Pitchers and catchers are finally reporting! Getting past that anticipated milestone means the 2017 MLB season is just around the corner and will graciously be upon us soon. The only way for those of us not fortunate enough to live in Arizona or Florida to get our minds off winter and on baseball is to prepare for the upcoming season with vigorous, warmth-giving research before fantasy drafts commence. After going over the Top 100+ Starters last week, Pitcher List will now be examining the best fantasy hitters across The Show to complement coverage of starting rotations. The analysis starts now with a rundown of which catchers’ bats should yield the most fantasy dividends this year.
Tier 1: C.R.E.A.M. of the Backstop Crop
1a. Kyle Schwarber (Chicago Cubs) – I’m paraphrasing, but I believe the expression is “catching rules everything around me.” As such, we begin our rankings with a group of exceptional catchers less than half the size of Wu-Tang Clan in number, and you’d be wise to end up with a member of this quartet on your roster. To anticipate your question and then nip it in the bud, yes, Yahoo has made an exception for Kyle Schwarber and he will be eligible at catcher despite not meeting normal criteria for minimum games played at the position last season. He poses arguably the biggest power threat of anybody playing the position. Willson Contreras figures to be the more frequent starter at the 2 for the Cubs, but Schwarber should still get a lot of playing time in the outfield and his bat will still prove immensely valuable in fantasy lineups for this reason. He’s also set to lead off ahead of Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, and they’re, uh, pretty talented at baseball as well. What I’m saying is Schwarber will circumstantially be getting a shot to score a ton of runs and you’ll want a piece of that action.
1b. Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants) – Before you remonstrate with his spot over Gary Sanchez who was unbelievably white-hot last year, consider this: Posey’s hard contact percentage has been ascending for five straight seasons. FIVE. He slotted in at 36.1% last year, coupled with an appealing 15% soft contact rate. Posey always sports an indispensably sterling batting average, and in his career as a full-time Giant he’s never posted less than a .284 on the season and that was during his injury-shortened 2011. The guy is consistency embodied, and the RBI will be there. He has 1B eligibility also, but there are better options available at that position. He is your best available catcher in ESPN leagues.
2. Gary Sanchez (New York Yankees) – This guy has been waiting for his chance in the Yankees’ farm system for several years now. With Brian McCann now shipped out to Houston and just an average-at-best Austin Romine to compete with, a starting spot with the Bronx Bombers is Sanchez’s to lose. To put in perspective what he accomplished in 2016, Sanchez got his first MLB hit on August 3rd and was beat out for Rookie of the Year only by an 11-win Michael Fulmer who got three more months to accumulate experience and statistics on his résumé. Sanchez’s absurd ISO of .358 amassed during 53 games played last year will come back down to Earth. To clarify, his power is no fluke, but we just don’t have a big sample set yet. He improbably crammed a very productive bit of slugging (20 homers…!) into a short period of time and sustainability of that rate over his first full season would be historically freakish. Put it this way: if at his 1,000 career game mark Sanchez’s ISO is lingering around .250, he’d tentatively be ranked among the top 30 power hitters of all time right next to Hank Aaron (per Baseball Almanac). Lots of time is needed for Sanchez’s sabermetrics to normalize. But he should absolutely compete with Schwarber for best power bat of eligible players. He might score slightly fewer runs because Didi Gregorius and Starlin Castro are just a hair too far away from Sanchez’s 3-spot in the lineup to drive him in. Owners of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury will be happy to have the promising Sanchez on deck behind them, though. Monster pick if you can land him, but square away your bullpen and most other positions first.
3. Jonathan Lucroy (Texas Rangers) – After vetoing his chance to join the eventual AL Champion Indians last season, Lucroy left the Brewers and is now the main dude donning the facemask for the Texas Rangers. He should continue to be a playing time hog, and Robinson Chirinos will spell him whenever a maintenance day is necessary. Lucroy’s numbers this coming season should be essentially comparable to Posey’s, with a nitpicker needing to side with Posey’s potential in most categories. He should figure to have the second-best BA of catchers behind Buster, and he’s similarly good for a mid-teens number of home runs. Hard contact percentage has been mid-30s for several seasons now, but keep an eye on his soft contact numbers as 2017 launches. Good news that his HR/FB ratio spiked in 2016: monitor this also to ensure it wasn’t anomalous. Take the transplant if you can.
