In the last couple of weeks, we’ve taken an early look at first and second base and how those positions are stacking up for fantasy baseball this year, particularly in terms of how the state of the position might affect those of us in NL-only, AL-only, or other deep leagues. This week, we’ll move on to catcher. Why didn’t we just start with the catching position? Mainly because talking about catchers felt like a phenomenally boring if not mildly depressing way for me to kick off my posts in 2020. But the more I’ve thought about it, I’ve changed my mind significantly on that front.
Not only do I feel that there are more interesting catching options out there than there have been in a few years, but thinking about some of my teams last year is also reminding me that catcher is one of the positions that is most relevant to discuss when thinking about how to attack it based on differing league parameters. Any given owner’s approach to drafting or buying a catcher might vary wildly even within the same drafting season depending on how that league’s rosters are structured, but the more we know about the position in general, the better. All information in terms of catching options, how tiers are looking, and which of last year’s results might help us prepare better for this year, can help as we head into drafting for the current season — whether we’re choosing a team for a standard re-draft mixed-league with a head-to-head format that only uses one catcher, a 12-team NL-only roto keeper league that employs two catchers, or anything in between.
In terms of draft planning, the very first thing I often do when preparing for any specific league is to determine how many catchers will be taken, make a list of that many available catchers in general order of my preference to roster them, write a couple more names down in case anyone does anything crazy like drafting more catching then they need to, and wait. I’ll let everyone else fill their catching slot(s) and happily grab whomever is left at the end with my final picks of the draft or final dollar or two of an auction. Last year, this was my M.O., but I had more exceptions than usual when it came to drafting catchers. I suspect this year will be no different, given that there are actually a handful of players at the position that I like well enough to pay something for, depending on how the draft or auction is flowing. We all need to be prepared for these kinds of exceptions, since fantasy baseball drafts that go exactly according to plan are basically non-existent, at least in my experience. The key when veering from your plan, though, is to veer into value because it has unexpectedly presented itself, not to panic and veer away from it because things have gone off the rails compared to what you were expecting your path would be.
Let’s start with the top tier of catchers and move on from there (using a combination of my thoughts about where guys will get drafted, Grey’s rankings, and NFBC ADP). This year, I’m calling that top tier J.T. Realmuto, Gary Sanchez, and Yasmani Grandal. I’m fairly certain I won’t own any of these guys in a single league this year, both because I feel they are being over-drafted compared to similar talent at other positions (as is almost always the case with the top catchers), and because even in deep-league situations where positional scarcity might be more relevant, there are actually options I don’t mind later on.
At this point, let me take a moment to talk about one of those unexpected draft (actually auction in this case) occurrences from last year. In a redraft, 12-team (2 catcher) NL-only auction, I ended up with Grandal on my team about a quarter of the way into the auction while trying to price-enforce. I thought he’d go in the low twenties, but ended up with him for $17 or $18. At first I went into a mild panic having paid so much for a catcher, in a crazy deep league no less. But I made some in-auction adjustments and ended up so happy with my team — and Grandal’s place on it — that I actually ended up drafting him again in a similar league. I was a lot higher on Grandal going into last year than usual, given his pillow contract on a good offensive team in a hitter-friendly stadium, which is why I wasn’t too scared to be in on the bidding for him in the first place. Buying him turned out to be a great decision (on a fantasy team that ended up winning the league). Does it make me want to reward Grandal by drafting him again this season at any cost? Kind of, but I probably won’t; in fact, I will be especially careful not to overdraft him this year, since I suspect the chances of me owning him in a league where I’m getting legitimate value in drafting him this year are slim to none. Instead of looking at Grandal as the specific key to my success on last year’s team, I’ll be on the lookout for bargains and value to mine in other places… and if they don’t come at the catching position, I’ll be ready with those end-of-the-list names for whatever league I’m drafting.
Okay, moving on to the seven names I’ve put in group two: Willson Contreras, Mitch Garver, Will Smith, Salvador Perez, Wilson Ramos, Christian Vasquez, and Carson Kelly. I’ve actually already drafted Contreras this season (in a 15-team mixed, NFBC-style redraft league) because he fell to me at a spot in the draft where I wanted a hitter and I just felt he had as much chance to outproduce his draft position as anyone else on the board (his NFBC ADP is #120), especially since I knew there would be a handful of both infielders and outfielders (and zero catchers) I was pretty high on much, much later in the draft. I’m also finding myself wanting to draft Garver somewhere around his current price point (NFBC ADP #115) given that, if nothing else, his floor might be much higher than I originally thought, even if he isn’t able to build on or even repeat what he did last year.
