Fantasy Baseball 2014: Ranking the Top 20 Catchers
With the top 150 fantasy baseball players all ordered and ranked on the inaugural Big Board, it's time to get into the individual position rankings.
First up? The catcher spot, which is deeper than owners might expect. There are still a few elite names at the top, but any one of the top 10—and maybe even one or two beyond that—should be just fine as a starter.
In other words, if you don't want to pay the price to land a star like Buster Posey (pictured), Joe Mauer or Yadier Molina, you can wait a few rounds and grab a more-than-quality backstop or even a few more and still take your pick of some worthwhile upside options.
Let's run down the top 20 overall fantasy catchers and a few others you should watch.
These rankings consider three factors:
First, everything is based on 10- or 12-team mixed leagues with standard five-by-five rotisserie scoring (BA, R, HR, RBI, SB for hitters; W, ERA, WHIP, K, SV for pitchers).
Second, lineup construction accounts for 22 active roster positions consisting of: one each for catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, corner infield, middle infield and utility; along with five outfielders and nine pitchers.
And third, to be eligible at a particular position, players either must have played at least 20 games there in 2013 or be in line to start there in 2014.
The Catcher "Watch List"
Yan Gomes, C, Indians (pictured)
After hitting .294 with 11 homers and 38 RBI in only 322 plate appearances as Cleveland's (mostly) backup backstop, Gomes is in line for more action, especially if incumbent Carlos Santana really does see time at third base.
Dioner Navarro, C, Blue Jays
An All-Star in 2008, Navarro continued his late-career revival in 2013 with a .300 average and 13 home runs in 89 games with the Cubs while splitting time with the next guy. As Toronto's everyday catcher, the average will drop but the counting numbers should climb.
Welington Castillo, C, Cubs
Chicago has broken in Castillo slowly—his 380 ABs in '13 were a career high—but the 26-year-old's has the gig more or less to himself now, so he might build on his numbers last year: .274 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 41 R.
J.P. Arencibia, C, Rangers
Josmil Pinto, C, Twins
This under-the-radar 24-year-old prospect impressed in his first brief taste of the bigs last year, hitting .342 (26-for-76) with four homers in 21 games. He may not begin the season as Minnesota's starter—or even in Minnesota—but he should be the starter by the end.
No. 20: Carlos Ruiz, C, Phillies
Ruiz's fantastic 2012 (.325 BA, 16 HR, 68 RBI) was the aberration, but he's still playing every day and shouldn't hurt the owner who waits to take him in leagues that require two starting catchers. In single-league formats, though, you can do better.
No. 19: Yasmani Grandal, C, Padres
Now 25, Grandal might be a forgotten man in fantasy circles after going through a 50-game suspension and then knee surgery in 2013, but this former top prospect who sports a near one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio for his career could return to relevance if he can stay on the field this year.
No. 18: Mike Zunino, C, Mariners
Speaking of former top prospects, Zunino was the No. 3 pick in 2012, then sped to the majors by debuting almost exactly one year later. The Mariners brought in John Buck as insurance, but the club needs Zunino to develop along with the rest of their wave of young talent. If that happens, he could be a capable fantasy starter in his first full season.
No. 17: Travis d'Arnaud, C, Mets (pictured)
Although he's still rookie eligible, d'Arnaud turned 25 this month, so it's time for him to prove himself after injuries—including a fractured foot that cost him much of '13—have stalled his progress. Owners won't want to rely on him, but he has a clear path to playing time and 15-homer power.
No. 16: A.J. Pierzynski, C, Red Sox
Pierzynski, 37, might be the least intriguing fantasy option there is at this position, but if you'd rather not gamble on one of the potential breakout candidates, it doesn't hurt to go with what you know. Hitting amid the Red Sox lineup should help.
No. 15: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Marlins
2013 Fantasy Stats: .273 BA, 68 R, 14 HR, 65 RBI, 4 SB (470 PA)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia had his best season (yet?) in 2013 and is still only 28 years old. That's the good news.
The bad? His BABIP was an unsustainably high .372, compared with .322 for his career. Plus, now that the former Red Sox is a Marlin, he'll have to do without hitter-friendly Fenway or the formidable Boston lineup.
No. 14: Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds
2013 Fantasy Stats: .238 BA, 31 R, 9 HR, 42 RBI, 0 SB (352 PA)
It's possible that this ranking will prove too high for Devin Mesoraco, who owns a career .225/.282/.359 career triple-slash line over three seasons.
Still, he's a former real-life first-round pick who is only 25. While the rate stats haven't been pretty, his playing time has been scattershot to this point, meaning his 16 homers and 62 RBI for his career look much, much better when you realize that production has come with sporadic action and in only a season's worth of at-bats (538).
Finally the Reds' hands-down starter, Mesoraco could be in for a welcoming party in 2014—three seasons after he debuted.