Tier 2: The Guys Behind THE Guys
4. Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs) – Another member of the Cubbies is top of the next echelon, and there is certainly no shortage of “Swingers” of bats here. Good grief, they’re stacked in Wrigleyville. Contreras didn’t have quite the rookie breakout that Sanchez enjoyed, but I’ll take 12 jacks and a .363 wOBA secured by way of a .282 average all day. What sweetens the deal at the top of this tier is that the four unequivocally excellent catchers are off the board, and the value that this next cadre brings you in later rounds could be excellent. Contreras’ numbers were from 76 games played so, again, temper your expectations slightly like you may need to for Sanchez. But the guy is clearly talented and I had my eye on him last year right around the call-up from AAA Iowa and he did nothing to make me think I had wasted my vigilance. He will be a steady producer and you should view him as a highly coveted fantasy asset.
5. Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals) – Perez should outhit Contreras in the home run department but should also probably have a less competitive average. Steamer projects a .263 for Sal on the year, while I’m more conservatively thinking .255. The guy does rake and I’d like to see his slugging percentage continue to increase. He will get at least 100 hits and can be penciled in for 70 RBI and inked for 60. His wOBA bears monitoring for sure, but his offensive numbers are still going to be solid and you could be rejoicing if he falls into your lap in a later round. You’ll have nothing to worry about if he is your guy.
6. Yasmani Grandal (Los Angeles Dodgers) – An advantage a frequently swinging power hitter like Grandal brings to the plate is he’ll still reach base rather often: his BB/K ratio is better than the three guys ahead of him on this list. Now, granted, unless he subsequently scores a run, a lot of that logic will be lost on a fantasy player playing in a 5×5 format. Getting 15-20 HRs is entirely doable for Grandal, which makes him worth consideration in and of itself. But his spot in the lineup also follows a hell of a trio in Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez so those homers and extra-base hits could end up meaning a little more. Again, despite a .230-ish batting average lowered by strikeouts, he’ll have a chance to succeed and approach an OPS of .800 or better. For disclosure’s sake, I’m admittedly more excited in my gut about Grandal this year than I am about Perez, but he should trail his Royal counterpart in average, slugging and BABIP. As such, the numbers must be respected. I’m really keen on his blossoming career in L.A., he should be a marvelous play on most days.
7. Russell Martin (Toronto Blue Jays) – He seems at this juncture to be cut from the same cloth as Grandal, in terms of his approach and what we can reasonably expect statistically from each player. Martin may be getting close to gray hair territory at the ripe old age of 33, but it’s tough to argue with the fact that he’s hit 20 or more home runs and more than 70 RBI in both years he has spent with the Jays. He struck out a career-high 148 times last year, so that’s certainly a concern for his average. But there’s a recurring theme in this tier: Jose Bautista and Troy Tulowitzki could be on base when Martin steps to the plate, so keep RBI in mind all over again in 2017. Martin is balancing how he spreads the ball around the park better than some of his predecessors in this list, pulling less and spraying opposite-field more than he did in Pittsburgh. “Ah, but PNC Park is notoriously stingy toward right-handed batters, so you’re reading into stats that don’t mean that much.” No, actually. He is indeed a right-handed batter going yard at the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre, but in so doing, he has gotten his push-pull numbers back to what he was already doing at traditionally LHB-favorable Yankee Stadium and Dodger Stadium. So, even as he ages, Martin is showing he’s able to take advantage of a good hitting scenario like a strong, consistent batter should. Mark him down for a worst-case scenario of 16 bombs and high-50s in RBI with an average languishing around the mid .220s, as each metric will likely be higher than that floor. He won’t be a disappointment to his owner in your league.
8. Stephen Vogt (Oakland Athletics) – He’s never had a BABIP deviate from the .275-.300 range, he’s hitting teens of home runs in Oakland lately, and his average isn’t the liability that Martin’s or Grandal’s could be. Vogt is no longer 1B-eligible but he’s still an extremely strong candidate to start at catcher for your fantasy team. His contact inside the strike zone is exceptional at 90.7% over his career, with a true-to-form 90.8% last year alone; his numbers here rival those of Posey, Lucroy and Perez, while they all outdo him in the hard/soft contact ratio department. Vogt saw his infield flyball percentage spike last year to 10.5%, and his HR/FB ratio suffered as a result. Other than wanting to see a little more power and that he might have worked on his swing to address recent concerns, I really like Vogt and am of the opinion that he can be counted upon for a surefire 50 runs and 50 RBI. He should realistically hit between .255 and .265, and racking up more than last year’s 14 homers is attainable. A fantastic guy to quietly go with in non-flashy fashion during the draft.
