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“65Mustangs” 2017 Pre-Season Catcher rankings. #’s 1 – 12.

As a Yankee fan and Gary Sanchez owner, I’m excited. He made me look like a genius in a munson-murcercouple leagues last season, nearly winning me one. Players like Gary Sanchez are one of the many reasons we play Fantasy Baseball. It reminds me of the pure excitement we felt as kids when our favorite teams brought up their heralded rookies. It made me wander off remembering when Bobby Murcer & Thurman Munson burst on the scene as the next Micky & Yogi. That is a story for another time. Last season I was just really high on some good Sanchez.

This off-season I woke up from the dream. Last Spring we had a similar dream catcher to fantasize about as Kyle Schwarber was going to be the next Johnny Bench. I saw him drafted as high as the 2nd or 3rd round in some leagues, but I warned against over-drafting him here. I didn’t predict he’d miss most of the season with an injury sustained in the OF, but injuries are the bane of catchers. (See Devin Mesoraco & Matt Wieters for recent examples of catchers plucked from their prime by serious injury.) Imagine your season had you picked Schwarber in the 3rd round. It may surprise many of you to know that Kyle Schwarber is no longer catcher eligible. Maybe he’ll get the chance to catch the ten games he needs in most leagues for current season eligibility, like he told his manager he wants to.

What really makes the 2017 draft tough when it comes to the catcher position is that for the first time in years we had a bit of a slip at the top. Buster Posey may have shown the first signs of the over 30 slippery slope for catchers. Considering the bulk of established catchers are now on the wrong side of 30, there may be a changing of the guard looming, much like what has happened at 1B recently. Depending on your league’s scoring model,  Jonathan Lucroy was likely the #1 catcher on your league’s player rater. I said last season I would not pick Posey unless he slipped to the 4th round. He did in my ESPN money league, and I picked him. I finished in the middle of the pack in that league. I can point to that pick as one of the reasons I wasted $50. I should have known better as a fantasy veteran. Don’t pay for saves and certainly don’t pay for catchers. The truth is there are plenty of good catchers to go around. Last season I discussed the various catcher drafting strategies here. Today I’ll just point out some observations that might help you on draft day:

Trivia Questions: Name the Catchers: The answers may surprise you.

AB H 2B HR RBI BA OBP OPS
Catcher  #1A 201 60 12 20 42 0.299 0.376 1.032
Catcher #1B 252 71 14 12 35 0.282 0.357 0.845
                 
Catcher #2A 514 127 28 22 64 0.247 0.288 0.725
Catcher #2B 423 103 17 17 66 0.243 0.302 0.711
                 
Catcher #3A 509 154 31 11 48 0.303 0.343 0.771
Catcher #3B 534 164 38 8 58 0.307 0.360 0.787
                 
Catcher #4A 429 104 13 20 58 0.242 0.335 0.748
Catcher #4B 455 105 16 20 74 0.231 0.335 0.733

Here are my 2017 catcher rankings. I’ll be the first to tell you that these rankings don’t really matter at all. All that matters is when you will draft your catcher. I purposely posted the above Trivia Comparisons to drive that fact home. You don’t have to draft Catcher A in the Xth round when Catcher B several rounds later may give you nearly the same production. Don’t forget, if you draft a catcher too early, you will be behind the 8 ball on some other positions. One nugget I almost forgot to mention is at this moment only a single catcher is multi-position eligible. Not Posey, he only played 15 games at 1b. Willson Contreras of the Cubs played 22 games in the OF. Do what you like with that.

