2015 Fantasy Baseball Catcher Rankings: Posey or Bust?
If you're looking for offense, the catcher position is normally the last place on the diamond you'll find it.
These are the men who wear the "tools of ignorance," after all. They are tasked with helping to take care of a pitching staff, manage the game pitch by pitch, and act as counselor, psychologist, and friend of the hurler. Anything you get offensively from your catcher is merely icing on the cake in today's baseball.
But that doesn't mean there aren't a couple gems to be had, as you'll see from our preseason rankings below.
Because most leagues are based on a 5x5 scoring system, our rankings are determined by what we call our "numberFire score." In short, we use a bunch of algorithms to determine how a player is going to perform across all the relevant scoring categories, and also factor in position scarcity.
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Buster Posey could be drafted as a first baseman, but you're not going to do that, are you? You're going to draft him as your number-one catcher because he is, far and away, the best in the game, both in fantasy and real life. He fills up the stat sheets with good power for a catcher, posts a good batting average and OPS, and consistently knocks in 80-100 runs a season. And, provided he's not getting his knee destroyed by an oncoming base runner and/or freight train, he's extremely durable. The last three seasons, he's played 148, 148, and 147 games. He's the only catcher we have in our overall top 10 of position players, ranked ninth overall.
2. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers
When it was revealed last month that Jonathan Lucroy had a slight tendon tear at the top of his hamstring, the worry was that it would put him out of action for the majority of spring training. However, it appears as if Lucroy will be ready for game action by the end of the week, much to the delight of Brewers fans and those hoping to nab Lucroy in their fantasy drafts. When St. Louis' Yadier Molina got hurt last year, Lucroy became the unquestioned number-two catcher in baseball, thanks to a .301/.373/.465 slash line, 13 homers, and 6.3 fWAR. We see his average dropping a bit this year but like his homer total to increase, making him a sure bet to be the second catcher off the board in virtually every fantasy draft.
3. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
For the moment, Santana qualifies as a catcher, having played 11 games there last year as the back-up. However, after receiving the second concussion of his career behind the plate last season, manager Terry Francona says Santana is strictly a first baseman now, which could hurt some fantasy owners in leagues that readjust positions at some point in the middle of the season based on games played. Still, for now he qualifies, and is the third-best at the position, according to our numbers. While he hit just .231 last season, he led the American League in walks and hit 27 homers with 85 RBI. For a guy who has this much power and puts together this many good at bats, we see the batting average bouncing back in a big way, with those power numbers staying right where they are.
4. Evan Gattis, Houston Astros
Like Santana, Gattis may not play enough games at catcher during the regular season to qualify at that spot all year long. He's slated to be the team's starting left fielder, but that has been a work in progress, and he's also expected to get some time at first base and designated hitter. But there doesn't seem to be much momentum in the way of having him catch. But again, like Santana, he's a catcher for now, and could be one of the strongest power hitters at the position, projected for 28 homers this season, with a decent number of runs scored and RBI. However, he strikes out a ton and doesn't hit for a terribly high average, although among catchers, he's a top-five fantasy player, mainly for his power production.
5. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles
It's a very rare thing for a non-pitcher to undergo Tommy John surgery, but that's exactly what happened to Matt Wieters last season, which limited him to just 26 games. So far in spring training he's acted as the team's designated hitter but is expected to start getting back behind the plate and testing that repaired right arm. You may not realize it, but Wieters is a three-time All-Star, although last year's inclusion was a bit of a joke. Still, he hit 67 homers combined in 2011, '12, and '13 and is a solid bat behind the plate. If his arm holds up, he's one of the five best fantasy catchers in MLB.
6. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
Joe Mauer is a player who will almost certainly not play a single inning behind home plate this year. He's slated to be the team's starting first baseman, but until he runs out of eligibility, he can be drafted as a catcher and be featured on this list. There was a time, that one glorious time, when Mauer was a legitimate power threat (remember that 1.031 OPS, 28 HR, 96 RBI MVP season in 2009?) but not anymore. Last season, he hit just four home runs in 518 plate appearances and notched a mere 11 and 10 the two years before that. We project him for just seven homers this season but -- with a decent batting average -- good production for a catcher. Not so good for a first baseman, unfortunately.
7. Brian McCann, New York Yankees
To say 2014 was a disaster for Brian McCann would be an understatement. And for a guy who was a career .277/.343/.466 hitter in nine seasons in Atlanta, in which he averaged 21 homers and 80 RBI a season in his eight full seasons there, it's easy to see why Yankees fans were disappointed. Last year McCann batted .232 with a .286 on-base percentage and an OPS of just .692. However, one thing McCann was able to do was take advantage of that short porch in right field, hitting 23 bombs and knocking in 75 runs. And he did manage to stay healthy, with his 538 plate appearances the most he's had in any season since 2010. Our projections see his batting average recovering a bit, and he's a pretty sure bet to hit another 20-23 dingers once again. Expect a decent bounce-back season for McCann but one short of his heyday in Atlanta.
8. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds
Devin Mesoraco's spring is off to an uncertain start. The 26-year-old suffered a concussion in Saturday's exhibition game against the Royals, which has knocked him out of action indefinitely. Reds fans hope he's not out for long because last season he emerged as an All-Star and one of the better offensive catchers in baseball, hitting .273 with an .893 OPS. His 25 homers were most among all catchers, and he did it in just 440 plate appearances. He's got big-time power potential, although our numbers see that total and his OPS, coming back down to earth a bit. And his concussion issues are also a bit of a red flag in the early part of the spring.
9. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals
There are reasons to be bullish on Salvador Perez as a fantasy prospect at catcher this season. First, he has increased his home run total each of the last three years, from 11 to 13 to 17 last year. He also hits for a relatively solid average and is a decent run producer for the position. But he's also completely allergic to walks and strikes out far too much. The worry is that pitchers are going to get a handle on this at some point, and this could be that year. Sure, we like him to hit another 15 homers, but we expect that batting average to continue to dip and that OPS to stay in the low .700s (which would actually be an improvement over last year). As the ninth catcher off the board, this probably isn't a bad spot for him, but bear in mind, there are some weaknesses here.
10. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians
Yan Gomes broke out in a big way in his first full season as the Tribe's everyday catcher, hitting .278 with a .785 OPS, 21 home runs and 74 RBI in 135 games, winning the American League Silver Slugger Award. Frankly, I know our algorithms have Gomes ranked below Perez, but if I were drafting, I'd probably take Gomes off the board first. And if you look at the full rankings on the link below, you'll see the separation between the two isn't very wide to begin with. But we do expect Gomes' numbers to take a dip in his second full season behind the dish.
Not mentioned in this list here is the Cardinals' Molina or the Blue Jays' Russell Martin. Obviously, if you were wary of drafting any of the catchers listed above who will likely be playing other positions for the majority of the season, then Molina and Wilson would slide into the top 10.