*UPDATE: Rankings updated on 2/20*
As we kick off the 2019 Pitcher List rankings, we do so with my favorite position and probably your least-favorite: catcher. The more popular positions are coming in the following days.
These are not my personal rankings but rather the consensus rankings from the Pitcher List managerial staff. A lot of brilliant minds put this together over the course of the winter. That said, we want to hear your feedback. If you disagree, let me know! I’m happy to discuss our rationale at length. Keep in mind that rankings are one of the hardest things to do in fantasy, and we did in fact put a lot of work into this.
A few notes before we jump in. These rankings are for standard category formats that use Avg., R, RBI, SB, and HR. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
No. 1: J.T. Realmuto (Philadelphia Phillies)
When drafting J.T. Realmuto as the first catcher off the board, you’re doing so not because of his sky-high ceiling but rather because of the stability he provides at the position. He’s hit at least .277 each of the past three seasons with double-digit home runs, topping out at 21 in 2018, and a healthy contribution of R+RBI. There are reasons for concern with Realmuto however: His batting average has gone down each year since 2016, he has an average hard-hit rate, and his steals are declining (from 12 in 2016 to eight and three over the past two seasons). Despite this, he will continue to be an asset because of his above-average batting average, which xStats feels he’s gotten a bit unlucky with the past two years, and very solid counting stats now that he’s a Phillie instead of a Marlin. Roster Resource has the new backstop hitting third, which is just oh-so-tasty.
No. 2: Gary Sanchez (New York Yankees)
If you’re looking for the catcher with the most upside, it’s still Gary Sanchez. 2018 was a lost year for the young slugger, but all his faults cannot be attributed to injury. This past fall, our own Dan Richards went deep on the struggles Sanchez had covering the lower outside corner and how pitchers began to exploit it. Definitely give it a read. But there’s a reason Sanchez is still going as the No. 2 catcher, and some could make the argument for him still at No. 1. If you’re drafting him here, you’re banking on a rebound to his 2017 stats, which resulted in him being roughly a third-round pick in 2018.
No. 3: Wilson Ramos (New York Mets)
There’s a pretty significant dropoff from Realmuto and Sanchez to the pack, which leads us to one of the more polarizing catchers in the game. Ever since getting LASIK surgery before the 2016 season, Wilson Ramos has batted .298/.343/.483 with the third-highest xAVG and fifth-highest xSLG in baseball among catchers. Say what you will about the Mets but that team could be very good offensively, and Roster Resource projects Ramos to bat fourth between Robinson Cano and Michael Conforto. If that pans out, Ramos could be set up for significant runs and RBI this season.
No. 4: Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals)
In the interest of being straightforward, if you’re in any league where walks are taken into account, Salvador Perez is a downright liability; he has a career 3.5% BB%. He’s been an overall model of consistency, averaging a .258 Avg. with a 23 HRs, 55 R, and 71 RBI slugging from 2015-17 before tearing his MCL in March of 2018. He struggled early on but found his form in the second half with 14 HRs and 64 R+RBI in 56 games, setting himself up for potentially huge 2019.
EDIT: Salvador Perez is out for the season with Tommy John surgery.
No. 5: Willson Contreras (Chicago Cubs)
It was pretty clear that Willson Contreras would not meet his power numbers from 2016 and 2017 given the sky-high HR/FB%, but we didn’t expect him to fall as far as he did in 2018. Let’s take away the positive: 138 games. We know that a healthy Contreras can put up as many starts as anyone in baseball, and that’s a huge positive. Now to the obvious negative: He was just terrible in every category. He was far better than a .249 hitter through his first 200 MLB games and at the upper minors as well, so a one-season slip doesn’t concern me too much. He lost a bunch of power in 2018, with a 7% drop in hard-hit rate (which is even worse considering the 3% league increase this year), but if he can regain that, he’ll be an elite catcher, just like he was for a year and a half before this past year.
No. 6: Yasmani Grandal (Milwaukee Brewers)
This is one of the more intriguing moves of the offseason, as Yasmani Grandal moves to one of the better hitter parks in baseball. At this point in Grandal’s career, we essentially know what he’s going to give us: a .240 average, almost no stolen bases, and 20-plus HRs with solid counting stats. Moving to Milwaukee is a big boost to the power stats, giving him an outside shot at 30 HRs in 2019. Currently going at pick 145 according to NFBC, he’s a huge bargain. Keep in mind he’s one of the streakier players in the league. Here are his monthly averages in 2018: .315/.181/.162/.364/.162/.254. I get if that scares some people, but the upside is worth the risk.
No. 7: Buster Posey (San Francisco Giants)
It feels sad to list Buster Posey so low, but this is where we are these days. Posey will give you one of the best averages in baseball, but it may be a struggle to hit double-digit homers, with roughly the same counting stats as Grandal if he’s lucky. I’m concerned about the Giants’ lineup and Posey’s ability to produce in it, but if you just want someone with a decent floor who won’t hurt you in average, Posey is as perfect as they come.