  1. Buster Posey, C SF: Anyone who reads me knows I believe, for the most part, the #1 player at a position is still #1 until he is not. Posey still is, even though Lucroy topped him on several league player raters in 2016. Posey suffered from back and thumbposey problems that sapped his power, especially in the 2nd half. As I keep saying, that is the lot of catchers. He’ll turn 30 right before opening day, and has played at least 145 games and 600 plate appearances 5 straight years. So he plays through injuries, but can you afford to? That is a lot of miles. All that said, Posey was pretty good in 2016 though he slipped in several categories. His 4.7 WAR would look shiny if it were not his lowest WAR in five years. His BA & Babip dropped 20 points to .288 & .303 his lowest in 6 years. Not all Babip measures are luck driven either. If injuries sapped his power, then more fly balls were caught and fewer grounders got through to the grass. I think there are a couple more good years left in his prime before he goes Joe Mauer. But where are you drafting him? I won’t be drafting catchers in the 4th or 5th anymore, and he’ll likely be gone by then. If he drops further it will depend on who else is in my queue. I’m not drafting on position scarcity here.
  2. Jonathan Lucroy, C TEX: Let’s face it, as catchers go, Lucroy is a pretty good hitter. An argument could be made here for the #1 spot based on scoring higher than Buster in several categories: HR, RBI, AVG, SLG, OPS, especially in OPS Leagues.Lucroy If you took 10 of Lucroy’s 24 HR and made them doubles, the two catchers would have nearly identical stat lines from 2016 other than SLG & OPS. So, what is the difference? In my opinion, 2016 is Lucroy’s ceiling, and not a bad ceiling, but I believe 2016 is also Posey’s floor for the next two seasons if healthy, and that is a pretty good floor. Lucroy is also a year older than Posey, a fact that surprised me until I remembered how young Posey was when he burst on the scene. Think about this stat for a minute. Posey hit .288 in 2016, but had a Babip of only .303, while Lucroy hit.292 on a Babip of .322. But where are you drafting him?  It won’t matter to me either way as I’m not buying a catcher in that rent district.
  3. Gary Sanchez, C NYY: In the name of impartial writing and plain old common sense, I can finally come out and admit that Gary Sanchez is not quite as good as his final numbers looked during his 2-month cup of coffee in 2016. I feel better now. Yes, he has the talent to be a 30 HR catcher and will have the opportunity with McCann traded to the ‘Stros. But here are some sobering facts: In August, Gary hit .389 with a 1.290 OPS on a .413 Babip, 11 HR & 21 RBI, which projects to a 66, 126 season. We all knew that was not sustainable, and in September, thesanchez other half of his entire MLB career, he hit .225, .833, 9, 21. He kept up the HR barrage but his average dipped miserably thanks to 35 strikeouts vs. 21 in Aug) and a .233 Babip. It was likely a combination of naturally coming back to Earth and pitchers adjusting to exploit his weaknesses, namely a .189 average against lefties and his 25% strikeout rate. His first hurdle in 2017 will be to counteract positively those pitching adjustments with some of his own and improve on the 25% strikeout rate. He can probably expect to face a McCann type shift as well. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to like here and it may all come to fruition in 2017. If it seems he has been a prospect for a long time, he has. The Yanks signed him in 2009 as a 16-year-old and he hit .318 in Rookie Ball at the age of 17. In his 6 1/2 seasons in the Yankee system, he also learned to frame pitches, call games & throw out base runners, which is great for the Yanks but won’t help in fantasy other than keeping him on the field and catcher eligible. He averaged close to 20 HR and nearly 30 2B in each of those minor league seasons, and he is only 24. But where are you drafting him? Fantrax is predicting the top three catchers off the board to be Posey (40.85 or half way through the 4th round of a 12 team league) & Sanchez 2nd at 48.46 (at the end of the 4th round) with Jon Lucroy at 55.49 (half way through the 5th) I can’t justify drafting any catcher that early this season and I won’t. The risk is too great, for injury, catcher playing time, sophomore regression, etc. One only has to look at Kyle Schwarber to understand that theory. I’ll happily sign him to a league max 5 year contract in my Long Term Contracts Keeper League, where I grabbed him off waivers at the 2016 All-Star break for a buck. But I can’t risk a 4th round pick on him, especially if I’m also passing on Posey in that round. Gary Sanchez is catcher 1A in the above chart. See 1B for a more cost effective alternative.
  4. Evan Gattis, C/DH HOU: If nothing else, it has always been fairly easy to pencil in 20 HR per season at the C position in one catcher leagues. Gattis is capable of giving youEvan_Gattis_on_August_25,_2015.jpg 30 by himself as he did in 2016 when he hit 32. His average output in his 4-year career is over 25 HR with a respectable enough .250 average. He did have spikes in both K rate & Walk rateHe is now in the AL where he can stay in the lineup at the DH spot as well, but the Stros did get Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann this offseason who can’t be counted on for 150 games in the field. But where are you drafting him?  There will probably be a several round drop off to Gattis from the three above catchers. Decide the earliest round you’d select Gattis, stick to it, and if he is still there make a decision. There is no reason to reach at this point.Stats has him at 102.1 or half way through the 8th. I’d wait another round or two if I could.