9. Evan Gattis (Houston Astros) – This is where things get interesting if you’re a fantasy schemer and brutal if you’re Evan Gattis. Ex-Yankee Brian McCann, who’s literally next on this list, happens to now be on the same team as Gattis and is slated to start him. And Gattis has DH eligibility, which you might see as a potential relief valve for playing time a la Schwarber to OF when Contreras is catching. Unfortunately that is not a surefire gig either, since Gattis’ path to at-bats is also obstructed by an apparently ageless Carlos Beltran starting for the ‘Stros at DH. Gattis may end up needing to be your phenomenal below-the-radar snag in late rounds for a UTIL spot. Crazy to think we’re saying this about a guy who knocked in 32 homers and 72 RBI with a .257 ISO last year. We just simply don’t know how and when his opportunities will be coming amid this stacked order, so if you can accept those terms and conditions then he could still be somewhat helpful to you. The versatility of having C/DH eligibility absolutely comes in handy but it’s also going to take some gambler’s luck to slot him into your lineup if and when he goes. He could pinch-hit for Beltran, and he’s a RHB as contrasted with the left-handed ways of McCann so there’s that to consider. Steamer has him projected to play in a meager 98 games for 21 HR and a .244 average. In other words, better power/BA numbers over the long haul than Russell Martin with, lamentably, fewer RBI and runs because of the aforementioned roster clog. This is where we like him because of his skill set, but feel free to demote him here and on draft day as you see fit with the prognosis in Houston.
10. Brian McCann (Houston Astros) – I’m going to be calling him the Sinister Kid because a) the Black Keys are awesome, b) sinister is an archaic term for being left-handed, and c) he has cruelly ousted poor Evan Gattis from his previously higher perch in fantasy relevance, for the time being. Seriously, though, McCann has a good opportunity to do well with Houston. He’s valued defensively far higher at the position than Gattis so perhaps A.J. Hinch wants to shore up things catching-wise and rely on this iteration of the lineup to do big things even without Gattis’ bat. This type of thinking does not mean McCann is a slouch at the plate, though. He should be good for numbers just under what Grandal is projected to do: high teens in HR, perhaps .240 as his ceiling BA to go along with low 50s in both runs and RBI. He’s pulled at or above 50% the last two years at lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium, but expect that metric to regress a bit since normally Minute Maid Park helps right-handed pullers instead (read: if McCann is terrible, Gattis could steal his spot for this reason). Soon turning 33, McCann’s hard contact was 35.5% in 2016. Excellent option with which to start your season.
11. J.T. Realmuto (Miami Marlins) – Far less controversy down in Little Havana than what’s transpiring in Houston. Realmuto is not in danger of losing his job to A.J. Ellis, and he would honestly soar up these rankings if he could just improve his power. He was batting .303 last year and scored 60 times. But barely cracking double digits in HRs dooms you a little even when you hit brilliantly for average. His run total will probably dip, but Marcell Ozuna and Justin Bour could reach base before he steps to the plate, expect JTRRBI to comfortably approach the 50s. (Sidenote: Jay Tribbie sounds like the name of a real estate tycoon or a sports agent.) The true advantage he brings in 5×5 over mostly every other catcher on this list is stolen bases. He’s nabbed 20 bags over the last two years combined. Realmuto is a dreamcatcher (see what I did there?) in a points league because he’s a reliable for hits and still has a great BA despite striking out a fair amount, and THEN you add the steals. Anyway, I want to put him higher but projecting 40 runs and 40 RBI doesn’t make my hair stand on end particularly. That and a lack of power thereby necessitate his spot here. A fun fact that speaks to my intuition is that his slash line from last year outpaced McCann’s and is slated to do so again. A fun fact that confirms he belongs beneath McCann is that Realmuto’s BABIP flukishly leapt to .357 last year so I’m anxious to see if he can maintain his level of play and earn folks some fantasy wins. Keep your eye on him and pull the trigger if he’s available when your draft is about 50-60% complete.
