MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Top 30 Catchers

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2017

MLB Position Power Rankings: B/R's Top 30 Catchers

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    Buster Posey and Yadier Molina have long been two of the game's best backstops.
    Buster Posey and Yadier Molina have long been two of the game's best backstops.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    There's a reason top-tier catchers rarely hit the free-agent market.

    Finding a franchise backstop who can provide a steadying presence for the pitching staff and produce offensively, all while withstanding the wear and tear that comes with playing the toughest position on the diamond, is not an easy thing to do. 

    To put it simply: When a team finds a Buster Posey or a Yadier Molina, they don't let him get away.

    Ahead, we've set out to identify the top 30 catchers in the league heading into the 2017 season.

    A few things to consider before we get started:

    • League averages: For the sake of reference, the league average triple-slash line for a catcher last season was .242/.309/.392 and the average caught-stealing rate was 27 percent.
    • Eligibility: To be considered for inclusion, a player must have played at least 51 percent of his games at the catcher position last season. That meant no Evan Gattis (71 DH, 55 C, 11 LF) or Kyle Schwarber (2 LF, 0 C)

    The other important thing to note is that the goal here was to identify the 30 best catchers for the 2017 season and the 2017 season alone.

    Someone like Austin Hedges has more upside than Brian McCann going forward, but is he going to be better this coming year?

    For draft fans, think of this as a big board for the position if the entire league was doing a redraft for one all-or-nothing season in 2017.

30. Tyler Flowers, Atlanta Braves

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Age: 31

    2016 Offensive: .270 BA, .777 OPS, 76 H, 26 XBH (8 HR), 41 RBI, 27 R

    2016 Defensive: 5% CS (3/63), -12 DRS, -1.1 DEF, 13.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.3

     

    Player Outlook

    The Atlanta Braves feel comfortable enough with Tyler Flowers behind the plate that they opted against making a significant addition at the catcher position this winter, instead signing veteran Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $1.5 million deal to serve as the backup.

    Flowers has some nice pop, ranking 17th among all catchers with 42 home runs since the start of the 2013 season, and he posted the best triple-slash numbers of his career last year.

    While he's one of the league's better pitch-framers, the rest of his defensive game is well below average and he's really nothing more than a stop-gap starter for a rebuilding team.

     

    Honorable Mentions: Alex Avila (DET), Tucker Barnhart (CIN), Robinson Chirinos (TEX), Chris Herrmann (ARI), Nick Hundley (SF), Andrew Susac (MIL), Kurt Suzuki (ATL), Christian Vazquez (BOS)

29. Roberto Perez, Cleveland Indians

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .183 BA, .579 OPS, 28 H, 10 XBH (3 HR), 17 RBI, 14 R

    2016 Defensive: 50% CS (13/26), 5 DRS, 6.9 DEF, 8.9 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.5

     

    Player Outlook

    Roberto Perez briefly went from career backup to household name when he homered twice in Game 1 of the World Series last season.

    Assuming Yan Gomes is healthy, he'll return to a supporting role this year having already carved out his place as one of the game's better backup catchers.

    Perez has thrown out 43 percent of base-stealers during his career and contributed 14 defensive runs saved in 1,222.1 total innings behind the plate.

    He may never see more than 250 plate appearances in a single season, but he's everything you could ask for in a second-string catcher.

28. Tony Wolters, Colorado Rockies

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    Chris Coduto/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2016 Offensive: .259 BA, .723 OPS, 53 H, 20 XBH (3 HR), 30 RBI, 27 R

    2016 Defensive: 31% CS (12/39), 2 DRS, 6.3 DEF, 9.5 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.0

     

    Player Outlook

    Tony Wolters will likely open the season as the defensive-minded side of a platoon with rookie Tom Murphy at the catcher position for the Colorado Rockies.

    The 24-year-old quietly put together a very nice rookie season, hitting better than expected with a .723 OPS and pushing his way into more playing time alongside veteran Nick Hundley as the season wore on.

    Wolters began his pro career as a middle infielder, so he's a better athlete than most at the catcher position, and it shows in his defensive ability.

    There's still some upside with the bat considering his age, but he should enjoy a long career as a glove-first receiver even if his offensive game never takes off.

