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

When I’m drafting I always pay special attention to the Catcher position. Not that I worry if someone drafts Posey right in front of me in the 3rd or 4th round. I’m not veering from my plan, and my plan does not include a catcher that early in a draft. So, even though that Posey pick might spark owners to grab Lucroy & Sanchez, and a few rounds later, Gattis I’m not drafting my catcher in the first six rounds anyway. I will admit though, if Sanchez is still there in the 6th I will likely not be able to control myself and it will screw up the rest of my draft. For better or for worse, he won’t be there, so I need not worry about having to make that decision. I’m going to miss him too, I thought I was the smart guy who grabbed him in two leagues last season.

I learned my lesson and it was reinforced last season when I drafted Posey in the 4th of a Roto league. Those early picks are too important for building a solid core to carry my team than to waste them on unreliable positions such as catcher and closer. Championships are often won in the middle rounds of a draft but they are just as often lost in the early rounds by owners reaching for exciting though unproven players, or who try to sew up a volatile position so they don’t have to think about it all season.  There are many ways to manage the catcher spot when you are an engaged and active owner, allowing you to stack your lineup with more high impact bats early in the draft. If you struggle with the catcher spot, as I have, here are four different strategies for managing catchers I described in last season’s rankings.

Last week I ranked the top 12 likely catcher starters in a standard 12 team league. However, many of us play in larger leagues or two-catcher leagues so I’ll rank several more now who will likely be drafted. After that, it would be useless to rank or go into too many advanced hitting metrics so I’ll talk about some groups or tiers of catchers you might want to keep an eye on. You never know when you’ll need an injury replacement. Besides, as important it is to not overdraft the catcher spot, ignoring it could make for a long hot summer. Enough out of me, let’s get on with it.

TRIVIA QUESTION: What two MLB Catchers had almost EXACTLY the 2017 Baseball Prospectus Pecota Median Stat Line for Catchers in 2016. Hint – Pecota Median = 16 HR, 56 RBI, 251 BA. (1)

They could start on my team, and should still be there somewhat late:

13. Welington Castillo, C BAL: Castillo may have deserved a spot in my top 12 article from last week but I’m old school and have trouble letting go of longtime favorites like Yadi welington-castillo-oriolesMolina and Matt Wieters, who was injured right at the start of his age 27 season when it appeared he was putting it all together. But time presses on and I’m sure many would draft Castillo ahead of those two in 2017. If faced with that dilemma at the table I may have to as well. While he turned 30 in April, he’s had the best two seasons of his career since landing in Arizona in 2015 after also playing for both the Cubs & Mariners that season. In 2016 he set career highs across the board in H, 2B, RBI & SB (2, but hey) after setting career highs in R & HR the year before. He will never be Jon Lucroy, and Wilson Contreras booted him out of Chicago so this is not a top tier catcher, but he may be the last catcher on the list who could be a draft and forget for a couple more years.

14. Tom Murphy, C COL: There was a time when you could sneak a player like Murphy onto your team late in a draft, drawing a lot of “Who’s” & “Wows” from your league mates. Not so much anymore. Between coverage, social media, chat boards and all of us experts tom-murphywriting articles, no secret is safe anymore. This is about draft position and playing time. Some think he is a late bloomer but I think 25/26 is a pretty common age for an MLB catcher to make the majors and stick. Even if his bat has matured, it takes longer for catchers to master the art of handling a pitching staff. Murphy wasn’t drafted until 2012 when he was 21, giving guys like Gary Sanchez & Wilson Contreras an extra four years of tutelage. But, really, who is he? Looking at his minor league stats, they are startlingly similar to those of Gary Sanchez. But he didn’t come up and hit 20 HR in two months. In AAA last year, Murphy hit 26 2B, 19 HR, 59 RBI, and slashing .327/.361/.647 in only 300 AB. He then got a cup of coffee where he hit 5 HR more in 45 AB. That marked the 3rd time in 4 years he has hit over 20 homers. Tony Wolters is superior defensively and the only thing standing in the way of Murphy getting full time at bats. That uncertainty should temper drafters but the thought of his power in Colorado is too enticing to ignore. I’ll add him to my queue in the 15th or so and hope to add him around the 20th. I’ll need a backup plan, though.