No. 8: Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)
Yadier Molina is an interesting case study. Thought to be in full decline after 2015, he’s found power in his late 30s, going from a 25% hard-hit rate in 2015 to 44.4% in 2018. That can be somewhat deceiving though because Baseball Savant does not give him a ton of praise in terms of barrels or batted-ball events over 95 mph. There are still huge positives though: The team is going for it this year and traded away Carson Kelly, opening up the door to 140 starts in a very good offense. As long as he gives you a .270 average, the counting stats will be enough to help you across the board.
No. 9: Yan Gomes (Washington Nationals)
Almost nobody in baseball increased high-drive rate over the last season like Yan Gomes did, resulting in two more HRs, a 50-point jump in SLG, and his highest batting average since 2014. If you play in any kind of OBP league, Gomes takes a big hit in value (career 5.0% BB), but the potential for a .260 average, 20 HRs, 60 R and 60 RBI is very much there in Washington. The only thing standing in his way is Kurt Suzuki. It is hard as of now to say how the playing time will be divided, but I can’t imagine the Nats are paying Suzuki $5M to play 40 games a year. I’m expecting 100/60, which would really hurt Gomes’ value. It remains to be seen though.
No. 10: Danny Jansen (Toronto Blue Jays)
Danny Jansen was a very good hitter throughout the minors, surprising many with how quickly his bat progressed in 2017, going all the way from High A to Triple A. It was very disappointing when that bat struggled in his 95 MLB PAs in 2018. I’m actually not surprised at all by this, as I strongly feel that catchers can be the slowest to adapt to MLB pitching because they have more to learn at the MLB level (a new pitching staff) than any other position. This offseason gave plenty of time to learn though, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him return numbers similar to his 2018 AAA line: a .275 average with 15-20 HRs and solid counting stats in a young, improving Blue Jays lineup.
No. 11: Welington Castillo (Chicago White Sox)
Welington Castillo’s PED suspension really bummed me out because I was so excited about his production with the Orioles late in 2017. The ceiling isn’t too high with the White Sox, but playing time will be ample. And I’ll keep saying it: Playing time is the key to major catcher value. Being conservative, his 2018 line seems right around what is fair to expect, but I do expect improvement as he was rusty in his return from the suspension. Give him another shot because anyone below him at this point has their fair share of bumps and bruises.
No. 12: Francisco Mejia (San Diego Padres)
DISCLAIMER: Francisco Mejia is only catcher eligible in Yahoo! leagues or other leagues where the minimum is 10 starts. This pick is all about upside. Right now, it’s unclear whether he will start over Austin Hedges, but his ceiling is far higher. I want to see him cut the SwStr%, but the average and ability to post 20-plus HRs is juicy. Don’t sleep on the Padres in general; that team is surprisingly good offensively. But if it becomes clear that Mejia will not start regularly, he’ll plummet down the list.
No. 13: Francisco Cervelli (Pittsburgh Pirates)
Anyone from here on out is not worth owning outright in 12-teamers, and it starts with Francisco Cervelli. Not only did 2018 represent Cervelli’s third consecutive injury-riddled season, it was coupled with the rise of Elias Diaz. Honestly, this ranking largely represents the combined value of Cervelli and Diaz, who hit .286 with 10 HRs in 82 games. If Cervelli goes down again, you want Diaz. If Cervelli doesn’t go down, Cervelli will still give you at least a .250 average, double-digit homers, and hopefully solid counting stats.
No. 14: Mike Zunino (Tampa Bay Rays)
If you’ve read my catcher streaming articles the past two seasons, you’ll know I’m not high on Mike Zunino. Never have been. Never will be. He’s got one thing he does for you. HRs. That’s it. He’s basically the catcher version of Joey Gallo but with far less run production. Not to mention that 37% strikeout rate, which is even higher than his career 34.2% rate. If you need desperate HR help, he’s worth a shot with 45 HRs the past two seasons, but now he’s a Tampa Bay Ray, which curbs his production upside.
No. 15: Willians Astudillo (Minnesota Twins)
I’m prepared for the hatred for how low Willians Astudillo is on the list. I even baited you with the featured image. I’m sorry about that. Our own Alex Fast is obsessed with the guy, and I get it. But honestly, this is as high as I’m willing to put him because as of now he’s not even projected to start in the majors. Roster Resource says the two catchers the Twins will carry are Jason Castro and Mitch Garver. It’s conceivable Astudillo takes the job of either Ehire Adrianza or Lucas Duda (as well as Garver), but even if he does, those are bench jobs. Astudillo will struggle to get in the lineup often enough to help your team. That said, if he does ever get a starting job, he’s got a good shot to hit close to .300 with double-digit HRs.
