Brian McCann takes his bashing to the Bronx. (Tim Evearitt)
By RotoRob, Jake Watroba, Josh Johnson and Tim McLeod
The 2014 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit continues today with yet another cheat sheet. So while you mull what your favourite pitcher will look like in the newly-approved protective caps, let’s take a closer look at the top 60 catchers in Fantasy baseball for 2014.
The catcher landscape for 2014 is quite possibly the best across the board we’ve seen in several years. Buster Posey is once again at the head of the class, but the options behind him are both deep and intriguing.
Brian McCann takes his power to the Yankees and that short porch in the Bronx, so he could conceivably find his way to that elusive 30-homer plateau if he’s healthy and his shoulder is finally sound. Yadier Molina, Carlos Santana and Wilin Rosario are all coming off solid seasons and will be at or near the top of many draft boards. Lost in the entire shuffle is the very consistent Jonathan Lucroy.
Three of the younger generation in Salvador Perez, Wilson Ramos and Jason Castro, are all looking to build on very successful breakout campaigns.
Now that both Ryan Hanigan and Dusty Baker have moved on, Devin Mesoraco could be on the verge of delivering on his enormous potential. Yan Gomes could be looking at a considerable increase in at-bats with the news that Carlos Santana is moving to the hot corner. Travis d’Arnaud and Mike Zunino have the pedigree, but will they fulfill it in 2014?
The catcher options are spread evenly throughout all tiers this year so there is no reason to reach to fill that position. Pick the catcher that best fits your draft strategy and roll with it. — TM
Last year’s rankings are in parentheses.
1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants (1): Posey tops our catcher list for the second straight year and once again also qualifies at first base, where he slotted 20th a year ago. He’s just 26, but is already on a trajectory that could send him to the Hall of Fame one day. However, Posey did take a step back offensively last year with slightly less at-bats and a fairly steep decline in homers. He didn’t draw as many walks, but significantly improved his contact rates, so the news wasn’t all bad. And as Posey heads into his age 27 season, it’s reasonable to expect his slugging to bounce back and perhaps exceed anything we’ve seen from him up to this point. First things first: he’ll have to bounce back from a weak second half in 2013 and that will be paramount for his offensive game to get back to 2012 levels. We know Posey won’t have to worry as much about the kind of collision at home plate that cost him most of 2011, so that’s good news from a health perspective. Given his age, level of production and likelihood to remain behind the plate, Posey would also be the best catcher in a keeper league. Posey, who is a former college closer (see video below) is also listed in our First Base Rankings, coming shortly. — RR
2. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals (3): In a Podcast in January 2013, we predicted another solid season for Molina, but cautioned that he could be overdrafted. Sure enough, the four-time All-Star did take a bit of a step back. While Molina matched his career high in at-bats and reached 80 RBI for the first time, his batting eye regressed. His postseason numbers weren’t as good, but were actually better than in 2012, when he struggled in the playoffs. And Molina did bash his first playoff dinger since 2006. An MVP candidate, Molina had slightly less singles last year, but it seems many of his homers wound up as doubles. The face of the Cardinals organization — despite the fact that he’s 31 — easily remains a top 10 catcher in keeper formats. — RR
3. Brian McCann, New York Yankees (7): Brought to the Yankees in their latest spending spree, McCann was not hired for his looks, RotoRob surmised in an early-December Podcast. McCann was one of the marquee free agents this winter after his power bounced back, although he did fail to steal a single base for the first time since 2007. His five-year, $85-million deal includes a sixth year vesting option that could make it a $100 million contract — with a no-trade clause thrown into the mix. McCann’s wRC bounced back a tad last year (to 55), but is still a far cry from his heyday when he was regularly getting in the 80s and 90s in that department. The Yankees desperately need McCann (along with Jacoby Ellsbury and the rest of their free agent acquisitions) to live up to his contract this year if they have any shot of returning to the playoffs. Given his age (30 next month), we still believe McCann is easily a top five catcher in keeper formats as well. — RR
4. Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (15): When we ranked Lucroy 15th a year ago, we said that there may be upside here — especially in the power department. Well, his extra-base pop actually slipped a bit, but because he stayed healthy he enjoyed career highs in doubles, triples and homers. Those much improved counting cat numbers helped compensate for a 40-point loss in BA and a corresponding dip in OBP and slugging. If Lucroy can somehow merge 2012’s performance with 2013’s health, look out. The Brewers haven’t had an elite major league catcher in a really, really long time, and it’s clear that the expectations have risen dramatically since the start of the 2013 season. We’re not sure 580 plate appearances is going to happen again (that’s a lot of work for an NL catcher), but even if Lucroy gets, say, 550, he can easily justify his top five status here. The best part here is that he still flies under the radar, meaning you can get someone very close to the top tier, but not have to pay for it. And that’s a real rarity in the catcher ranks. — RR
5. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies (9): A key piece of a Colorado squad that was quite competitive down the stretch (lending hopes for a recovery in 2014), Rosario’s walk rate was even more pathetic than usual last year, yet he managed to get on base slightly more thanks to a batting average that keeps improving. He’ll remain the starter this year after Colorado failed to add either Carlos Ruiz or McCann in free agency, but the fact that the Rox were chasing catchers tells you that they’d rather move Rosario to another position, or worse — make him a backup. Rosario didn’t hit the ball as far as he had in 2012, but his power prime remains a few years away, so we’re not overly worried about this unless it becomes a trend in 2014. His groundball rate dipped, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because he doesn’t use his wheels to get on base. Rosario easily remains a top 10 catcher for keeper purposes at this stage. — RR
6. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins (4): At the beginning of September, we started pimping Josmil Pinto with the idea that Mauer wasn’t going to catch forever. That proved prescient when a couple of months later it was announced that Mauer would shift over to first base full-time this year. He’s still catcher eligible, but this is his last hurrah at the position. Mauer was always perceived as a top-notch defender behind the plate, but that isn’t necessarily accurate. Last year, a concussion cost him weeks, so he had 100 less at-bats to work with. To his credit, Mauer still managed to hit more doubles and homers and he continued a renaissance that started in 2012. It was disappointing to see him contribute nothing in the stolen base department, but perhaps the anticipated better health that will come from not catching will translate into him running again. Always considered extraordinarily tall for a catcher, Mauer will now employ that height advantage where it makes sense — at first base. His walk rate dipped last year, but considering he peaked in 2012, we’re not concerned that this is a trend. — RR
7. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals (10): A year ago, when we ranked Perez 10th on this list, we talked about the fact that he was young and improving. Well, he may not have improved much, but he stayed healthy enough to enjoy his first All-Star campaign, flirting with 150 hits and reaching 25 doubles for the first time (although his overall work at the plate and his extra-base power both dipped). Perez was scheduled to see action at first base in Winter Ball in the hopes that he could be a backup option at that position. If that happens, his value will rise as he’ll get fewer days off. Still just 23, there is tremendous upside here, especially if he can learn to take more walks. We know Perez is going to see tons of action in KC, but we’d really like to see his power turn around this year if he’s ever going to be a top five catcher. — RR
8. Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (5): Santana was hurt last year when former Indian closer Chris Perez crossed him up and injured his hand, costing him about a week. This year, Santana could be headed to third base, which will probably remove another long-time stud from the catcher pool in 2015. Last year, he bounced back offensively, reaching 75 runs for the second time, setting a new career high in hits and mashing 20 long bombs for the second time. Unfortunately, Santana also struck out more often, but that’s what tends to happen when you slug more dingers. Watch Spring Training closely to see how he’s adapting to the hot corner, because that will have a major impact on his value — especially in keeper leagues. If Santana can’t cut it at third, he’ll DH and act as the Indians’ back-up catcher. Let’s hope his walk rate bounces back this year, but either way, the idea that he may be 3B-eligible this season has to raise his draft stock. Santana is also listed in our First Base Rankings. — RR
9. Matt Wieters, Baltimore Orioles (2): In a Fantasy baseball Podcast just over a year ago, we talked about how Wieters’ career had been a bit of a disappointment to date. Well, the arbitration eligible catcher didn’t do anything last year to dissuade us from that thinking, as his extra-base pop dipped slightly for the second straight season and his BA plummeted for the second straight year. In fact, Wieters has pretty much been in free fall since his career year in 2011. Perhaps now that Steve Clevenger, a solid hitting catcher, is taking over as the backup in B-More, the O’s can get Wieters a bit more rest, and that may help keep him stronger and more productive. Wieters just finished his age-27 season, but it sure doesn’t feel like that was him in his prime, did it? It was nice to see him improve his contact rate a bit, but we’ll need to see a lot more of that before he starts to deliver on his tremendous promise. At this point, we don’t even think he’s a top 10 keeper league catcher anymore. — RR
