After a full week of starting pitching rankings (which are by far the most interesting of rankings. Duh.), it’s time to shift our focus to the other side of the coin and discuss the guys trained to make pitchers look bad. Our hitter rankings begin today with quite possibly the most annoying of positions to cover in your offensive squad: Catchers. Backstops are the only position you should have just one of on your team (I don’t wish a deep 2-catcher league onto any man), and more often than not it’s in your best interest to plug them into their spot in the lineup and let them stay put through the full season. This year the catcher pool isn’t as bad as it has been in the past, which means there are a decent amount of options that have a shot at entering the Top 5 come season’s end without costing you a top 100 pick. Be patient, and you may be greatly rewarded.
Tier 1: The Men Among Other Men Who Aren’t As Good
1. Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants) – Leading this tier (called TMAOMWAAG , it really rolls off the tongue) is Mr. Posey, who has become the face of production in the catcher position. He’s a near lock for 20 HRs, ~90 RBI, a .300+ average, and 70+ Runs to boot, which is incredibly tasty compared to the risks that lie just a few ranks deeper. Thing is, his price is still too high, currently sitting in the third round, which has me pursuing other ladies instead. Now don’t get me wrong, if Posey were to fall to the fifth round or deeper, I’d heavily consider pulling the trigger. The day-in-day-out production paired with a peace of mind creates a major gap between Posey and other options that would be similar to the picks available in the fifth round. But unless I’m getting a sweet Chapman-esque discount, I’m going to have to pass.
2. Kyle Schwarber (Chicago Cubs) – Schwarber just makes it into the ESPN Catcher eligibility with 21 games played last season (which will be the standard – not Yahoo – in these rankings), allowing him and his absurd 24.2% HR/FB rate to hit your C spot. The big fella has simply raked at every junction, and while he will most likely fall short of the prorated 37 dingers he had in his first year, 25-30 HRs in 2016 seems very likely. Yes, it will come with a low ~.260 average due to an elevated strikeout rate, but when you consider he will also be placed in the middle of a potent Cubs lineup, it’s hard to be down on the soon-to-be 23-year-old slugger.
Tier 2: Deadlines
3. Brian McCann (New York Yankees) – “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” – The McAwesome Douglas Adams who knew what was up. I’m ranking these guys here, but I don’t expect to be drafting any of them as they go during critical rounds where other positions are more important. The first of the lot is McCann, who has put up 20+ HR seasons in eight straight seasons, and capitalized on the short porch in Yankee stadium by swatting 26 longballs – sixteen at home. Like Philly losses in 2016, McCann’s strikeouts will be plentiful, though his RBI production should make things a little easier to endure. in his 27-year-old season.
4. Travis d’Arnaud (New York Mets) – There is a small, small chance that I’ll be drafting d’Arnaud a bit this season, but I expect his draft stock to climb as we approach the luscious green grass of April and I’ll have to let out a weak sigh as he gets snatched a few rounds too early. It’s a pity since I really like the guy. Sure, he has had some injury problems, but he had a .218 ISO through his 67 games in 2015, and a .289 BABIP that should rise like a balloon from the open hands of a soon-teary child. The Mets’ lineup isn’t as barren as previous seasons, with Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, and 130 games of David Wright to share the burden this time around. Things can easily go right for the 2nd piece of the Dickey trade, and Travis can be a major force if they do.
5. Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals) – In 2015, Perez managed to find some extra power, raising his HR/FB rate from 8.7% to 12.4%, which helped produce a career high 21 HRs. Thing is, his ability to create more pop than Atlanta factories changed Perez from a stable average guy to a prototypical .260 average, 15-20 HR guy. That’s not bad, especially when he’s playing for a Kansas City team that should have pieces aboard to hit 70+ RBI, it’s just not all that exciting. I don’t see the average returning with the power staying, which means his ceiling is measurably lower than a bunch of other options. However, if you’re a man who knows what he wants and wants it at 7:03 AM with his bacon and eggs, then Perez won’t make you concerned where you breakfast is.
6. Devin Mesoraco (Cincinnati Reds) – Okay, so I may have lied about the whole deadline thing as Mesoraco may still be standing after the Top 8 guys go or so and it’s just you and a bunch of other guys playing a game of chicken to see how long you can stall out drafting a catcher. If you’re one of the unlucky few who drafted Mesoraco early last year and suffered from a dearth of information about his essentially season ending injury issues, I don’t blame you for staying away this season. For the rest of us, Devin could present top tier talent despite being drafted 10 rounds later. In 2014, he crushed 25 HRs in just 114 games, featuring a .273 average supported by a crazy good 38.7% Hard contact rate and a low 12.0% Soft contact rate. There is some worry here though – he did most of his damage in April, and was a .250 hitter for the rest of the season. However, his HR production never slowed down and a healthy Mesoraco could bring back some wonderful memories.