  5. JT Realmuto, C MIA: What’s not to like about JT Realmuto? He hits for average, gets on base, pitchers like working with him, and he was the only catcher to steal double digit bases in 2016. He also hit 31 doubles and at age 26 I can see 8-10 or so of those doubles realmutoclearing walls in 2017. This guy is only going to get better as long as he stays healthy. His average is likely solid even though he sported a .357 Babip. He also had the 4th best contact rate among catchers and he hasn’t yet gotten his walk rate back to the levels he had in the minors. But where will you draft him? If you are in a competitive league, his secret is already out and he’ll be over drafted. Stats has him at 112.3 or midway through the 10th.If he falls to the 10th round or so he will be in my queue. Don’t fret if you miss out on him when someone reaches too early. JT is catcher #3A on the above chart. #3B is a familiar name who will still be there in the 16th to 20th round. See catcher number 12 below.
  6. Wilson Contreras, C, CHC: Contreras is catcher 1B on the chart above. Other than HR and thus OPS, I don’t see a huge difference here between him and Sanchez based on 2016 stats, although Sanchez seems to have far more upside. Wilson also spent 6 1/2 years in the Cubscontreras system starting at 17 and is 24 now. Contreras has more plate discipline and has shown better than league average BA & walk rates, though he has less power than Sanchez. His numbers look very sustainable as well. He hit .282 in MLB and his Milb average was .283. Tempered slightly by a .339 Babip, OBP = .357 vs .356 Milb. The MLB power ratios are not so positive, 1.16 GB/FB rate, 1.93 GO/AO, 14.6 HR/FB and his K rate was 16.6% in the minors but 23.7 % last season. His walk percent remained steady. Hopefully he can get the K rate back to previous levels. But where are you drafting him? I can see him falling to the 7th or 8th round; 4 rounds after Sanchez & Posey. That is still too early for me but a large difference in how you spend your resources.
  7. Sal Perez, C KC: 2017 is an important season for Sal Perez. He’s got a lot of miles on his legs and some think he has been overworked. It is hard to say, but in 2016 he hit over perez.300 in May and June, and never hit more than .229 in any month after that. He’s hit 20 or more HR 3 of the last 4 years, but until he cuts down the strikeouts and gets on base more he is drifting toward being a power hitting, low BA, all or nothing catcher. That might be good enough but it is still a major disappointment after the greatness many of us predicted for him. Over the past 5 years his HR rates and extra base hit percentages have trended up, but K rates, BA, OBP, OPS and GB/FB percentages have trended in a straight line downward. He also has not improved at all on a horrendous walk rate in all that time. His 4% walk rate, a career high, was still about half of the league average in 2016. Why is this season important for him? He turns 27 years old in May. This season could establish his norm for his prime power years. Will he be the 20 HR low average, mid-round catcher, or will he turn the corner to show us what we thought was possible and stick around in the top 10 a few more years?  But where will you draft him? I’m an eternal optimist and I’m not jumping ship yet. His strikeout rate and sub .300 OBP are crippling both in fantasy and the real game, but I’ll give him another year. Good things often happen in a players age 27 season. He may come at a bargain this season as some have already jumped ship. I’d like to see him sitting there in the 14th round, but Stats has him trending at mid 10th, and he still carried some name brand value at a position where some value durability over outcome. Sal is catcher 2A on the chart above, take a look at catcher 2B below if you think Sal has plateaued. If so, you might as well wait it out and take this familiar name several rounds later.
  8. Yasmani Grandal, C LAD: Yasmani turned 27 last season, and fittingly, in my mind anyway, may have blossomed in the power department with 27 HR. It was his yasmani-grandal-wife-heather-grandal-weddingcareer high and also led all catcher in HR other than Gattis who also plays OF and DH. We are already at the point where any catcher we pick will have skills but will also have a wart or two keeping them down the chart. Grandal’s 25% strikeout rate is 5 points higher than the MLB average, while his HR/FB rate is 6 points higher than the league average. The power is real. If the K’s are too, this is where he falls, which is not too far off from Brian McCann was for several years in Atlanta. But where will you draft him? This is an interesting case. People who believe in him or have a love affair with HR will likely reach, maybe as high as Gattis territory. So, again, pick a round and stick to it. Ignore him and look before your pick to see if he is still there. I would have no issue drafting him in the Sal Perez neighborhood at this point but would pounce if he dropped to the 2nd half of the draft. Stats has him at mid 12th, which sounds about right, but if there is a catcher run in the 10th don’t be surprised to see him go.Did his wedding get photo bombed or is that the person presiding over the ceremony?
