“Precision Tayloring”: Catching Fire, The top 25 Catchers for 2014
Ask anyone that has played catcher at any level of the sport and they can tell you that it is the most physically demanding position on the baseball diamond. The demands of the game on the defensive side of the ball take their toll over the course of a long season and often have some effect on the offensive output of the player, which for us in the realm of fantasy baseball is what we are mostly concerned about. It’s something that even the best players that play the position have to deal with and we have to remember to take that into consideration when evaluating the numbers that we get from our catcher. This is also why my general strategy for building a roster is to take a catcher who has if nothing else a top 5 catcher floor, even if that means drafting one with a high draft pick. So with that in mind let’s get started with the top 30 catchers for 2014. Starting with..
- Yadier Molina- Long known as one of if not the best defensive catcher in baseball, I think he has finally proven over the last 3 seasons that his offensive skills are very real as well. Molina is a true 4 category contributor giving you elite batting average that always hovers around .300 annually. His batting average is tied to his quick bat speed that allows him to generate hard contact, and his refined approach (led the majors in K% for catchers with a minimum of 250 PA at 10.2%) that allows him to take pitches on the outer half and dump them into right field. While his power output from 2012 was a bit of an anomaly (thanks in part to an inflated 13.8% HR/FB ratio) he still features average power, more of it to the pull side and should be a threat to hit at least 15 HR a year while driving up his counting stats from hitting in the middle of the order for one of the best offenses in the National League. He isn’t going to be as much of a draft day value as he was in previous years drafts, but he provides top-tier offensive output across the board at a position where very little of that presently exists.
- Buster Posey- Posey was setting the league on fire during the first half of last season as he was batting .322 and had 12 home runs through June. Then came the second half of the season which saw him catch some bad breaks at the plate and bat just .244 and only hit 3 more home runs from July through the end of the season. However, if Posey’s fly balls (which he hit more of last year than in any previous year) had left the ballpark at the same rate as they did in 2012 when he set a career high with 24 home runs he would have had 28 home runs in 2013. Now his more realistic output is more in the line of 20 a year, but with elite batting average as well (.285 as an absolute floor) and the opportunity to bat behind the supposedly slimmed down version of Pablo Sandoval the counting stats should be back up to elite catcher levels for next season.
- Joe Mauer- The ranking of Mauer 3rd here is more for you guys in re-draft leagues than those in dynasty or keeper leagues as he is keeping his catcher eligibility for 2014 but is very likely to lose it after this season with the permanent switch to 1st base imminent. That will be better overall for him as a player though and allow the twins to keep his bat in the
line-up more often as he missed the last 6 weeks of last season after receiving a concussion off of a foul tip to the mask. As a catcher or first baseman he is one of the most elite contact hitters in the league with annual batting averages north of .300. He is also a very patient hitter and isn’t afraid to take his walk to make a pitcher walk as evident by his career .405 OBP. His 28 home runs in 09 is now both a fading memory and an obvious career anomaly as he has failed to hit at least 15 since that year, though he does provide a moderate power threat it isn’t his calling card and shows up more in the form of doubles something that the move to Target Field may have helped facilitate. Maybe getting the opportunity to play 1st base every day will help Mauer find some of that power he had in 2009 though even if he only hits 10-12 home runs a year he is still an elite source of batting average, runs, RBI, and walks for those leagues that count OBP.
- Carlos Santana- Another guy who is going to have a brand new position in 2014 yet still maintain catcher eligibility for next year, Santana is the first guy on the list who features true plus power potential and first switch hitter on the list. He is reliable for 20+ home runs annually although it does come at some cost to batting average as he has shown that he will sell out for the all or nothing power swing as his handle on the strike zone itself is actually very good as he has been walked at least over 90 times for the past 3 seasons. With the home runs come the runs and RBI galore as he hits in a very potent Cleveland line-up that finished 5th in the league at generating runs. Buyers beware he is the first guy listed that is prone to just having weeks where he disappears (other than Posey’s second half last season) and just doesn’t really do anything for your team. The first 3 guys listed are there because of the more proven track records for having a more consistent offensive output throughout a whole season.
- Jonathan Lucroy AKA “Captain Freak Accident“- Lucroy has really improved as a hitter since when he first arrived on the scene in Milwaukee as he has cut his K% down from 21.2% in 2011 to 11.9% last season. He is making a lot of contact now and a lot of it is loud contact and you can now count on him to provide you solid to elite average from the catcher position. He features above average power and plays in a hitter friendly Miller Park that should help generate close to 20 home runs a year. If the Brewers offense can bounce back next season he could see an even bigger boost to his runs and RBI making him a solid 4 category contributor that will be a steal come draft day and a target on all of the re-draft teams I may have.
- Salvador Perez- The young Kansas City superstar is another high contact, high batting average catcher although he hardly ever draws a walk. He doesn’t strike out too much to kill you and should be an above average source of runs and RBI given the amount of young talent around him in Kansas City. The baseball community is still waiting around hoping his power will develop even more into an above average to possible elite source of power when fully developed but it still remains to be seen if that will happen. He does play in Kauffman stadium which tends to suppress home runs so I don’t think he will ever be an elite source of power, but he could still hit 15-20 in a year and be a solid 4 category guy.