Tier 3: The Designer Duds
12. Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals) – Here we draw an arbitrary line had to be drawn somewhere to separate the true contenders from solid catchers who are putting up competitive numbers with a notable flaw, much like sharp name-brand clothing items relegated to the clearance rack because of a small stain or tear. Realmuto occupies the last spot of the previous tier because his steals are what set him apart, whereas the dependable Molina is top of this heap because he is awesome at everything EXCEPT hitting home runs. His scoring and RBI will be on pace with McCann’s but he doesn’t steal and he doesn’t go yard. If he could boost his power to go with his projected .284 average, he’d vault up to Tier 2 in a heartbeat. But history shows that he hasn’t passed the 10 HR mark since 2012, so we’re curbing our enthusiasm a bit, and Yadi stays put right here. Ebert and Roeper would give this film one thumb up, and you should be fine with Molina, but maintain an active watch list just in case.
13. Travis d’Arnaud (New York Mets) – He’s in a boat quite similar to Molina’s, but this sloop’s name is “EXPECTATIONS” and it’s unfortunately a little smaller. An ISO of significantly lower than .100 last year is d’Arnaud’s Achilles’ heel summed up very succinctly (goodness, that was a lot of apostrophes). Now if he could regain some of the stuff he was showcasing here and there in 2014 and 2015, we’d be in business and Travis would probably be nominated for promotion to Tier 2. As it stands, the 40s are likely the ceiling for runs and RBI. A .250ish average sounds about right as well. In summary, good but not great.
14. Wellington Castillo (Baltimore Orioles) – To extend the nautical metaphor, and ships of short keel are less impressive. Castillo’s chilling on a tiny speedboat with an outboard motor compared to the humble yacht of d’Arnaud that could maybe sleep four. It is seriously peculiar, though, how close together these three guys are in terms of what we should see: competitive averages, but they don’t really hit for power too much and their RBI/run totals could exhibit respectable quality without requiring you to shout about them from the fantasy rooftops. Castillo is a talented catcher with scintillating hard contact numbers from last year. He should get to enjoy some stability in Baltimore with the embarkation of Matt Wieters on a longer free agency cruise than he or we expected. Get excited for Castillo’s runs to pile up if his fellow Oriole bats can do him some favors: Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop precede him in the heart of the order. He’s an above-average value grab who could settle in nicely.
15. Cameron Rupp (Philadelphia Phillies) – Act 2 of this particular the-catch-rical production—get used to the puns because I will unrelentingly barrage you with them—features the guys in the tier whose fatal flaw is a weirdly low batting average. A positive BABIP oscillation for Rupp, reminiscent of Realmuto’s, has me gunshy on expecting a repeated .252 average and 16 four-baggers from him this season. Cracking into the low teens and hitting in the .230s is probably more reasonable. 2016 saw Rupp’s HR/FB ratio spike five percentage points to 16.8%, and his hard contact vaulted six percentage points from a so-so 28% the year prior. If he continues to evolve and this upward trend is not an aberrant outlier, he’ll be a brilliant asset to own. Philly needs him to score more, however, and d’Arnaud is slated to beat him in both runs and RBI. You won’t be in bad shape if you pick him up to start the season, but he’s not your best bet if you can get away with sensibly drafting another guy above Rupp.
16. Mike Zunino (Seattle Mariners) – He’s a damn good catcher but readers from the Deep South might say, “Aw, bless his little heart” when they look at Zunino’s batting average. In four career years in the bigs, he is weighing in at a paltry .199 if you round up. That’s what’s known as a red flag. And in 2014, the year in which he hit 22 home runs, his BA was exactly the same as that career number. So what we’re saying is even with his best power, and optimists would perhaps hope for 15 jacks in 2017, it’s going to come with the severe risk of him tanking you in the batting average realm. 2014 saw 60 RBI and 51 runs as he bashed his head into his own ceiling, while last year he hit just 31 and 16, respectively, behind the now-departed Chris Iannetta. I foresee Zunino comfortably attaining numbers in the 30s this year. Proceed with caution is the recommendation here.