No. 13: Miguel Montero, C, Diamondbacks
2013 Fantasy Stats: .230 BA, 44 R, 11 HR, 42 RBI, 0 SB (475 PA)
Smack dab in the middle of his prime, Miguel Montero had a wretch of a season in 2013. One brief, shield-your-eyes glance at the statistics above make that clear.
Still, this is a 30-year-old who hit at least .280 with 15 or more home runs in 2009, 2011 and 2012. Arizona's lineup is full of capable bats, so Montero could easily enough bounce back to starting fantasy catcher territory.
No. 12: Evan Gattis, C/OF, Braves
2013 Fantasy Stats: .243 BA, 44 R, 21 HR, 65 RBI, 0 SB (382 PA)
Evan Gattis became the stuff of pop culture lore last year by bashing his way to 14 homers and 37 RBI in the first half of his rookie season.
After returning from midseason injury, though, the 27-year-old's power output dropped to seven and 28 in those same stats, despite more trips to the plate.
The aggressive approach (5.5 percent walk rate) is likely going to mean an average no better than .250 in the end, but with Brian McCann gone, Gattis is in line to play regularly and has the bat to bash 25 homers.
No. 11: Jason Castro, C, Astros
2013 Fantasy Stats: .276 BA, 63 R, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 2 SB (491 PA)
Any catcher who has had multiple knee surgeries is more than a little risky, but in Jason Castro's case, he may well be worth that risk.
In his first full (read: healthy) season, the 26-year-old sported the highest isolated power (.209) of any regular starting catcher and made the All-Star team.
Asking for a repeat performance might be a bit much, and Houston's lineup won't do Castro any favors, but he's got the stick to be a starter for your fake team.
No. 10: Wilson Ramos, C, Nationals
2013 Fantasy Stats: .272 BA, 29 R, 16 HR, 59 RBI, 0 SB (303 PA)
Like Castro, Wilson Ramos has had his struggles staying on the field. Even last season, the 26-year-old managed to get into only 78 games.
That actually makes the fact that his homer and RBI totals were career bests all the more impressive. Ramos really came on in the second half, too, leading all backstops with 12 home runs and 42 RBI.
Health provided, Ramos looks like a guy to go after in 2014, especially considering Nationals hitters as a whole should be better than simply middle of the pack again.
No. 9: Matt Wieters, C, Orioles
2013 Fantasy Stats: .235 BA, 59 R, 22 HR, 79 RBI, 2 SB (579 PA)
Having the backstop who topped the position in four-baggers last year at No. 9 should be proof that this position isn't exactly shallow.
While Matt Wieters may never be the perennial MVP candidate he was cracked up to be when he broke into the bigs in 2009, he has hit at least 27 doubles and 22 home runs each of the past three seasons. He's also in the heart of one of baseball's best group of bats.
The average has been going in the wrong direction—from a respectable .262 in 2011 to a repugnant .235 in '13—but darn it if there isn't a still-haven't-seen-the-best-of-him-yet feeling about Wieters.
No. 8: Salvador Perez, C, Royals
2013 Fantasy Stats: .292 BA, 48 R, 13 HR, 79 RBI, 0 SB (526 PA)
As impressive as those digits above are, when it comes to Salvador Perez, the most impressive one is 23—his age.
After debuting late in 2011 and missing the first part of 2012 after knee surgery, Kansas City's catcher had himself a mighty fine first full season last year.
Because he makes so much contact—he had only 21 walks but only 63 whiffs in '13—Perez's average will depend on his BABIP (.315 to date) and his runs and RBI totals will be dependent on whether the rest of the young Royals hitters take the next step along with him.
If everything goes just right, this could be a top-five fantasy catcher.
No. 7: Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers
2013 Fantasy Stats: .280 BA, 59 R, 18 HR, 82 RBI, 9 SB (580 PA)
Look closely at Jonathan Lucroy's 2013 numbers, and what do you notice?
Lucroy might see a drop in production in those two categories in 2014, but he's also still just 27 years old and a key part of an underrated Brewers lineup. Lucroy might not get the pub of some others behind the dish but, hey, that's not his fault.
No. 6: Brian McCann, C, Yankees
2013 Fantasy Stats: .256 BA, 43 R, 20 HR, 57 RBI, 0 SB (402 PA)
While Brian McCann turns 30 this month, which is practically ancient for a catcher, he's also still an everyday backstop and big-time bat.
The former Brave has hit at least 20 homers each of his past six seasons and seven of the last eight (he hit "only" 18 in 2007), and the move to more hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, which is especially rewarding for lefty swingers like McCann, means a career high in that category wouldn't be an unreasonable expectation.
If you squint, you might be able to see him as the top fantasy catcher at season's end, if the power numbers are there, but McCann is this low because of age, injury issues and a batting average that hasn't been north of .270 since 2009.
