There have been a lot of strange things about this off-season. I mean, in addition to the obvious, like constantly worrying about the health of ourselves, our loved ones, and the fate of mankind while not having baseball as a job/hobby/distraction. For me, one of the odder consequences of the delayed season is the fact that I have yet to draft an NL or AL-only team this year, as all of my private leagues are waiting to draft until we have a better idea what the coming weeks and months will bring. Another very weird thing that seems to have happened to me over the last several months is that I have evidently developed a propensity for paying more than ever before for catchers on my fantasy baseball teams.
I realize now that this trend actually started back in
another lifetime late November, when my first draft of the season took place. I’ve drafted quite a few teams since then — mostly 15-team mixed format, 2-catcher leagues, with a standard 5×5 roto scoring system. Unlike every other season of my fantasy baseball career, almost every one of them features at least one catcher that I had to pay for with either a mid-round pick of a handful of valuable auction dollars. Last year, I literally did not even include catchers on my master spread sheet… I just had a handful of names in mind that I knew I could grab at the very end of a draft or with my last dollar in an auction. This year, paying for a catcher was not a strategy that I came into draft season with; it just kind of happened. Draft after draft, it just continued to occur: time to make a pick, and I felt a catcher was the best value on the board. This happened back in my first drafts this winter, and continued through my last drafts a couple of weeks ago — so in terms of the catching position, my take on how to construct the best team really didn’t change once the uncertainty of the season’s timeline and potential format changes came into play. What I’m also realizing is that I’m pretty happy with how most of my teams turned out overall on paper — to the point where, if worse comes to worst and we have no baseball in 2020 and I don’t get to see if my don’t-wait-as-long-as-usual-to-draft-a-catcher method worked, I will most likely jump right back in and employ a similar strategy in 2021.
Now, a few names in terms of catchers that I have several shares of and have pinned some of my 2020 hopes on:
Wilson Contreras. I drafted Contreras in my first draft last November and kept drafting him when the price was right, including in my last NFBC draft in April. His NFBC ADP is currently 116, and I happily grabbed him 127th overall in my first draft. Contreras is getting selected just after the likes of Miguel Sano and Rhys Hoskins, for instance — at that price I’d much rather have a guy I perceive as a solid catcher and grab a corner infielder a few rounds later, since I think there is much less drop off at the latter position (hello, Tommy Edman, Scott Kingery, Edwin Encarnacion, Hunter Dozier, Christian Walker…) There are also several closers getting drafted at a similar price point, but no way I’m reaching for, say Brad Hand here, when there are closers I like as well or better a round (or five) later. Anyhoo, I digress. While 2018 was beyond forgettable for Contreras, the 24 homers he hit in just 105 games last year were enough to get me seriously interested in him for this year. The fact that he’s actually had a plus batting average three of the past four years, which obviously a rarity when it comes to catchers, made me even more intrigued.
Mitch Garver. I’ve only drafted Garver twice this year, but that’s two more times than I expected to heading into 2020. I can’t imagine the batting average won’t regress from 2019’s .273 mark, but if he comes near his .266 career average and proves last year’s power display (31 homers in 311 at bats!) was anything close to legit… well, let’s just say I already wish I had more shares of him, no matter what this season turns into. Garver’s current ADP is 114, and I drafted him about 12 picks later than that in my last NFBC draft — the one where I’d selected Contreras a round earlier. The last thing I’d planned was to roster both of them, but when the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t resist — and all in all, I really like the look of that particular team once I filled out the rest of my roster.
Omar Narvaez. I can’t believe I am typing this sentence, but just to show how out of the ordinary some of my drafts went in terms of catchers, I actually have a team I drafted in early March where Narvaez is my DH. Funnily enough, now Narvaez has a chance to actually be a DH this corona-year, even though he’s now on a National League team… so, who knows, maybe drafting three catchers into an active lineup for the first time in my life will actually work out. I really like the idea of Narvaez as a Brewer, and he’s yet another guy who has just felt like he’s falling a bit further than he should in drafts. A career .276 average in the majors is a beautiful thing for a catcher in my book — being able to save that negative batting average hit for a different place in your lineup, like a crucial power or speed grab later in a draft, can be a huge help when constructing a roster.
Tom Murphy. I’m realizing as I’m writing this post that when it comes to catchers, I may have fallen pretty hard for a group of guys who likely had career years in either batting average, homers, or both last year — but if even a couple of these players come close to repeating, I think I’ll be pretty happy. And if they don’t, I have years of experience finding catchers off the waiver wire, regardless of league size. Anyway, I’ve grabbed Murphy several times after passing on the first few tiers but not wanting to wait until the very end to see what scraps were left. There was a lot of uncertainty surrounding Murphy even pre-corona, in terms of how much playing time he’d get even with Narvaez gone from Seattle, how much power he’d retain, and how much contact he’d make. I still have all of those questions, but Murphy really opened my eyes last year when he helped me immensely as a mid/late season pickup on a couple of teams (he ended up hitting .273 with 18 homers in just 76 games, chipping in 2 steals for good measure). I’ll definitely be at least somewhat invested in him in 2020, 2021, or whenever I get to watch him play baseball again.
Jorge Alfaro. I feel like Alfaro gained momentum as the off-season progressed (I was avoiding him early on due to a now-irrelevant oblique strain), and he’s another guy I like as a mid-range catcher who could pay off nicely. I’ve been saying for months now that I think Miami will be better offensively than most would predict, and a shortened season could magnify that. Also, Alfaro is still only 26… he hits the ball hard, he cut down on his strikeouts a bit last year… he may never be a superstar, but he does feel like a guy who could have at least a mini post-hype breakout to reward those of us who have been optimistically drafting him for a few years now.
James McCann/Jacob Stallings/Austin Romine/Manny Pina. I can’t close this without at least touching upon the guys I was planning to lean on in my deeper leagues before I went crazy and started drafting catchers like never before. After getting tossed aside by Yasmani Grandal, I feel like McCann was being undervalued — I think he could play more than people expect (and who knows how playing time will shake out in a shortened season). If he doesn’t, or plays and doesn’t come close to reaching his production from last year, he’s easy to replace at his current price point (NDBC ADP #373). Stallings and Romine should both see plenty of playing time — albeit on what will likely be two of the more horrible offensive teams in either 2020 or 2021 — so that alone put both on my radar heading into 2020. Pina I was kind of into as an NL-only, very-end-of-draft/$1 option anyway, and if the DH happens for Narvaez and Pina’s playing time gets bumped even more, all the better. With ADPs of #514 and #418, (and #665 in Pina’s case) if any of them crash and burn, they too are easily replaceable.