Tier 4: Time for an Urgent Trip to the Pharmacy (Plan B)
17. Matt Wieters (Free Agent) – You’ve made it this far into your fantasy draft, and everything’s looking pretty shipshape (ooh, the streak continues) until you realize that you focused way too much on outfielders and relievers for approximately 10 rounds after Posey and Sanchez fell off the board. You are not a happy place anymore. You need Plan B, hence the name of this fourth and lowest tier of truly relevant fantasy catchers. Wieters leads the list of guys with whom you can probably tread water (yep, still going) if you are still down a catcher. At the time of publication, he hasn’t signed with a team yet. After living the professional baseball version of paycheck-to-paycheck with his slew of one-year contracts, the Os have opted to go with the aforementioned Castillo. If Wieters can find a home soon, I’d realistically send him up to Tier 3 with the noted proviso that he’s pretty decent at everything but not great at anything. We’d love to see return to 20 HR form but that ship has likely sailed (I’m even surprising myself with the breadth of these nautical references). He slots in roughly behind Muto and Yadi with the combination of a decent average and OK power, but the fact that his SLG and ISO numbers have been regressing since 2014 is a concern. He doesn’t steal bases. Finally, we have no concept of where Wieters might play so it’s impossible to predict scoring scenarios and thus the numbers he could put up. Scoop him up if you can, but keep a wary eye on news of his signing before doing so.
18. Derek Norris (Washington Nationals) – I made my mind up to avoid this guy like the plague in fantasy the last couple of years if I could help it because he was so darned inconsistent. Full disclosure: these evasions of the Norrisvirus were for H2H and roto points leagues, so the argument may be null and void for 5×5 formats because he certainly does accumulate runs and RBI. His horrendous average last year of .186 seems not in keeping with previous seasons, and that is confirmed by an inexplicable tumble in BABIP down to .238. I think he rights the ship in Washington to an extent (Oh, my God, the nautical jokes just keep coming). His career average is a serviceable .233, so we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt with a fresh start. Accepting that he’ll bomb 10 into the stands and hoping that he’ll push for 20 means that you are hoping the 2016 increases in Norris’ HR/FB ratio and hard contact percentage will not plateau or fall off a cliff in 2017. Again, I want to suspend my disbelief in Norris if he gives me reason to, but my advice to you is to not necessarily go out on a limb for him unless your options at catcher are dwindling.
19. Devin Mesoraco (Cincinnati Reds) – Mesoraco has to accept his fate in this echelon because he’s effectively a poor man’s Wieters in that he projects to play like a jack-of-all-trades with lesser numbers. He’s been injury-riddled with hip and labrum issues so it’s really tough to take stock of where he is in his professional athletics story arc right now. The sample set during the last two seasons is just too small to really extrapolate much on what he is capable of. If he can stay healthy, gunning for a .230 or .240 average with 10-15 HRs would be a dream come true for owners who can effortlessly snag him for proverbial pennies on a dollar’s return. Runs and RBI could be hard to come by, though: I don’t see Mesoraco eclipsing 40 in either category. This is a high-risk investment: whether he can and will be back to being his talented self is as yet entirely unknown. Buy low and sell high if you’re feeling frisky.
20. Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates) – For the ADP he’s expected to register and the commensurate value I think he could bring your team, this guy is my No. 1 sleeper pick of this entire list. I don’t think he’s a player you hang your hopes on, which is why he’s in Tier 4, but the upside if he’s on his game this year could be monumental. For consideration: Steamer predictions slot Cervelli in to finish as the ninth-best catcher in weighted runs created behind the likes of Posey, Schwarber, Sanchez, Grandal, Lucroy, Contreras, Vogt and d’Arnaud. Eighth in wOBA, to boot, if you were curious. He decided he likes stealing the odd base here and there last year, and because of that I subsequently like the fact that he’s been an OBP monster consistently throughout his time in the majors (to the tune of .370 or higher during the last four years). He’s sporting a decent BB/K ratio of late, and the region of .250 or .260 for his average are likely his floor, which is exceptional considering where in the draft you’ll probably stand to nab him. His one true huge shortcoming is an abject lack of power. Now, having said that, if you’re unrealistically hoping for 15 homers from late-round utility personnel, you may need to reevaluate your draft strategy altogether. Cervelli is worth your time to invest in as a sneaky producer, but obviously don’t go about structuring your roster around him. He is undeniably capable of 40 runs and 40 RBI.