- Matt Wieters- For as much of a drag as he is going to be on your batting average the production he provides in home runs, runs, and RBI along with the potential for more (think around 25/70/90 at full potential). He hits in a potent line-up and in a hitter friendly ball park, so the environment to drive the offense up is there. The price tag for him is going to be lower than in previous years due to him always under achieving expectations, but maybe those expectations were a bit lofty to begin with.
- Yan Gomes- Gomes is set to take over as primary catcher for the Indians and did a good job filling in for Santana last season hitting .294 in 322 PA. Although he probably won’t bat close to .300 next season as he strikes out a little more often than average, he features above average power to flirt with 20 home runs a season and will get his counting stats in the Cleveland line-up. If he is at least average in the batting average category he can be a huge value on draft day.
- Brian McCann- The power threat that McCann brings to New York is very real. The now gaping holes in the Yankee line-up (minus Granderson and Cano) are also very real. These 2 facts are what lead me to temper expectations a bit when it comes to McCann’s first year in New York. He may hit 20 home runs for you but he may only hit .250 and still have less RBI and runs than some of the guys ahead of him on this list. Also big name free agents moving to hitter friendly ball parks tend to be just a touch over drafted in some draft rooms.
- Wilin Rosario- Rosario proved last season that he wasn’t too good of a catcher defensively, but it’s not like the Rockies have too many other options. The plus power potential is real as he has the loft in his swing to avoid the typical home/road splits that plague many Rockies hitters. The .292 batting average was a bit inflated thanks to a .344 BABIP, but he shows average contact skills and shouldn’t be a drag to you in that category even though he is prone to the strikeout.
- Jason Castro- Castro had a very successful first season stepping in as the primary Astros backstop. Features above average power and average out put from the runs, RBI, and batting average categories. Another guy prone to a high strikeout count.
- A.J. Pierzynski- Pierzynski may not be the same hitter he was in his heyday with the Twins and White Sox, but he is still a very useful fantasy catcher. He finds himself in a very good situation hitting in a potent Boston line-up that could lead to better numbers than the 48 runs and 70 RBI he put up last season for the Rangers.
- Wilson Ramos- If Ramos could just stay on the field he could develop into a solid average fantasy catcher. As he has above average power and good enough plate discipline to allow it to play into his counting stats while hitting in what should be a bounce back year for the Nationals offense.
- Evan Gattis- The power is for real, but the contact issues he showed at times last season may always be a part of his game and hurt your batting average. If you are able to handle
the hit to your batting average though you may get a solid average contributor to your home runs, runs, and RBI production however the range of possibilities for Gattis is the widest of just about any of the catchers on this list as he could hit or well not hit his way back to the minors or slug his way to an All-star consideration if he can get a control of the contact issues, and anywhere in between.
- A.J. Ellis- Ellis is coming off of a down season which means his price tag may make him something of a bargain for a guy who is going to get to hit for a great line-up like the dodgers are going to have for next season. He got unlucky last season with a .269 BABIP so you could expect a slight bump back towards the norm of .270 for him.
- Russell Martin- Not gonna hit for a lot of average, but still has average to slightly above average pop in the stick though PNC Park plays as an extreme pitchers park. The Pirates offense is only getting better, but if Martin was my starting catcher in anything but a deep mixed or NL-only league, I wouldn’t feel too good about it.
- Dioner Navarro- Navarro did an admirable job in part-time duty for the Cubs last season hitting .300 on the season. He showed good discipline of the strike zone with a .64 BB/K ratio. Definitely potential here and worth the flier as a 2nd catcher in 2 catcher leagues or a back up catcher to carry on your roster if you happened to pick up an injury prone catcher.
- Welington Castillo- Enters the season as the starter for the Cubs. Wont kill you in batting average but will only be an average contributor at best in the other categories. Susceptible to lefties.
- Miguel Montero- Just 1 season removed from very solid offensive production. Needs to fix his strikeout issue to have any chance of having serious offensive output.
- Travis d’Arnaud- Looked over matched in first exposure to big league pitching, but was a serious offensive prospect for a reason. The potential is there for him to breakout this year if he can make more solid contact and the Mets are going to give him every opportunity to run with it. Definitely a name for keeper league players to pay attention too.
- Derek Norris- Nice AL-only catcher as he won’t kill your team in any area, and won’t cost you a high draft pick allowing you to build up other parts of your roster if you wish. Worth deeper mixed league and 2-catcher league consideration as well.
- Carlos Ruiz- Hasn’t been the same player since he came back from PED suspension. Phillies were determined to have the oldest team in the league when they resigned him to a contract extension.
- Mike Zunino- Was also over matched in first exposure to big league pitching and playing in Seattle won’t do him any favors, but he was most polished college bat in the 2012 draft which is why the Mariners took him 3rd overall.
- Jarrod Saltalamacchia- I’m just really, really down on him. The move to the Marlins is not exciting and there is no way he is going to be able to keep up the .372 BABIP he posted last season.
- Chris Iannetta- Has power potential but may barely hit enough to warrant rostering on your AL-only teams.