  9. Brian McCann, C, HOU: If you want consistency with little upside, you can’t go wrong with McCann. At this point, he is somewhat over-drafted based on his name and mccannfamiliarity. Hopefully, no one is waiting for his Brave’s days to come back again as that ship has sailed. He is 33, which is late in most catchers careers, and has competition for playing time in Houston from #4 above, but he has been major injury free and has hit 20 HR 10 times, including the past 9 in a row. His average has been pretty low the past few years, and he faces one of the most severe shifts played against him in the game, which he has started to learn to beat of late. He also still gets on base at a good clip keeping his OPS near .800. But where will you draft him? This is once again a catcher that you assign to a round and if he is still there, make a decision. In fact, one could likely do that with the entire position.Some devalue McCann due to his age and comparisons to McCann 8 seasons ago. That could work in your favor if you are patient. Others will overvalue him based on his reputation. Stats has him at late in the 13th, which i would not be shy to do.McCann is catcher 4A on the chart above. If you miss him, wait a couple rounds and look at catcher 4B below for a potential bargain and similar output.
  10. Russell Martin, C, TOR: We all know who Russell Martin is, but did you know he is catcher number 4B on the chart above? If recent history means anything, Brianmartin McCann will be drafted a few rounds ahead of Russell Martin. I just don’t know why. Their stats the past two seasons are nearly identical but for two exceptions. Martin, playing in a good hitting park and nestled into one of the most stacked lineups in baseball, even without Edwin Encarnacion, has approximately 20 more runs and RBI in each of the last two seasons. That makes Martin (34 years old) more valuable than McCann (33 years old). Both are well past the age of 30, as are most of the catchers in this top 12. I think that means there will be a changing of the guard amongst the top of the catcher rankings very soon, much like has happened at first base the past two seasons. I don’t see a reason why we won’t get one more fantasy relevant season from this group. One could say Martin is hitting better now (the past two seasons with TOR), for fantasy purposes than he has since 2007, his 2nd season when he was 24. But where are you drafting him? I’m picturing Martin dropping all the way to the 16th round in many leagues, as he has the past few years. I’d likely add him to my queue in the 14th.
  11. Matt Wieters, C FA @ 2/12/2017: I’ve been lamenting the injury that plucked Wieters right out of his age 27 season when he was putting it all together at the plate. He sustained anmatt-wieters-wife-maria-wieters-pics injury requiring TJ surgery. Three full seasons later he is finally back to the point
    where he is a serviceable fantasy catcher, albeit not nearly the producer he was projected to be.  The batting average is low and the HR are merely adequate, but the potential is still there if he can find it again. Three seasons removed from the surgery, this is probably the season that will define the rest of his career. It will also depend heavily on what team signs him as at this writing he was still a free agent. The Pirates are rumored to be interested, but they won’t be able to sit him or DH him as often as Baltimore did, which may not hurt his average much but it could do a lot to his counting stats.Stay tuned. By the way, he is catcher # 2B in the chart above. He put up similar stats to no other than Salvador Perez, but at least 10 rounds later. I’m not saying he is as good, nor has the upside, but I’m going year to year on catchers not named Sanchez anyway. His wife has not given up on him and I’m not either. But where are you drafting him? Stats has him drafting in the 16-17 range. Look for him late in the draft, I’d like him in the 20th round or later, but don’t worry if someone overpays for him before that. We have 12 more catchers that will still be on the board.
  12. Yadier Molina, C STL: That’s right, Mr. Molina is catcher #3B above. Yadi was likely in the majors already when JT Realmuto was born. Ok, maybe not, but Yadi keeps onyadi chugging along and with 534 at bats per season he will accumulate counting stats by accident. In fact, he topped JT in all but HR & SB in 2016. His .360 OBP was buoyed by a .342 wOBA and he hit a similar .308/.304 BA Vs RHP & LHP which will keep him from being platooned. Everything I read suggests his power is gone so maybe he is not cracking double-digit HR anymore, but 38 doubles (easily tops among catchers in 2016) proves there is still some pop in that bat. He won’t get the uber sexy 12 SB Realmuto nailed in 2016, but if you are drafting catchers hoping to beef up your SB, you need a history lesson anyway. The good news is that most owners no longer view Yadi as a viable fantasy catcher at 34. I’ll be happy to “settle” for him after the 16th, but he could still be there in the 20th.