21. Jason Castro (Minnesota Twins) – This guy has sort of quietly crept up on the process that is assembling these rankings, as he has taken over the starting job that Kurt Suzuki left vacant in Minnesota after being a key contributor in Houston. Target Field is kinder to RHB than to lefties like Castro, but the move north should still prove favorable to his power numbers. His plate discipline with regard to contact in the strike zone need a serious overhaul to compete with the league’s best, but he should reasonably be pushing for 40 runs and 40 RBI just like Cervelli could. His BB/K ratio also needs work, but no matter what, he should be counted upon to crank 10 or so out of the park while slashing for roughly .220/.300/.370. His HR/FB ratio is on the up and up over the last three seasons since a career-high 16.8 percent in 2013, so that’s a medium-to-long-term positive trend. There’s nothing truly dynamite in his arsenal but certainly worthy of streaming if you’re really thin at the position.
22. Tyler Flowers (Atlanta Braves) – Mesoraco might be able to be attain a fantasy catch grade of B- if he stays 100% healthy, and the possibility of reward on the risk is why he’s at No. 19; conversely, Flowers is a surefire grade of B. He’s a safer, less flashy bet, if you will. Within this tier, he’s the trusty government bond to Mesoraco’s more volatile junk bond. I am of the opinion that even with the Braves having signed Suzuki this month, the platoon seesaw is ultimately going to tilt the younger Flowers’ way. You should be able to depend on him for a .240 average as his floor (career is .232) and his hard contact percentage was a whopping 43.8 last year. Flowers reaching Rupp/Zunino-caliber numbers in the 30s for runs and RBI is what could very possibly happen, but the homer count is not going to approach Tier 3 standards. His BABIP has been north of .300 for three seasons now, all while his plate discipline has improved quite drastically. The takeaway here is that I like where his evolution as a batter is headed. Again, like Cervelli, he should provide good value for low cost.
23. Austin Hedges (San Diego Padres) – The Tier 4 theme of decent tapering down to last resort guys continues with Hedges. He was fantastic last year…in AAA. He’s a young guy still trying to find his legs in the bigs, and he’s currently in skill set purgatory between major and minor league legitimacy. I personally like his microscopically low soft contact percentage, but he leaves a lot to be desired from consistency and power standpoints. He’s playing in the batting nightmare that is Petco Park, however, so patience may be required as Hedges develops. Steamer projects a BA of .244, whereas I think expecting .225 with the potential to be pleasantly surprised is a better way to go about an evaluation of Hedges. Ten homers would actually surprise me, while high 20s to low 30s for both runs and RBI is probably going to end up being dead on. You’re sticking your neck out there for a relatively unproven and inexperienced fellow at this point.
24. Wilson Ramos (Tampa Bay Rays) – One would hope it is quite evident Ramos is only languishing down in the ranks of the backup catchers due to the devastating knee injury he sustained in September 2016. He otherwise would have appeared somewhere in Tier 2 between Grandal at No. 6 and McCann at No. 10. What should be focused upon here is twofold: firstly, that the Rays signed him to a two-year deal just a couple of months into his convalescence is a testament to what a talent he is, and secondly, Ramos is certainly still valuable to fantasy owners in a limited fashion. What I mean by that is somebody intelligent in your league is going to draft him way lower than a healthy Ramos would ever dip to because most people want results NOW. The patient ones will stash him on their DL and wait for the dividends that can and will come when he’s back to full strength. We had to rank him this low because he’s not even a viable DH until June at the earliest, and then he has to get back to catching form on a repaired knee so his 2017 fantasy value is situationally limited. That remarkable value will hopefully be consolidated in to a short span in which you can legitimately use him after having subsisted the first half of the fantasy season with an aforementioned catcher from this list. Ensure that the intelligent fantasy owner that uses a late-round pick to keep Ramos tucked away for midseason is you. He’s still slated to put up numbers a shade better than Norris and d’Arnaud even with his shortened season, but that obviously doesn’t help you in head-to-head matchups for the first several months.
25. James McCann (Detroit Tigers) – A woeful BB/K ratio is dooming McCann’s OBP, wOBA and batting average, but he’s got the tools to succeed if he can just start putting them to use. Despite a comparatively dreadful ISO of .137 last year, he still knocked in 12 home runs, so the hard contact is there if only sporadically yielding results for Detroit. A return to a .300-plus BABIP that McCann enjoyed in both 2014 and 2015 would certainly tip the scales back his way, and you can probably count on him to get 30 runs and 35 RBI with hopes for more. His fundamentals need to improve over the span of a couple hundred at-bats to start the season for him to ascend within these rankings, however. Draft him low if there’s no one else.