10. Evan Gattis, Atlanta Braves (NR): Gattis spent most of his time batting clean-up for the Braves last year, and now that McCann is gone, he’ll be asked to take on a larger defensive role. In his rookie season, Gattis missed about a month with an abdominal injury, but was extremely productive when healthy. He has no speed, but his slugging compensates for that. After all, his power is what made the Braves feel comfortable letting McCann walk. And now the kid will be the team’s primary catcher after tying for third among backstops in dingers last year. We’d like to see him draw a few more walks before declaring him the new McCann. Besides, with prospect Christian Bethancourt — a solid defensive catcher — knocking on the door, Gattis better improve his fielding pronto. Gattis is also listed in our Outfield Rankings. — RR
11. Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals (20): The top catcher you could pluck off the waiver wire last year, Ramos missed lots of time with leg injuries, but he saw a nice jump in his extra-base pop, which excites us given that he’s closing in on his power prime. His walk rate plummeted and he has no speed whatsoever, but that .470 slugging makes us salivate. There’s no doubt Ramos has flashed across the board skills (except speed, as noted); now if he can just consolidate those skills in one season and stay healthy — wow, he’ll be a super stud. He signed a one-year, $2.095-million deal to avoid arbitration, but if he explodes like he’s capable of, the Nats will have wished they had locked him up long term. Take a look at how many homers Ramos hit last year… now look at how many at-bats he had. Get the idea? Assuming his BABIP bounces back, we can also see him flirting with .300. Ramos is definitely a top 10 catcher in keeper leagues. — RR
12. Jason Castro, Houston Astros (32): An honourable mention for our 2013 Wire Troll All-Star team, Castro emerged as the MVP of the sad-sack Astros after seeing more action than ever and showing tremendous growth as a hitter. His extra-base sock really took off, and other than a regression in his batting eye, all his indicators were positive. Castro recorded a .350 OBP, which could be even better should his walk rate bounce back and he make better contact. Knee problems were a factor for the second straight year, but Houston has no plans to move the arbitration eligible catcher — a wise move considering he established himself as a real building block. The 10th overall pick from 2008 has finally started to deliver on his potential and we’re excited to see where his slugging can go as he enters his age-27 season. Castro is likely a top 10 catcher in keeper formats at this point. — RR
13. A.J. Pierzynski, Boston Red Sox (18): One of the more, err.. colourful catchers in the game, Pierzynski takes over as the BoSox catcher after the team somewhat surprisingly let Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk. Pierzynski spent just the one less than awe-inspiring season with the Rangers. His production slipped slightly and his slugging regressed back to career norms. Pierzynski turned 37 this winter, so he’s getting a bit long in the tooth, but thankfully the BoSox only signed him for one year ($8.25 million) and didn’t have to cough up a draft pick to do so. After a career year in 2012, he was back to being a slightly under average hitter last year, from a wRC standpoint. We doubt Pierzynski has much of a future in Boston given its catching prospects, but as a one-year solution, he should get the job done. — RR
14. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Miami Marlins (16): When we ranked Saltalamacchia 16th in our Catcher Rankings a year ago, it was unclear if he’d be the starter in 2013. Well, start he did, seeing more action than ever before, but with 2011 first rounder Blake Swihart nearing the end of his apprenticeship, Boston was confident in allowing Salty to walk as a free agent this winter. Last year, many of Saltalamacchia’s homers turned into doubles, yet he still enjoyed his most productive season ever. To top things off, he earned himself a World Series ring before taking his talents to South Beach. There’s no way Boston was going to give Salty more than one year, so Miami got him for three years and $21 million (when’s the last time the Marlins outbid anyone?… not that Boston really tried to keep him). We’re a bit surprised the Rockies didn’t make a bigger play for Saltalamacchia, who even flashed a bit of speed, swiping four bags last year after entering 2013 with a grand total of one career steal. The switch-hitter should be a real hit in Miami with that crazy perm of his. — RR
15. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks (6): Montero had a less than stellar season last year. We saw a decline in virtually every hitting statistic and a nearly six percentage point increase in his K rate. Could last season mark the decline for Montero as a start-worthy catcher in standard formats? Maybe, but with what’s around him in Arizona and the fact he’s only 30, we think last season was an aberration. Sharing a lineup with hitters like Mark Trumbo, Martin Prado, and Paul Goldschmidt, Montero will certainly have plenty of opportunities to drive in runs, especially when you consider that he hits in a hitter’s park. — JW
16. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds (23): Mesoraco is someone that has had to fight for every at-bat. Now that his competition has been dealt and gone is the manager that hated playing young players, he has earned a shot at starting 100-plus games in 2014. Mesoraco has flashed a decent average and some nice power in minors. Like most Reds hitters, he enjoys increased power at home and for that he is definitely worth some mixed-league late-round consideration. — JJ
17. Russell Martin, Pittsburgh Pirates (21): It seems as though the move from New York to Pittsburgh was good for Martin as we saw a slight increase in his overall production with the exception of his power numbers. His batting average has been on steady decline from year-to-year dating back to the 2007 season, but if you’re looking for a glimmer of hope – a very slim glimmer – Martin’s BABIPs have been relatively low the last three seasons which means, to some extent, he’s been unlucky. It’s always possible Martin could catch lightning in a bottle and return to his old high average ways when he was with the Dodgers, but we wouldn’t bet on it. — JW
18. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies (14): Thanks a 25-game suspension, Ruiz played in just over half of the Phillies games last season (92). Now that we know his amazing 2012 campaign was aided by amphetamines and his history of injuries, it’s unclear what can be expected out of the now 35-year-old. With a lineup around him that leaves a lot to be desired, Ruiz may not have any many opportunities to drive in runs and have a lot of Fantasy value overall. He could be taken in NL-only leagues, but unless you have some insider information about him using some sort of chemical assistance again, avoid taking him in mixed leagues. — JW
19. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians (58 at 1B): In less than 400 career at-bats, the 26-year-old Gomes has slugged 15 homers and driven in 51 runs with a .271 batting average. With Cleveland possibility trying to move usual backstop Santana to a new position (third base?), Gomes could wind up with the lion’s share of starts behind the plate. Gomes has always impressed us with his bat in limited action, so with more chances we could see a breakout year. He is certainly worth a late-round flier as an insurance policy for any starting catcher. — JJ
20. A.J. Ellis, Los Angeles Dodgers (24): Despite having a better lineup around him, Ellis’s batting average took a 30-point dip last season. Although he is not needed to do much that is still a little concerning to us. He does do a fine job at seeing a lot of pitches which helps the lineup in its own way. Ellis hit nearly 50 points higher against right-handed pitching, and traditionally does hit better against righties, which is interesting for a natural right-handed batter. At 32, his best is probably behind him, so producing a third straight 50-RBI season might not be in the cards. — JJ
21. Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays (NR): Navarro enjoyed a career last year as he managed to post his highest power numbers and hit for a high average at the plate. Now, as a member of the Blue Jays, he could see an increase in power as he’ll be hitting in the launching pad that is Rogers Centre. Navarro is by the far the best catcher on the Jays roster and if he can stay healthy, look for him to easily get over 400 PA this year, something he hasn’t done since 2009 with the Rays. With a slew of good hitters around him, he is capable of driving in a decent amount of runs for a catcher. Don’t be fooled by the high OBP Navarro posted a year ago. While he does draw walks at a decent rate, expect his on-base percentage to drop. Overall, he’s draftable in AL-only leagues and is a serviceable backup in mixed leagues. — JW
Others to Consider
22. Geovany Soto, Texas Rangers (35)
23. Alex Avila, Detroit Tigers (17)
24. Travis d’Arnaud, New York Mets (43)
25. Welington Castillo, Chicago Cubs (33)
26. Ryan Doumit, Atlanta Braves (13): Also qualifies in the outfield.
27. Nick Hundley, San Diego Padres (30)
28. J.P. Arencibia, Texas Rangers (19)
29. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners (42)
30. Hank Conger, Los Angeles Angels (50)
31. Derek Norris, Oakland Athletics (25)
32. John Jaso, Oakland Athletics (38)
33. Kurt Suzuki, Minnesota Twins (26)
34. Yasmani Grandal, San Diego Padres (31)
35. Chris Iannetta, Los Angeles Angels (22)
36. Josmil Pinto, Minnesota Twins (NR)
37. Jose Lobaton, Tampa Bay Rays (56)
38. Ryan Hanigan, Tampa Bay Rays (45)
39. Tyler Flowers, Chicago White Sox (29)
40. Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics (NR)
41. Josh Phegley, Chicago White Sox (NR)
42. Yenier Bello, Free agent (NR): Cuban free agent has received his papers and is expected to sign soon and may surprise, so consider him a sleeper.
43. Brayan Pena, Cincinnati Reds (NR)
44. John Buck, Seattle Mariners (36)
45. Erik Kratz, Toronto Blue Jays (62)
46. Jose Molina, Tampa Bay Rays (41)
47. Francisco Pena, Kansas City Royals (NR)
48. David Ross, Boston Red Sox (46)
49. George Kottaras, Chicago Cubs (39)
50. Martin Maldonado, Milwaukee Brewers (40)
51. Jeff Mathis, Miami Marlins (47)
52. Bryan Holaday, Detroit Tigers (NR)
53. Francisco Cervelli, New York Yankees (59)
54. Tim Federowicz, Los Angeles Dodgers (60)
55. Gerald Laird, Atlanta Braves (55)
56. Wil Nieves, Philadelphia Phillies (NR)
57. Rob Brantly, Miami Marlins (27)
58. Chris Stewart, Pittsburgh Pirates (NR)
59. Max Stassi, Houston Astros (NR)
60. Hector Sanchez, San Francisco Giants (48)
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments below whether you agree or disagree with our rankings.