7. Russell Martin (Toronto Blue Jays) – I see Martin higher on other people’s lists and I just don’t buy it. After a pair of seasons well below 15% HR/FB, Martin spiked to a career high 20.7% rate. I understand Toronto is known as a hitter’s park – especially with that lineup surrounding him! – but that kind of jump makes me suspicious. I’m not saying it can’t happen again, I just don’t want to bet on it in the 9th round. Don’t forget that he also hit a measly .240 average that makes Lucas Duda feel proud of himself. Still, the counting stats will be there for Martin, which makes him a safer option than other upside guys, so if he’s somehow hanging around by the time I’m dipping my catcher’s hook into the water, I’ll reel him in. But he won’t. Womp womp.
8. Jonathan Lucroy (Milwaukee Brewers) – I don’t like Lucroy much at all. Sure, his 2013 was pretty dang good and supported by half of a 2012 season, but then 2014 only brought a good average, and then 2015 was supppper boring. I tried to be positive looking at his splits due to his injuries, but outside of a 4 HR August when he batted .262, there’s not much to be happy about anywhere, and even that’s kinda pushing it. Many are expecting him to recover back to his 2013 numbers as his health returns, but when you’re highest expectation isn’t even all that great, it’s not worth the chase. What you’ll probably get is a guy that you kinda forget is on your team until you see some schmo hitting five homers in the first month and you’re already considering dropping Lucroy. That’s no one’s idea of fun.
Tier 3: Sign Me Up
9. Yasmani Grandal (Los Angeles Dodgers) – I’m gonna be straight with you here. I really wanted to stick Grandal above Lucroy and maybe even over Martin in the over tier. There’s just a lot to like about the 27-year-old backstop in L.A. He was killing it last year in the first half, featuring a .282/.401/.526 split as he amassed 14 HRs and 36 RBI in just 68 games. Then he had to go damage his knee ligament, followed by sore shoulder just after returning. He’s now healthy and has the numbers to back up a season of mashing: 15.3% BB rate and a decent 21.6% K rate means his average should be solid and he’ll be on base frequently, he featured a ridiculous .244 ISO and needed just a .305 BABIP to sustain a solid .282 batting average in the first half. It’s there and waiting for you to take it as he chills on your draft board. Do yourself a favor and make it happen.
10. Matt Wieters (Baltimore Orioles) – I’ll keep it short for Wieters. He’s going to have a full season in a solid Orioles lineup after getting Tommy John surgery and working out the kinks upon returning in 2015. He’s a lock for 20+ HR given the full season, with a good amount of RBI to boot. You’ll be debating between Wieters and a few other guys in this tier when the time comes in the draft, and I suggest waiting for someone else to force your hand. If you get Wieters, great! If not, well then anyone in this tier should fit the bill just fine.
11. Wellington Castillo (Arizona Diamondbacks) – Castillo is a tantalizing option at Catcher, and may be a Top 5 guy by the end of the season…or hit the waiver wire in May. The Diamondback offense was surprisingly solid in 2015 featuring the likes of A.J. Pollock, Paul Goldschmidt, and David Peralta, when suddenly Wellington and his posh name joins the party with 17 dingers in just over 300 PAs with the snakes. We’re talking a .241 ISO and 50 RBI to boot. This didn’t just come out of no where – Castillo hit 13 HRs in 110 games the year before – and it’s hard to argue against 15-20 HRs this year with solid counting stats. Problem is the average, which will be tough to go any higher than .250/.260 with his 24% K rate. You’re getting a discounted McCann for someone who may end being there near the end of your draft. Not a bad deal at all.
12. Stephen Vogt (Oakland Athletics) – I had a long discussion with one of my colleagues debating the difference between Grandal’s monstrous first and half and Vogt’s. I like Grandal more since we can point at his injuries and explain his drop in production. With Vogt it’s tougher to pinpoint what went wrong for the C of the A’s. He was steaming out of the gate, swatting 11 HRs in just the first two months, and ended the first half with a .287 average in 85 games. Then he slowed down in a hurry, hitting just 4 bombs the rest of the way in 51 games where he had a .133 ISO and a .217 average. Making matters worse are his HR/FB rates. Vogt held an excellent 15.6% in the first half of 2015 and we all partied with silly hats because silly hats were cool at the time. The second half saw a fall to 7.4%…just slightly lower than his rates of 8.2% and 8.3% in his two previous years. I’m more inclined to believe he’ll have closer to a 10% HR/FB rate, which means I see Vogt with about 15 HRs and a .265 average with the chance to outperform it. Meh.