15. Mike Zunino, C SEA: The perennial teaser, Zunino will turn 26 the week before opening day. We all know this guy has 30 HR power, but with a sub.200 BA and 31% K rate (not a Mike Zuninomiss print) he can’t get the at-bats to do it. Some think he was rushed to the majors before having time to develop properly. Maybe they should change the Mendoza line to the Zunino line so recent generations can identify. I had forgotten about him in 2016 drafts, but during the season he hit .286 with a .898 OPS and 17 HR in only 280 AB in AAA. He then added another 12 HR once recalled to the MLB. His MLB average was .207, marking the first season above the Zunino line in his career, in fact raising his lifetime BA 5 points. He’s always been an extreme fly ball hitter, lifetime .50 GB/FB ratio, but in 2016 he managed a 10.9% walk rate which nearly doubled his career average. If he can get that average up into the .225 range, we could live with that to get the HRs. He’s back on my radar but I’m not sure I’d be confident on Opening Day with him as my C. Not yet anyway, as long as a line is named after him. Likely the last catcher drafted in most leagues, I’m keeping an eye on him.

16A. Stephen Vogt, C OAK: If your goal is to get a catcher who will give you 16 HR, 56 RBI and bat .251, throw a dart at the list. Nearly every starting catcher will give you somethingStephen_Vogt_7qmwcgd1_9l5ue7eh close to that given 400 AB. Baseball Prospectus’ most recent Pecota Rankings call exactly those stats the 2017“median” for catchers in the MLB.  In 2016, Vogt hit 14 HR, 56 RBI, and batted .251. There you go. So, what is wrong with that? The way Vogt went about it nearly drove his owners nuts. He’s a lifetime .264 hitter vs RHP, but .196 Vs LHP, and hits 25 points higher on the road away from Oakland. This means you only want to start him against RHP & on the road. What will you do the other 60% or more of the season? He was serviceable in 2015 when he came out of oblivion at 31 to hit 18 HR, 71 RBI & batted .261 with a .341 OBP, plus had multi-position eligibility. In 2016 he was exclusively the A’s backstop and that cost him some quality at-bats and, it would seem, durability as his averages for the season from May to September went from .281-.278-.273-.238-.202. When you needed him for the playoffs, he was AWOL. The good news is that even though his HR total dropped in 2016, he did hit 31 doubles which gave him 5 more extra base hits than he had in 2015. He needs to hit with power as his GB/FB rate is a measly .46 and he has no speed. The A’s are trying to ease in Bruce Maxwell to catch and plan to use Vogt at 1B and DH more often. I hope I don’t have to draft Vogt but if my catcher gets hurt and he is there I’ll use him. If you draft him, think about adding Maxwell if you have room.

16B. Bruce Maxwell, C OAK: I’ll talk about him now since I just mentioned him. A good catcher with a patient batting eye makes him the kind of player the A’s tend to develop. His bruce-maxwellfive-year MiLB career OBP of nearly .350 is high for a catcher, and he kept it at .337 in 100 MLB plate appearances. He was a below average hitter in the minors until 2016 when he tore up AAA slashing .321/.393/.539 and knocking a career high 10 HR in only 200 PAs at the age of 25. I’m not ready to draft him, but if I own Vogt I’d think about adding him if I had room. He should also be owned in Dynasty formats.

17. Derek Norris, C TOR: Norris fell off the map in 2016 and even the Padres decided not to bring him back. He will get a change of scenery in Washington and just turned 28. (5 days ago for those counting at home). He was an on-base machine in the minors (nearly .400)052915-MLB-Derek-Norris-LN-PI.vresize.1200.675.high.28 (1) walking about 400 times in 4 + seasons with above average power and speed. That OBP continued into the MLB with OBP’s of .345 & .361 in 2013 & 2014. With additional playing time in 2015 came 16 HR power but also exposed his trouble to hit RHP’s as he has a .210/.284 BA/OBP vs RHP vs .276/.353 vs LHP. In 2016 he couldn’t hit either type of pitcher and ended the season with his lowest BA (.186), well below the Zunino line. At 28 years old and with his track record, I can see him rebounding at least to average stats. I’d start the season with him if I had to.

18A. Cameron Rupp, C PHI: Having a face only his Mom can love, Rupp came out of nowhere last season to put up respectable, rupp_momusable numbers. Always thought of as a career backup with very mediocre minor league numbers, he took the starting job in June and hit 16 HR, 54 RBI and .252.  Another catcher hitting exactly the PECOTA line for catchers. I don’t know if he tired or the pitchers figured him out, but he only hit .208 in September. He is 28 and has top prospect Jorge Alfaro waiting to get the call, but if you don’t have a catcher in the last round you can do far worse than Cameron Rupp. Just be ready to cast him off when the time comes.

