Dynasty Days of Christmas: 4 Calling Birds (Catchers)
Danny Jansen (C, Toronto Blue Jays) Age: 23, Level: AAA/MLB
C Danny Jansen shined in 2018 in a limited sample size, 95 PA, but with the catcher landscape looking barren, Jansen can be a standout in 2019 and beyond. Toronto Blue Jays veteran C Russell Martin, making $20M in the final year of his contract, will likely receive a fair share of PAs from the catcher position in 2019, but it seems that Jansen has proven he is the catcher of the future in Toronto and 2019 should be the start of his reign. Jansen has proven that he can take a walk and limit the strikeouts – evidenced by his solid BB% and K% in his MLB debut – 9.5% and 17.9% respectively. Jansen exhibited even higher walk rates in AA and AAA, so I see no reason he cannot sustain his wonderful plate discipline. I can see Jansen’s 2018 MLB batting average of .247 being on the low end of what he will produce with a full season’s workload, especially considering the lowly BABIP of .274 he saw in his initial exposure to the majors along with the fact that he hit .287 in 544 at-bats between AA and AAA over the last 2 years. Jansen never really hit for much power in the minor leagues, although he did smack 15 home runs between two levels, AAA and MLB, in 2018. Fantasy owners will be begging Jansen to improve on his pedestrian Hard% of 20% from 2018, albeit in limited at-bats if we hope to get a solid power outlook moving forward. Jansen will be a fantasy favorite heading into the 2019 draft at a position that many owners try to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill. Many prospective buyers will be crossing their fingers in hopes that he will last late into the draft. This could be the final year that Jansen has the chance to fly under the radar at a weak position.
Willson Contreras (C, Chicago Cubs) Age: 26, Level: MLB
Willson Contreras was a fantasy baseball sweetheart heading into 2018 and to say that he disappointed would be an understatement. He was frequently being taken as the third catcher off the board and 60th overall according to Fantasy Pros. Contreras failed to live up to the lofty expectations after his outstanding major league debut in 2016 and tremendous first full MLB season in 2017. Contreras had a litany of struggles – his batting average dropped from .276 in 2017 to .249 in 2018, despite having similar BABIPs, .319 and .313 respectively. His home run output dropped significantly from 21 to a pedestrian 10, and his slugging% dropped over a full 100 points from .499 to .390. It all started to come together when I looked at his 1st half/2nd half splits. Through the first half of the season, Contreras looked like the hitter everyone had grown to love (.279 batting average, .449 SLG, with 7 home runs, and 34 RBIs to name a few highlights) but by season’s end, he was hardly recognizable. Look below at what happened in his 2nd half of the season.
As you can tell, the following three things happened: He stopped hitting the ball hard, he hit fewer fly balls, and he was unlucky. This trifecta of unfortunate events led to the disastrous second half for Contreras and accounts for his measly 3 home runs and .200 batting average in the second half of the season. Some fantasy owners might be looking at Contreras’ overall numbers for 2018 and get scared away, but If Contreras can shake off his second-half troubles and find the success that he has grown accustomed to having, someone in your league might be walking into a buy-low goldmine that can do this:
Contreras should rank in the top 5 in the catcher position for the foreseeable future.
Carson Kelly (C, Arizona Diamondbacks) Age: 24, Level: AAA/MLB
Since being called up for a cup of coffee in 2016, C Carson Kelly has only accumulated 131 major league plate appearances. I guess that’s what happens when you have the seemingly ageless C Yadier Molina ahead of you on the depth chart like in St. Louis. 2019 was proving to look no different for Kelly from a fantasy standpoint, but luckily for fantasy owners who want to see what Kelly can do with a full season’s workload under his belt, the Cardinals recently shipped him off to Arizona in a package for 1B Paul Goldschmidt. Kelly should slot right into the Arizona Diamondbacks starting lineup and get ample playing time in 2019 if he can prove that he deserves it, and Roster Resource agrees as they have him currently penciled into the Diamondbacks starting lineup. Arizona has no reason to not give Kelly every opportunity to succeed as they hope they have traded for their Catcher of the present and future.
So, what can we expect? Kelly really doesn’t have much power to brag about, he did hit ten home runs in 280 AAA plate appearances in 2017 and seven in 349 AAA plate appearances in 2018, but he has yet to hit a home run in his 131 major league plate appearances. AAA proved to be easy for Kelly in 2018 when he hit for a .269 average, .378 OBP, with a matching BB% and K% of 13.8%. He has nothing left to prove in the minors and has the skills to translate his minor league success to the majors.
Given the state of the Catcher position, Kelly could earn some viability in one-Catcher leagues, especially with the helium he might gain from getting out of STL, but for 2019, I wouldn’t expect Kelly to have much value outside of two-Catcher leagues. He could prove me wrong and be relevant in all leagues, but I would put a lid on the excitement until he proves he can have success in the majors after a full season. 2019 will be an important year for Carson Kelly and many fantasy owners will be keeping a close eye to see if we can add another Catcher to the sorry-looking pool we have to pick from.
Andrew Knizner (C, St. Louis Cardinals) Age: 23, Level: AAA
Speaking of the Cardinals depth chart, C Andrew Knizner has moved up a spot since Kelly’s departure and now sits at #2, patiently waiting in the wings for his opportunity to shine when Yadi’s spectacular tenure is complete. Since becoming a professional baseball player in 2016, Knizner has done nothing but hit, evidenced by his .310 career batting average across all levels, rookie ball, A, AA, and reaching AAA in 2018. Knizner hits the ball to all fields and has shown the ability to limit the strikeouts. Knizner is a solid line drive hitter who has not hit for much power throughout his time as a pro, but since he’s only 23 years old, as he matures he could develop some pop. His proclivity to getting on base is intriguing, despite his lack of ability to take walks. The future looks bright for Knizner and if everything plays out right, the transition from franchise icon, Yadier Molina, to his apparent successor should be a smooth one. I wouldn’t prioritize Knizner in 2019 but in terms of 2020 and beyond, I am absolutely keeping my eye on him.
(Graphic by Justin Paradis)