13. Nick Hundley (Colorado Rockies) – I originally had Hundley above the previous two guys, but then I can also see Hundley struggling for the first month of the season without the power to make you overlook it. Hundley could go .280+ over the year with 15 HRs as he bats half of his games in Coors, but for those in H2H leagues, it may be tough to endure him when he’s travelling the country, as he hit just 3 HRs and a poor .237 in 2015 in 48 games on the road. He’s certainly a solid option in roto where you can just let him sit and reap the rewards, and he’s a good choice at the back-end of your drafts.
Tier 4: It’s Come To This
14. Yan Gomes (Cleveland Indians) – It’s becoming pretty clear that there are a decent amount of options for catchers that will provide some 15+ HR power at the cost of a poor average. Gomes has shown that he can swat 20+ a year, and he was near that pace last season, despite missing nearly two months early in the year with an MCL sprain. The biggest problem with Gomes, however, is his rising strikeout rate, which reached a career high 26.7% in 2015. It’s not going to help his average much, and it’s concerning entering the new season. However, it is certainly possible Yan gets back into his stride as he’s been given a full offseason to heal, and he hints at Top 5 by the end of the year. If you’re looking for an answer from this tier, go with Gomes til the it hurts.
15. Blake Swihart (Boston Red Sox) – I would be a bit disappointed if I ended up drafting any of these options, though I could see myself riding them from the wire for weeks here and there hoping one of them sticks if my drafted backstop isn’t working out. Swihart is one of my favorites of the bunch since you’re chasing upside at this point – if one guy isn’t working, just hit the next suitor in line. Swihart doesn’t seem like the most attractive option at first, but he improved in the second half, slashing .303/.353/.452 across 44 games. He’s turning 24 years old this season, and it’s not out of the question he continues developing with the young core in Boston. But it’s still a question so he’s stuck in economy class cabin.
16. Derek Norris (San Diego Padres) – Norris is an interesting case. Sure, he hit 11 HRs in the first half, but he also hit .233. But wait! He hit .278 in the second half! Random dude, you forgot to mention that came with just 4 HRs from the bearded wonder. Weird, huh? Well, it comes down to Norris’ batted ball profile. Norris’ line drive rate nearly doubled from 12.7% to 24.8%, which explains his spike in average. However, it came at the cost of fewer flyballs and cutting his sustainable 10.7% HR/FB to just 5.5%. So who is the true Norris? As often is in these situations, most likely somewhere in the middle…which is more or less what we saw over all of 2015. Near 15 HRs with a decent range higher and lower and a near .250-.260 average. Essentially, ride him for the upside at the start of the season, but get ready to jump ship if a sexier option comes around. Why didn’t I just write that in the beginning?
17. Wilson Ramos (Washington Nationals) – Following a 2013 season of 16 HRs in just 78 games, it’s a bit sad that Ramos has been delegated to the trash bin so quickly, but here we are. Injuries have surrounded Ramos’ career, but 2015 gave us a first glimpse at some serious playing time for the Nationals’ backstop and we got…a .229 average and only 15 longballs. His HR/FB numbers were actually pretty solid the past two years sitting just about 15%, but his tendency to hit few flyballs (a career 27.4%!) means that he needed a HR/FB of 27.6% in 2013 to impress us so. Moral of the story: Don’t get upside happy looking at 2013, understand what you’ll be getting and plan accordingly.
18. J.T. Realmuto (Miami Marlins) – Things are pretty simple with Realmuto. He’ll be 25-years-old hitting with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and possibly Marcel Ozuna in Marlins Park (fences are being moved in) after J.T. had a much improved second half where he slashed a decent .273/.308/.439. He could hint at a 10+/10+ season, which you’re not used to seeing from guys wearing masks. Especially umpires. Not incredible stuff, but it’s possible he keeps improving in his second full season behind the dish and makes his way up the rankings.
19. Miguel Montero (Chicago Cubs) – It’s getting near the bottom of the Top 20, and if you felt someone else deserved to be in this list, I can’t argue with you. Montero is and choice though, given that he’ll have consistent playing time in one of the fiercest lineups in the majors. He’ll get double-digit HRs, more than 50 RBIs and hint at breaking a .250 average if you’re lucky. Yay.
20. Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates) – Raise your hand if you were pleased with Cervelli on your team last year. Even though he came near a .300 average, everything else was incredibly…average. Just 7 HRs in 510 PAs, and his counting stats did little to stand out. He doesn’t have the upside for me to chase him when the season starts, but I can see a situation where I need some boost in average and Cervelli is staring at me post-fist pump and I can’t stop myself from riding the train. “Fine, I’ll pick you up, but only for a few days!” I yell at him with an unwavering eye. Just a few days.