18B. Jorge Alfaro, C PHI: And maybe when that time does come for Rupp, you should already own Jorge Alfaro, the catcher who came from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade. He’s been raking and with power for several years now, averaging 20 doubles and 15 HR while putting up nice OBP’s even though he does not walk a lot, but does strike out a lot. He once even stole 20 bases in the low minors in a season, following that with 11 more in AA ball. His BA in the minors was between .260 and .285 every season since he was 18 and he’ll turn 24 in June.His defense was not as quick to develop, like many catchers, but in 2016 he dialed that up a notch throwing out nearly 50% of attempted base stealers and cutting his passed balls in half. He has never played in AAA and the Phills could start the season with Knapp backing up Rupp as he did in 2016. Alfaro could open the season as the backup and end up as the starter at some point either way.

I can’t find a reason to rank any more catchers, but there are some to keep an eye on, if not stash.

Don’t forget about us. We used to be studs or phenoms. Now what?

Wilson Ramos, C TB: Not sure when he’ll be back. He says May, GM says late June/July. Last season at the age of 28, he broke out and was hitting .307/.354/.496 with 25 2b, 22 HR, 80 RBI, putting him in Posey/Lucroy territory until he blew out his knee in September and needed major surgery. I hope I have room for him, but like Wieters and Mesoraco there is no telling how soon, or if ever, he’ll get back to where he was in 2016.

Devin Mesoraco, C CIN: How many of us dreamed of having him in our lineups not too long ago? I hope I have room for him too, but we are talking about a catcher with bad hips. He is only 28.

Travis D’arnaud, C NYM: Wasn’t he a top prospect like in the 90’s or something? He’s only 28 as well, but might now be more myth than legend. But keep an eye on him. All is forgiven if he stops getting hurt and starts hitting better than his pitchers.

Yan Gomes, C CLE: Cleveland has no other options other than Roberto Perez. I like him but would find it hard to own him after hitting .167 in 250 2016 AB. The Indians say he is still their catcher but he’ll have to hit more than that to keep the job. It is sad, like the three guys ahead of him on this list he broke out big in 2014 when he was 26, hitting nearly .280 with 21 HR and 74 RBI after hitting .298 in the 2nd half of 2014 with 11 HR in 88 games before a severe injury cut him down. Since coming back he has been exposed and is now a high strikeout, very low walk hitter. But .167? That is way below the Zunino Line.

We might get enough Playing Time to be relevant in 2017:  Two catcher leagues pay attention.

Give it all to me!! Sandy Leon, C BOS:

sandy-leon

Sandy Leon, C BOS: Hit well in limited action but may have too much competition with Blake Swihart and top prospect Christian Vasquez all healthy. This one bears watching as there is upside to playing in that lineup. Be ready to pounce once a clearer picture comes out in Spring.

Blake Swihart, C BOS: See Leon above. Could be trade bait.

Christian Vazquez, C BOS: See Leon above.

Francisco Cervelli, C PIT: Good BA, but not even average in the power cats. He’s a good injury replacement to protect ratios for a few weeks. And who says chicks don’t dig light hitting catchers. Francisco is married to Migbelis Castellanos, former Ms. Venezuela (2013) and Master Instagrammer with over 600,000 followers. She taught him how to take selfies pretty well.

cervelli-migbellis-castellano

Austin Hedges, C SD: Likely SD Padres starting catcher in 2017. Ho-Hum.

James McCann, C, DET: Tigers starting catcher. Ho- Hum. But he did crank out 12 HR.

Jett Bandy, C LAA: Likely LAA starting catcher in 2017. Ho-Hum.

Chris Herrmann, C AZ: Was the likely AZ starting catcher until they brought in Jeff Mathis, Chris Iannetta and Hank Congers. Ho-Hum, with upside and a crowd waiting for him to fail.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week when I start the daunting, but fun task of ranking relief pitchers. And I don’t do a standard ranking of the 32 projected closers sprinkling in a CLEW or two (Closers En Waiting). My reliever rankings include all the relievers of relevance. Closers, set up men, specialists, swing men and some from the minors. In advanced scoring models all have value, some a lot more than the closers. But, closers will be in there too of course. See where I put Delin Betances this season. I had him in my top 5 the past two seasons. Hopefully, I get a CLEW this season.

joseph.iannone021@gmail.com     @JoeIannone2 on Twitter

(1) The 2017 Baseball Prospectus Pecota Rankings, catchers M-Z

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Major League Fantasy Football 2017 League Openings

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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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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”

 



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2 replies

  1. Joe, Love reading your stuff. Keep up the great work! Dennis

  2. Thanks Dennis, much appreciated.

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