No. 16: Jorge Alfaro (Miami Marlins)
The Realmuto trade was actually an excellent move for Jorge Alfaro’s fantasy value. He’s got little competition for playing time in Miami, who will give him every chance to succeed, but right now, he needs a lot of help. Alfaro led the majors in SwStr% and K%. He whiffed on more than 30% of fastballs up in the zone. Yikes. He could certainly post a mid-.200s average, but it’s hard not to be concerned by his .406 BABIP and 16.7% HR/FB. He’s got perhaps the lowest floor of anyone on this whole list, but you’re drafting him for upside. Keep in mind we’re at the 16th catcher — none of these guys should be owned in 12-teamers, so we’re ranking pure upside now.
No. 17: Tucker Barnhart (Cincinnati Reds)
Tucker Barnhart was one of my favorite streamers last year despite his overall poor line. Most weeks, he’ll give you a serviceable enough average, and in past years, that was it. But the Reds added a bunch to their offense this off-season, which gives Barnhart a decent chance to post solid counting stats. He’ll still be lucky to return double digit homers, but you’ll take that at the 17th catcher.
No. 18: Robinson Chirinos (Houston Astros)
Neither he, nor Max Stassi, has a sky-high ceiling, but if there were an injury to either one, I’d certainly want to own the other one. Robinson Chirinos was not all that exciting in Texas last year, nor was Max Stassi in his limited time for the Stros, but a full-time gig for the Astros should return high R+RBI. As of now, I’d rather own Chirinos, the one who has a higher playing time ceiling.
No. 19: Omar Narvaez (Seattle Mariners)
I initially had Max Stassi in this spot, keeping the two Astros catchers together, and Narvaez was #26, just off this list. But after talking this through with a few readers, I had to move him up my rankings. He has one of the highest playing time floors of anyone in the league and it comes with a very palatable average- .277 each of the last two years. He may never hit double digit HRs- his HR/FB in 2018 was nearly double that of his career rate. So low power, not a ton of R+RBI, but he’ll get in the lineup every day and that deserves respect. Surprisingly though, the Mariners lineup isn’t terrible- Narvaez is projected to hit after Kyle Seager and Domingo Santana, which is certainly better than the supporting cast he had in Chicago last year. 120 R+RBI is possible with 120 starts.
No. 20: Chris Iannetta (Colorado Rockies)
I hate ranking Chris Iannetta this high, but it’s the lowest I feel comfortable ranking a Rockies catcher who will probably start as often as Iannetta will. As in years past, he’s got competition in the form of Tony Wolters and Tom Murphy, and he’s set to hit ninth. That’s all without taking into account how bad he was offensively in 2018. If he can return to the power of 2018 (he won’t), he could push top-12 value, but I don’t expect him to make his way onto rosters.
No. 21: Brian McCann (Atlanta Braves)
Anyone at this point has major warts, and Brian McCann’s biggest one takes the form of Tyler Flowers. I don’t expect either of these guys to play more than 90 games. That, and McCann’s power was absolutely gone last year. It’s very possible it was just a one-year hiccup and it could all come back to him back in his original home in Atlanta, but given all the factors, I’m just not buying in.
No. 22: Austin Barnes (Los Angeles Dodgers)
Yes, Austin Barnes is the starting catcher now. No, he does not have the job outright as the team acquired Russell Martin while letting Grandal walk. I honestly think the biggest threat to Barnes’ playing time is — well, Barnes. If he keeps the average around the Mendoza line and striking out close to 30%, the Dodgers will start Martin every day before the calendar turns to June. The key to Barnes’ success lies in lifting the ball off the ground a little more and getting more line drives, but I’m not sure he’s got it in him.
No. 23: Isiah Kiner-Falefa (Texas Rangers)
Isiah Kiner-Falefa played enough games behind the dish in 2018 to earn eligibility in 2019, which makes him an intriguing candidate for fantasy teams. Ideally, he’d stop catching and play the field full time, allowing an everyday position player you can slot behind the dish. Unfortunately, he’s pegged to be the everyday catcher. He’ll give a decent average, zero power (seriously — he didn’t hit his first minor league home run until his second year in AA; that’s more than 350 games), and low R+RBI because the Rangers are just not very good. Solid pass. Zero stars. Would not recommend.
No. 24 Austin Hedges (San Diego Padres)
For Hedges to return any value, he has to play, but it’s hard to think he will at a significant rate. He’ll give you power if he plays, but that’s about it. I wish I had more to write on him, but there’s really no value there until we’re told he’ll be the everyday guy.
No. 25: Jonathan Lucroy (Los Angeles Angels)
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. One of the top catchers of 2012-16 is now at the bottom of our catcher rankings, and it’s really not hard to see why. No power (10 HRs in his past 249 games), no average (.241 with no reason to think it should be notably higher than .260), and a less-than-stellar Angels lineup. At least he’ll have playing time. I suppose in super deep leagues, you could take a risk on him because of the playing time. Nothing more.
Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire