Jays
Martin is basically McCann’s shadow, going seven picks after the Astros catcher this year after trailing him by eight picks last spring. On the one hand, Martin’s fall can look a little bit extreme since his 2016 numbers are so skewed by his horrendous start to the season. After putting up a .391 OPS in his first 30 games, he finished with an .820 mark over his last 107 games. Like McCann, the batting average isn’t going to be there for Martin, but he still managed 20 home runs after hitting zero in that 30-game stretch. On the other hand, his bat looked much slower all year and he saw a major increase in both strikeout rate and swinging strike rate. This can’t be explained away by the slump, either, since he struck out at least 21 percent of the time in each month of the year and at least a quarter of the time five of the six months. That 30-game stretch could easily come back in 2017, and last even longer.
The Late Rounds
So, you decided to wait on catcher. Can I interest you in wildcards and/or extreme bounce-back candidates?
Cameron Rupp, Phillies
This tier is scattered with players who burst onto the scene in 2016, and Rupp might be the very best of that group. In his first full season’s worth of plate appearances, the Phillies catcher showed off both his real power (16 home runs and a .195 ISO) as well as his real strikeout issues (27% K%). The good news is the position should be all his to start the season, giving him plenty of time to pad his counting stats even if the rate stats might suffer. With Andrew Knapp and, more importantly, Jorge Alfaro knocking on the door, however, Rupp’s leash may not be as long as some would like. The power potential is still enticing, though, and could make him an intriguing second catcher or even first catcher in deeper leagues.
Sandy Leon, Red Sox
No catcher in baseball was more confusing than Leon. After taking over in Boston when Christian Vazquez, Ryan Hanigan and Blake Swihart all failed to take hold, Leon went from being one of the worst hitters in baseball to one of the hottest. While the run clearly was never going to last, it went on longer than anyone expected and raised his baseline performance by a considerable margin. He has the inside track to start the year as the Red Sox starting catcher, and hitting in that lineup everyday is enticing enough for a second catcher given how weak the position is. However, the job won’t be his for long if he turns back into the hitter he used to be, and even if he doesn’t there’s no real carrying tool here.
Austin Hedges, Padres
Even as the last catcher being drafted this year, it’s a step up for Hedges. The defensive wizard is coming off a year in which he hit well for the first time since 2013. Of course, this period of hitting well came in Triple-A, and more specifically in the PCL. In his small cup of coffee in the majors, he was awful. It’s worth mentioning he hit well at Triple-A in 2015, too, but he didn’t carry that into major-league success. The Padres are in a position to give Hedges at bats regardless of his performance, so that’s a positive for fantasy owners. Still, a skeptic for him being anything besides a disappointment.
Devin Mesoraco/Yan Gomes, Reds/Indians
I am putting these two together because they are, in my eyes, the same person. They were both being drafted as top-12 catchers a year ago, and they are also both catchers that this writer has targeted for approximately the last 20 years. Both this writer and draftees around the interwebs have finally seen enough, it seems. For Mesoraco, it’s been an issue of health. After his breakout 2014 season, the now-28-year-old has played in just 39 games. He’ll get another shot in 2017, but after what’s essentially two years off it’s hard to put any trust in him.
For Gomes, we’re looking at the result of a downward trajectory hitting rock bottom. His 2016 was the perfect storm of horrendous play and bad luck, and it culminated in him being one of the worst hitters in all of baseball and losing playing time to Roberto Perez. He’s probably going to be splitting playing time once again in 2017, and even when he does play he can only provide moderate power without a lick of plate discipline.
Travis d’Arnaud, Mets
Like Mesoraco, d’Arnaud simply hasn’t been able to stay on the field over the last couple of years. It hasn’t been quite to the same extreme for the Mets catcher, but he has missed half of each of the last two seasons. However, while he was impressive in limited action in 2015, he was god awful in 2016. He showed no semblance of power, finishing the year with just four homers in 75 games and a dismal .076 ISO. One would imagine his shoulder injury had something to do with that, but there’s no guarantee that will be fully healed by April. Still, he’s going in the range of second catchers, and he at least has a better track record than the other bounce back candidates in his tier. You could certainly do worse.
In case you needed a reminder that two-catcher leagues promote sadness…
Woof. As is typically the case, if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel in the catching market, you are going to be disappointed. There are a few interesting names here, but they are all obviously wildcards. Nick Hundley is a year removed from being a sleeper at the position. Tucker Barnhart could be taking plate appearances from Mesoraco sooner than later. Miguel Montero could find a way to get traded to a destination with more consistent at bats.
My two favorites here, though, are Andrew Susac and Blake Swihart. It may take some time for them to get every day at bats (Swihart is probably going to start the year in Triple-A, even), but they have both shown potential at the plate in the minors and neither has intimidating presences in front of them on the depth chart. Obviously, both options could go sideways and provide nothing all season, but there’s more upside here than you will typically find at the bottom of the second catcher scrapheap.