27. Miguel Montero, Chicago Cubs

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Age: 33

    2016 Offensive: .216 BA, .684 OPS, 52 H, 17 XBH (8 HR), 33 RBI, 33 R

    2016 Defensive: 11% CS (7/66), -9 DRS, -1.2 DEF, 16.1 Framing RAA

    WAR: -0.3

     

    Player Outlook

    Miguel Montero is no longer the impact offensive player and All-Star backstop he was during his prime with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    The 33-year-old still has some useful skills, though.

    He's one of the game's best pitch-framers and he can still crush a mistake. 43 of his 138 hits the past two seasons have gone for extra bases.

    His role will likely continue to diminish this coming season as Willson Contreras gets set to take over as the primary backstop for the Chicago Cubs.

    However, he'll once again serve as the personal catcher to Jake Arrieta and he's capable of stepping into a larger role if the need arises.

26. Wilson Ramos, Tampa Bay Rays

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2016 Offensive: .307 BA, .850 OPS, 148 H, 47 XBH (22 HR), 80 RBI, 58 R

    2016 Defensive: 37% CS (19/51), -2 DRS, 8.4 DEF, -1.8 Framing RAA

    WAR: 3.3

     

    Player Outlook

    When will Wilson Ramos return from the torn ACL he suffered last September, and how close will he be to the player we saw during a breakout 2016 season?

    That's the question when it comes to where Wilson Ramos belongs in these rankings.

    The Tampa Bay Rays gave him a two-year, $12.5 million deal to find out.

    By all accounts, the 29-year-old was one of the league's elite catchers last season, and he would have pocketed a huge payday if not for that late-season injury.

    According to the latest update from Bill Chastain of MLB.com, Ramos won't return to action until July, and he won't be catching until August.

    That's enough to bump him outside of the top 25 for the upcoming season, but he's still capable of making a big enough impact in three months to earn a spot on the list.

25. Derek Norris, Washington Nationals

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    Ralph Freso/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .186 BA, .583 OPS, 77 H, 31 XBH (14 HR), 42 RBI, 50 R

    2016 Defensive: 21% CS (20/96), 7 DRS, 5.4 DEF, 5.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.3

     

    Player Outlook

    Derek Norris didn't let a dismal offensive season interfere with his work behind the plate, as he was once again an above-average defensive catcher, albeit one with a below average throwing arm.

    However, it's his bat that made him an All-Star during his time in Oakland.

    The 28-year-old did manage to pop 14 home runstying his career-highand there's reason to think he's poised for at least some level of bounce-back given his age and track record, assuming he gets the opportunity to play regularly.

    After signing Matt Wieters earlier this month, the Nationals are now "trying to trade" Norris, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, so it looks like there's a decent chance he could be on the move for the second time this offseason.

24. Devin Mesoraco, Cincinnati Reds

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .140 BA, .378 OPS, 7 H, 1 XBH (0 HR), 1 RBI, 2 R

    2016 Defensive: 27% CS (3/11), 2 DRS, 2.0 DEF, -1.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: -0.2

     

    Player Outlook

    Devin Mesoraco's breakout season seems like it was a lot longer ago than 2014, doesn't it?

    The former first-round pick hit .273/.359/.534 with 25 doubles, 25 home runs and 80 RBI that year, earning a trip to the All-Star Game and garnering some bottom-ballot National League MVP support.

    It also netted him a four-year, $28 million extension that looked like a shrewd move by the Reds at the time.

    However, he's played just 39 total games the past two seasons while undergoing surgery on both hips and his left shoulder.

    He's taking it slow this spring but is expected to be healthy for Opening Day.

    "Everything will be pretty slow and gradual," Mesoraco told John Fay of WCPO.com. "But I’m doing everything hitting-wise, catching-wise. I shouldn’t have too much of a problem. They just want to limit volume."

23. Travis D'Arnaud, New York Mets

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .247 BA, .629 OPS, 62 H, 11 XBH (4 HR), 15 RBI, 27 R

    2016 Defensive: 22% CS (17/78), -7 DRS, 1.3 DEF, 8.0 Framing RAA

    WAR: -0.8

     

    Player Outlook

    Travis d'Arnaud was a popular breakout candidate heading into last season after he posted an .820 OPS with 11 doubles and eight home runs over the final two months of the 2015 season and then homered three times in the postseason.

    Instead, he took a huge step backward.