Group three consists of Omar Narvaez, Jorge Alfaro, Sean Murphy, Francisco Mejia, and Tom Murphy. I can see anyone from this group ending up on one or more of my teams if he’s the right guy in the right league at the right time. I’m intrigued by what Narvaez will do in Milwaukee and think he could have a great year offensively even if he doesn’t play every day (and who knows, this could be one of those situations where he may even end up more valuable with more rest and theoretically better matchups). I’ve always had a soft spot for Alfaro and think the Marlins will be a little better offensively than people expect given their offseason moves.
As for the Murphy (non)brothers, I have Sean in an AL-only keeper league so I hope he has a big year but am not counting on it, and feel like he’s being overdrafted somewhat for the moment. Tom, meanwhile, helped me in a few leagues of various sizes last year, and I remain interested in continuing our relationship in 2020. His current draft position (NFBC ADP #260) could end up looking like a true bargain, and if I wasn’t worried about strikeouts/a serious batting average decline I’d be even higher on him. I think a lot of people are sleeping on both his power and how solid he was in limited duty last year (speaking of guys who might be just as valuable or even more valuable with fewer at bats… all in all I’m pretty anxious to see how Murphy responds to what will presumably be much more significant playing time with Narvaez out of the picture). And just to touch on Mejia – I haven’t been a giant fan up until this point, but a post-hype prospect breakout wouldn’t shock me.
And now, group four: Danny Jansen, Buster Posey, Roberto Perez, Kurt Suzuki, Yadier Molina, Travis d’Arnaud, Robinson Chirinos. Unlike the previous group, for me right now there’s just not enough upside in this group to draft any of them ahead of some on the names you can wait much longer on. Why, then, you ask, have I already drafted Yadier Molina this season? Well, I had stocked up on a ton of power at that point in the draft but was feeling worried about batting average, and figure Yadi was my last chance at a catcher who would get enough playing time and hit decently enough that he might help bolster that category a bit.
Going by NFBC ADP, I’m going to single out (double out?) the next two names on the list because they are both starting to look more draftable than I thought they’d be. James McCann’s ADP (#310) is probably still inflated because some of those NFBC drafts were way back before the White Sox signed Grandal, and if I can get him late/even cheaper than this, he might be worth a shot. I feel like he might get a bit more playing time than expected, and while there haven’t been even rumors of a trade that involves him, that too could boost his value. If he isn’t playing regularly and/or isn’t hitting, he should be easy to replace at this price point. Next comes Tucker Barnhart. He’s cheaper than he was last year, as he should be after a thoroughly meh season, and I’m now starting to wonder if he might be of value in the right league. The way the Reds are wheeling and dealing, they might have a new catcher by late March… but if Barnhart stays in Cincinnati, it’s going to be tempting to give him a chance in what’s looking like a pretty stacked lineup.
Now, on to the rest. We’ve mentioned 24 catchers, and I have a whopping 19 more that I’m lumping together in a huge but uninspiring group, in order of NFBC ADP. I wasn’t going to list all of their names, but have decided to, just so that we can all see just how huge and uninspiring this group actually is: Victor Caratini, Willians Astudillo, Jason Castro, Austin Romine, Pedro Severino, Mike Zunino, Chance Cisco, Yan Gomes, Reese McGuire, Steven Vogt, Tyler Flowers, Jacob Stallings, Tony Wolters, Wellington Castillo, Manny Piña, Martin Maldonado, Elias Diaz, Austin Hedges, and Matt Wieters. None of these players are enticing enough for me to take significantly higher than the rest of this group, as long as there are players at other positions on the board that I think are more interesting (though I do think Caratini has just enough upside that I can see almost putting him in his own tier despite playing time issues; his value could rise, but given his current situation I’m not particularly interested given where he’s being drafted). There are a few names here, though, that I will have my eye on in hopes that they’ll be there after the dust has settled.
I’m a tiny bit intrigued to see what Austin Romine will do with more consistent playing time and will probably own him in at least one deep league this year. Ditto for Jacob Stallings, who I can see taking a flier or two on in NL-only. I also feel like Manny Piña won’t be a crazy pick at the end of a long draft, and may try to grab Elias Diaz somewhere in case he has a great spring now that he’s in Colorado (though I’m not going to completely forget about Dom Nuñez in deep NL-only leagues either). I won’t blame you if you want to throw a dart at Chance Sisco this year (or even Austin Wynns, for that matter), but I’m still so exhausted from trying to unsuccessfully mine Baltimore for a remotely useful catcher in 2018 and 2019 that I’ll probably avoid that situation completely. While we’re throwing out names outside of the top 45, I’ll probably have the A’s Austin Allen, who came over from San Diego in the Jurickson Profar trade, on my very-deep-league radar.
I’ll (finally!) leave you with a fairly random observation, but one that I think is interesting for anyone in either an NL or AL-only league: of the top 34 catchers based on current NFBC ADP, the split is exactly 50/50, with 17 from each league. When looking at the top 18, however, 12 catchers — fully two-thirds of that group — are National Leaguers. Just one more thing to keep in mind as we all continue our draft prep in 2020.