2019 Fantasy Baseball Draft Prep: Top strategies for the catcher position

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Historically, catcher hasn’t been a position for hitters.

It’s murder on the knees, for one. Why subject a good bat to such a beating? And why have the lineup suffer along with the defense when that beating results in a day or two of rest every week?

More often, catchers are singled out for their ability to call a game, frame a pitch, block a wayward breaking ball or throw out a would-be base-stealer — you know, the things the position exists to do.

This any-offense-is-gravy mentality has had a predictable outcome as far as Fantasy Baseball goes: yuck. The position is replete with players nobody really wants or cares to remember.

But every generation has its standouts, usually coming in pairs. Piazza and Pudge. Mauer and Martinez. Posey and Lucroy. And now, J.T. Realmuto and Gary Sanchez.

Take your pick between them. Sanchez offers big middle-of-the-order power but has health concerns and defensive shortcomings that risk depleting his playing time further. Realmuto’s overall ceiling may not be as high, but he’s uncommonly durable and an all-around solid hitter. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts for him, but now that he’s out of Miami and hitting in the terrific lineup and offensive environment in Philadelphia, the projection becomes all the more interesting. Check out his home/away splits:

Realmuto is my choice, as my Catcher Tiers for 2019 show, but I’ve always been one to play it safe in the early rounds and leave the pursuit of upside for later in the draft, when the cost of missing is lower.

Beyond Realmuto and Sanchez, there are only five catchers you can draft with the expectation of worthwhile Fantasy production. Yes, I’m putting a finite number on it, which at any other position would be insane. Another thing about catcher, though, is that once teams discover a player can hack it back there, they tend to pass him around until he’s all used up, reluctant to introduce fresh faces in more than an apprentice role.

The position doesn’t leave much to the imagination, in other words. We know these players’ capabilities and the extent of their playing time. Maybe Buster Posey, coming off season-ending hip surgery, raises some doubt on both fronts, but the tiers are so well defined at the position that it’s mostly a question of where he ranks within that group of five, the others being Willson Contreras, Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos and Yadier Molina. In terms of ranking, I’ll give a slight edge to Grandal, who’s entering a favorable situation with a favorable park in Milwaukee, and Contreras, whose power mysteriously disappeared last year even though he’s just beginning his prime. Once Realmuto and Sanchez are gone, though, my approach is basically “take whoever falls to me.”

If there’s some mystery to be revealed at catcher, it’s from two rookies who demonstrate real hitting ability: the Padres’ Francisco Mejia and the Blue Jays’ Danny Jansen. They’re sort of your last line of defense before accepting next to nothing at the position, and of course there’s no guarantee they’re not nothingburgers themselves.

Both make tons of contact, though, which makes for a fairly safe profile in an era when power comes easily. Mejia is the more highly regarded prospect, but his playing time is less assured with defensive standout Austin Hedges still in the mix for the Padres. Which one I prefer can change by the day.

That about sums it up: the only catchers you might actually want in Fantasy. Beyond them, you’re basically just looking to avoid total disaster, which may already be a lost cause in points leagues. But in categories formats, you can at least get some home runs from players like Robinson Chirinos, Yan Gomes, Welington Castillo and Mike Zunino. You might also get better-than-expected production from bounce-back candidate Austin Barnes or rookie Carson Kelly.

Thing is, though, you’re not exactly losing if forced to pick through the scraps like that. Catcher is the lowest-impact position, what with all the time everyone is projected to miss there, so it’s not one where you should be looking to make a big investment on Draft Day, unless you just have to have one of Realmuto or Sanchez.

  • Scott’s catcher to buy: Danny Jansen. The Blue Jays’ decision to trade away Russell Martin puts the job firmly in the rookie’s hands, and his ability to put bat on ball is the most valuable skill in today’s power-laden environment.
  • Scott’s catcher to sell: Mike Zunino. Though a rare 20-homer threat at the position, his exorbitant rate strikeout rate makes his .251 batting average in 2017 more the outlier than last year’s .201 mark.
  • Heath Cummings’ catcher to buy: Wilson Ramos. Over the past three seasons he’s hit .298 with an .826 OPS. 
  • Heath Cummings’ catcher to sell: Francisco Mejia. Austin Hedges isn’t going to disappear, and the Padres don’t have a DH spot to make sure Mejia gets regular at-bats.

So which Fantasy Baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued pitchers can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy Baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Scooter Gennett’s huge breakout last season, and find out.

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