The On-Deck Circle — Honorable Mentions
Sandy Leon (Boston Red Sox) – Fenway faithful are bound to freak out about how low Leon is on this list, but the fact of the matter is Leon’s .310 BA last year was coupled with a flash-in-the-pan .392 BABIP. He strikes me as a Hedges who inspired far less with his AAA track record, and while the 36 runs and 35 RBI from last year are impressive for occupying this spot and this tier, a lack of power once again dashes fantasy hopes. Chris Iannetta didn’t even make our top 25 and he’s projected to have higher SLG numbers than Leon. Also, the Cubs’ third-string catcher in Miguel Montero is supposed to hit about the same number of homers, so that’s just kind of where we are. However, I should say Leon’s run count should stay highly competitive because of who follows him in Boston’s order. Dustin Pedroia, Andrew Benintendi, Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are on deck successively after Leon bats, meaning that there could frequently be two-out, RISP situations in which the catcher could score on the regular. It works in his favor that he’s a switch hitter, so the Green Monster doesn’t necessarily pose a unilateral deterrence to his swing. Leon needs to continue to respectively boost and lower his hard and soft contact. I’d steer clear for now. He’s a serviceable start in two-catcher leagues, but you could do better.
Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy (Colorado Rockies) – Murphy is going to be fantastic when he gets a full-time job, and Wolters is probably one of the next five guys I would have ranked right now based on currently holding the starting honors. Murphy is inexperienced but has gigantic upside and simply needs volume to work his magic, while Wolters is just average with a chance of a .250 BA, maybe six or seven home runs (YOU PLAY AT COORS FIELD, BRO) and mid-20s in runs and RBI. Maybe outdoes Leon in BA by a shade but I don’t like this platoon for fantasy purposes right now, so take one of these catchers as a reserve if you must. I’d make it Murphy and then be patient because he’ll be great once he takes the reins.
Andrew Susac and Jett Bandy (Milwaukee Brewers) – The idea is the same here: platoons are not your friend. This one makes even less sense because at least in Colorado the two members of the backstop tandem bat on opposite sides of the plate, providing strategic flexibility in the Rockies’ order for certain pitcher matchups. Susac is the clear starter here and yet is weirdly projected for a smaller-than-usual number of games for this split-time scenario. Susac is the guy to pick up here because his numbers are comparable to those of Wolters without a star waiting in the wings to violently usurp his throne once and for all. But wouldn’t it be better if Bandy was going to be amazing? Instead, he is capable of mid-20s too in the runs and RBI departments, unfortunately rendering both of these guys simultaneously real-life helpful and fantasy forgettable for the time being.
Yan Gomes (Cleveland Indians) – I’m admittedly a Tribe fan, and I just don’t buy the numbers that are being thrown out there for Gomes’ 2017. That skepticism is something I would love to be proven unfounded and baseless, but I’ll believe Steamer’s projected .237 BA and 40s in runs and RBI from him when I see them.
Christian Bethancourt (San Diego Padres) – Hedges’ backup could be could for some hitting in the ballpark of .250 if you’re really in a pinch and need help on a maintenance day. But the volume of work behind Hedges just isn’t there to merit consideration otherwise.
LEMONs — Leading Every Manager On, Not Startable
Geovany Soto (Chicago White Sox) – Steamer projects him to bat for .221, 19 runs, 21 RBI and six homers. That’s what I colloquially refer to as a steaming pile of “Whole Lot of NOPE.” There are literally tens of better options at the catcher position. Do not even entertain the idea of drafting Soto, much less acquiring him unless your first two options head to the DL somehow. Even then, there’s someone better available. Yes, I will tell you how I really feel. Omar Narvaez should provide some offensive improvement at the position for Chicago when he’s given a shot.
Martin Maldonado (Los Angeles Angels) – At least Soto needs to play in just 48 projected games to be as terrible as he will be for fantasy owners. Maldonado, in what will probably be another frustrating platoon with Carlos Perez—who’s also fantasy irrelevant for now—like Colorado’s where the lesser bat has the starting job, projects to put up a line of .223, 25 runs and 24 RBI while playing in 15 more games than Soto. Do not touch this guy until you’ve been properly decontaminated and are wearing a protective biohazard suit.
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