Next week we’ll talk about the catchers that will be left after these 12 are off the board. If you are in a 16 or 20 team league and are one of the four or five teams that do not have a catcher yet, you will need to get creative. We’ll look at some sleepers and potential bargains so you are not stuck with Jason McCann or Tyler Flowers as your catcher on Opening Day. There are seven or eight more catchers that I’d be comfortable starting the season with. Until then keep on studying, you can’t be too prepared on draft day. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you then.

I’m talking catchers now on Reddit under the title “Where are you drafting Gary 
Sanchez?” and will be discussing this article on Reddit on Tuesday if you want to chat, debate, or call me crazy.

Email me at joseph.iannone021@gmail.com   joeiannone2 @ Twitter

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday March 26th, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #80 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. This week we will discuss players in the draft going for nice bargains.

Our guest this week is Steve Hamilton. Steve is a writer, and editor with majorleaguefantasysports.com focusing on baseball. His articles publish every Saturday.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

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(Click the RED link below to listen)

Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio Show: Join Corey D Roberts, and Kyle Amore live on Sunday April 2nd, 2017 from 7-9pm EST for episode #81 of Major League Fantasy Baseball Radio. We are a live broadcast that will take callers at 323-870-4395. Press 1 to speak with the host. OPENING DAY SPECIAL! We will discuss some of the days events as well as relevant fantasy baseball updates.

Our guests this week are Ron Shandler, and Bilal Chaudry. Ron is FSTA Hall of Famer, and one of the pioneers of fantasy baseball. You can find his work at ronshandler.com. Bilal is a veteran owner in Major League Fantasy Baseball leagues and frequent radio guest.

You can find our shows on I-Tunes. Just search for Major League Fantasy Sports in the podcasts section. For Android users go to “Podcast Republic,” then download that app, and search for “Major League Fantasy Sports Show”

 

I'm an accountant and an amateur writer of fiction and sports commentary, mostly baseball. I've been a student of the game of baseball since the Dinosaurs roamed the earth, or at least since a few years before the world knew what a designated hitter was. Otherwise, I like "antique" cars of the 60's and 70's and have been a fantasy baseball fanatic since my first draft many years ago. I live in CT with my wife Megan of 25 years, our daughter Caitlin and their (their) cats. I'm also the better looking of the two guys in the the photo.

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  1. Pingback: “65 Mustangs” Not for the Faint of Heart. PreSeason Catcher Rankings #13 to ? Don’t give up, there is still a lot to like.

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