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Fantasy Baseball: The catcher draft plan for 2017

September 07 2016: San Francisco Giants Catcher, Buster Posey (28) during a regular season Major League Baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and the visiting San Francisco Giants at Coors Field in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire)

Each week, I will take a look at the NFBC leader board and break down by position what owners should expect and be looking for as they head into their drafts for the 2017 season.

This week we begin with the catcher position. Unlike many of the previous seasons, we have a number of quality options in the top two tiers. Even as you make your way further down the rankings, there are a number of low-risk options fantasy owners will be comfortable owning.

Buster Posey is on top, as always, even after a down year by his own standards. The .282 average and 14 home runs were both career-lows; expect a bounce back in both categories. Both of these numbers serve as a floor for Posey. When you tack on a minimum of 70 runs and 80 RBI you not only get a top catcher, but a low-end first base option. Others can come close to Posey’s numbers, but who those players will be each year is a dice roll.

Next up are Gary Sanchez (47 overall) and Jonathan Lucroy (49 overall). Some have reached higher for Sanchez, which is a risk given his inexperience. He does have a much higher power ceiling, though, hence the appeal. Both players have a favorable home park for power. I can see both catchers being given over 500 at bats, so the counting stats should be above average as well. There is a batting average risk with Sanchez and the chance for regression, but his upside makes him a top-tier option.

Assuming you don’t grab one of those three, the next catchers off the board are Evan Gattis (90) and Willson Contreras (99). Gattis hit 43 home runs in Atlanta, averaging just over 350 at-bats each year. He was given increased at bats in Houston, which resulted in increased power numbers (27 and 32 home runs) the past two years. Contreras has the lowest power profile of all the catchers mentioned so far. He hit 12 last year, and I expect a modest gain this season. He may never hit 20-plus, but I think he’s a safe bet for between 15-18 annually.

I would expect higher counting stats from Gattis given his additional power. Contreras should produce the higher batting average, and over time he could morph into the man who is currently backing him up, Miguel Montero. Like Sanchez, Contreras does run the risk of regression – sophomore slumps are real, but don’t expect a prolonged downtime.

J.T. Realmuto (114) and Salvador Perez (126) are next, and their ADP is even closer when it comes to where owners will reach for them. Perez is good for 20 home runs; Realmuto will give you 20 combined home runs and stolen bases. Realmuto has the batting average upside provided last year’s improvements stick. If they don’t, he and Perez are on equal ground. Perez has a distinct advantage when it comes to RBI.

Both catchers are fairly equal, overall. Those in Roto leagues will favor Realmuto for the speed. The ones that favor reliability and a steady track record will go for Perez. There is no right or wrong answer on who is better; it is a matter of preference.

Yasmani Grandal (151), Brian McCann (161), and Russell Martin have a lot in common. All have power, with McCann and Martin each hitting 20 home runs last season and Grandal with 27. All of them should bat between .230 and .250, with Grandal having the lowest expected batting average of the group. Finally, each should be good for at least 70 RBI. While they are quite similar, it is their perceived value which differentiates them.

Grandal has a much higher power ceiling. However, given his poor contact and strikeouts, he has a much lower batting average floor. Because of this, he could be dropped in the order, which would affect his counting stats.

McCann is the safest of the group with 20 home runs in all but one season dating back to 2006. He has zero upside, but he is a lock for at least 50 runs and 60-plus RBI. Like Grandal, there are contact issues, so don’t expect an average much north of .230.

Martin is being reached for and taken later than both those catchers, but could actually produce better numbers. The past two years he has at least 20 home runs, 70 RBI and 60 runs scored. Like McCann, there is zero upside and the batting average will hover in the .235 range. You can do better than Martin, but you can do much worse.

If you draft a top-10 catcher you should feel pretty pleased with yourself. That being said, don’t get too overconfident. While Sanchez and Contreras have a high upside, they do run the risk of regression, so keep an eye on the waiver wire. The same goes with Grandal further down; there is power, but he bottom could fall out. As for the remainder of the group, they should deliver as expected short of an injury.

*****

Is Posey worth reaching for early? Absolutely, if you value stability and don’t want any risk. Lucroy and Sanchez have more upside than the players below them. However, you might be better off letting someone else pay for them given their ADP. The same goes for Contreras. Outside of the batting average, the players below Contreras could deliver a similar line. Gattis might be worth snagging at his ADP. He has more power than the players below him and should have a similar or better average than everyone but Realmuto.

With Realmuto and Perez, it really comes down to what else is available at other positions. Their ADP is right, but if there are better players, waiting for the next group won’t kill you. If you wait and it comes down to McCann, Martin and Grandal, it comes down to your own risk factor. You could take the safe power option, or you could settle for what’s left on the board. I like McCann, but I’m not opposed to waiting.

Now, settling for what’s left is a risk, but it does have its potential rewards. Each year a number of undrafted catchers step up to produced top-10 numbers. Sometimes you’re lucky enough to draft this player with one of your final picks. Other times they will be a waiver-wire pick up sometime during the season. Either way, you come away with a top catching option without having to pay any attention to the catcher position in the draft.

If you don’t draft Posey in your 12-team league, I would let others chase the higher-tier guys. Maybe reach for Gattis, but outside of that I would wait, settle and let the draft dictate your decision.

*****

Things are much different for those of you that play in a league with a dreaded two-catcher format. In this type of league, getting one of the top-10 can be essential. Even the zero-upside power options like Martin and McCann can provide you with stability. If you draft a potential regression candidate like Contreras or Grandal, I would focus on one of the low-risk available options available to you. Sanchez is a regression risk as well, but worst-case scenario is he puts up number similar to Grandal or McCann.

Catchers like Welington Castillo, Matt Wieters or Stephen Vogt come to mind for low-risk options. Some may look to them as their primary option if they miss out on the top-10. A few of you in the top-10 will attempt to acquire them as a second catcher. If you don’t get one of them and waited out the top-10, you are definitely behind the eight ball.

Tom Murphy, Cameron Rupp, Sandy Leon, Mike Zunino and Austin Hedges all have some sort of upside as young backstops. They each have an equal chance of falling flat on their face, leaving you holding the proverbial bag. Wilson Ramos, Travis d’Arnaud and Devin Mesoraco have to potential top produce top-12 numbers, but each comes with a red injury flag attached. They are the definition of a risk/reward player.

James McCann, Yan Gomes and maybe Jason Castro have some level of job security and will give you at bats. You won’t get much from them outside the knowledge that they’ll play on a regular basis.

In two-catcher formats, I am not willing to gamble and will reach to get a top-10 catcher. If I miss out I will target a top safe option and then roll the dice somewhere along the line for my second catcher.

*****

In conclusion, there is plenty of talent to go around in a 12-team league. Reaching, depending on the player, is acceptable but not always advisable. If you don’t get a top-10 option I’m confident you will have a top-12 option by season’s end if you monitor the waiver wire.

In two-catcher formats, it is perfectly acceptable to reach regardless of what you may read elsewhere. The catcher class is top-heavy in solid and reliable options, but once you venture outside the top 10-12 players, things get rather dicey. If you missed out or wait, I would roster at least three questionable options, just to hedge your bets; better safe than sorry.

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