No. 5: Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
2013 Fantasy Stats: .292 BA, 63 R, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 4 SB (466 PA)
Admittedly, there is risk in choosing Wilin Rosario to be your starting fantasy catcher, as he's a free swinger with all of 42 walks in 949 plate appearances for his career (4.4 percent).
And yet, Rosario is still so young—he turns 25 this month—that he remains as much potential as production. As for the latter, well, he's smashed 49 homers in his first two seasons as the Rockies starter, while also topping 60 runs and 70 RBI both years.
Last year's .292 average might be the high end of his capabilities, given his approach and .344 BABIP, but any power hitter who calls Coors Field home is a promising proposition, indeed.
No. 4: Carlos Santana, C/1B, Indians
2013 Fantasy Stats: .268 BA, 75 R, 20 HR, 74 RBI, 3 SB (642 PA)
As good as Carlos Santana has been in his four-year career, he's yet to have that season. You know, the one where he puts it all together. The hope, though, if you draft him in later in the early rounds (i.e. Rounds 6-7) is that it happens in 2014 as he embarks on his age-28 campaign.
The good thing about Santana is that he's more or less a lock for 20-plus home runs, 70-plus RBI and—unusual for a catcher—70-plus runs. In fact, his 75 in that last category led his position in 2013, in large part because he gets on base a ton via the walk (90-plus every year since 2011).
The other bit to consider with Santana is that he's been working out at third base over the winter, meaning there's a chance he'll see some time there this year in addition to his usual catcher and DH. Gaining 3B eligibility would help his fantasy flexibility and, more importantly, provide owners with some more games played and at-bats. Maybe that's what Santana needs to have that season this season.
No. 3: Yadier Molina, C, Cardinals
2013 Fantasy Stats: .319 BA, 68 R, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 3 SB (541 PA)
At some point, one imagines, all those games spent squatting might catch up to Yadier Molina's offensive production. After all, he's 31 now and has caught at least 130 games every season since 2009.
Then again, perhaps Molina is just a different animal, one who has gotten better with the bat as his career has progressed, culminating in a 2013 in which he set career highs in runs (68), doubles (44), RBI (80) and batting average (.319).
That should make his owners feel confident enough that he has at least one more big season in him with the stick. But his real-life value, much of which is derived from his incredible defense (a nonfactor for fantasy), might push him so high up draft boards that there's no room for a net gain: Even if he repeats 2013's numbers, having to take him in Round 4 or 5 leaves no room for error.
No. 2: Joe Mauer, C/1B, Twins
2013 Fantasy Stats: .324 BA, 62 R, 11 HR, 47 RBI, 0 SB (508 PA)
Joe Mauer's statistics from 2013 are simultaneously impressive and disappointing.
Of course, Mauer did that while playing in just 113 games. He missed the final six weeks of the season with a concussion. If given another 100-plus plate appearances, Mauer's totals would look all the better.
That's what the shift to first base is about. After 10 years as a starting catcher, the 30-year-old Mauer—31 in April—will handle first full time. While he might need a little time to adjust even though he's played there before (including a career-high 30 times in 2012), Mauer will be expected to play 140 games at the minimum as opposed to the maximum.
That will allow him not only to increase his counting stats (R, HR, RBI) but also make his high batting average count even more. If you want to take advantage of all that while Mauer is still catcher-eligible, now is the time.
No. 1: Buster Posey, C/1B, Giants
2013 Fantasy Stats: .294 BA, 61 R, 15 HR, 72 RBI, 2 SB (595 PA)
Buster Posey was one of the bigger fantasy busts last season. Fresh off an MVP performance and World Series win in 2012, he was being drafted in the first or second round of most leagues and wound up doing exactly nothing to stand out from his catcher peers.
Look at those numbers above—without the name attached, you'd guess they came from some backstop that was picked in the middle rounds, right?
So why is Posey the No. 1 fantasy catcher yet again in 2014? It's about upside. Among all the names on this list, Posey is the only one who just might be capable of a .300-30-100 season. That's not to say he will do this, only that it's at least in the range of possibilities for the soon-to-be 27-year-old.
It's also about rest. Following his phenomenal 2012 in which Posey played 148 regular season games and then another 16 in October, it's no real wonder that he was exhausted in the second half last year. After the All-Star break, he hit—wait for it—.244/.333/.310 with two homers and 16 RBI. Yoiks.
From April through July 26, when his batting average was at its apex, Posey hit .326/.395/.544 with 14 home runs and 59 RBI. In other words, he was in line to repeat 2012.
It might not be as simple as this, but a Posey who didn't have to extend himself with a long postseason run last year could well be the Posey from 2012 and the first four months of 2013. That Posey is the top fantasy catcher on the board.
To talk baseball or fantasy baseball, check in with me on Twitter: @JayCat11