    His OPS dropped nearly 200 points from .825 to .629, and he hit just four home runs in 276 plate appearances, leading the New York Mets to turn to scrapheap-addition Rene Rivera behind the plate more and more down the stretch.

    It's safe to call this a make-or-break season for the former top prospect, and Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors did just that earlier this week.

22. Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

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    Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2016 Offensive: .167 BA, .527 OPS, 42 H, 21 XBH (9 HR), 34 RBI, 22 R

    2016 Defensive: 37% CS (11/30), 3 DRS, 7.0 DEF, -1.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: -0.8

     

    Player Outlook

    It's been a trying two years for former Silver Slugger winner Yan Gomes.

    Since posting a .278/.313/.472 line with 25 doubles, 21 home runs and 74 RBI in 2014, he's hit just .205/.240/.365 while playing 169 total games the past two seasons.

    A separated shoulder and broken right hand cost him considerable time last year and he was relegated to bench duty during the team's postseason run.

    Despite a nice postseason from Roberto Perez, there's no catcher controversy in Cleveland Indians camp, as manager Terry Francona has already made it clear that Gomes will be the starter.

    The 29-year-old has the tools to be a top-10 guy in these rankings if he stays healthy and returns to form.

21. Mike Zunino, Seattle Mariners

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    Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .207 BA, .787 OPS, 34 H, 19 XBH (12 HR), 31 RBI, 16 R

    2016 Defensive: 27% CS (7/26), 4 DRS, 2.8 DEF, 2.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.8

     

    Player Outlook

    It looked like the Seattle Mariners had found a franchise cornerstone when they selected Mike Zunino with the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft.

    He made his MLB debut one year and eight days later and it looks like rushing him to the majors was the wrong decision.

    In four seasons, he's hit just .195/.262/.370, though he has shown good power with 50 home runs and there's never been a question about his defensive skills.

    Still just 25, he enters spring training looking to prove he's ready to finally take that next step forward after spending the first half of last year in Triple-A.

    "You never want to take a step backwards, but sometimes that can let you take two steps forward. It really felt that way. Being able to go down to Triple-A, be able to have some success and being called back up, you feel that sense that you earned your way back up. It definitely instilled a lot of confidence," Zunino told Larry Stone of the Seattle Times.

20. Tom Murphy, Colorado Rockies

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    Rob Tringali/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .273 BA, 1.006 OPS, 12 H, 7 XBH (5 HR), 13 RBI, 8 R

    2016 Defensive: 40% CS (4/10), 1 DRS, 2.7 DEF, 0.4 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.6

     

    Player Outlook

    Tom Murphy has made the most of his September call-ups the past two seasons.

    In 88 total plate appearances, he's posted a .949 OPS with three doubles, eight home runs and 22 RBI in 21 games.

    Now he'll get a chance to show what he can do with a more substantial role.

    The 25-year-old will open the season splitting the catching duties for the Colorado Rockies with Tony Wolters, but he'll have an opportunity to emerge as the primary option if he comes anywhere close to matching his minor league numbers.

    Last season, Murphy hit .327/.361/.647 with 26 doubles, 19 home runs and 59 RBI in 321 plate appearances for Triple-A Albuquerque.

19. Cameron Rupp, Philadelphia Phillies

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .252 BA, .750 OPS, 98 H, 43 XBH (16 HR), 54 RBI, 36 R

    2016 Defensive: 27% CS (17/62), -5 DRS, 5.8 DEF, -1.2 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.3

     

    Player Outlook

    Cameron Rupp will be looking over his shoulder this season with top prospect Jorge Alfaro set to push his way into the MLB picture at some point in 2017.

    He'll get the first crack at the starting catcher job to open the season, though.

    Rupp never topped 22 doubles or 15 home runs in a season in the minors, so his 26 doubles and 16 home runs in his first full MLB season were a nice surprise for the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies.

    His solid defensive skills should be enough for him to carve out a role as a backup, but, if he continues to hit like he did last season, the Phillies will have a good problem on their hands.

18. James McCann, Detroit Tigers

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    Brace Hemmelgarn/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2016 Offensive: .221 BA, .629 OPS, 76 H, 22 XBH (12 HR), 48 RBI, 31 R

    2016 Defensive: 45% CS (27/60), 9 DRS, 14.2 DEF, -2.6 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.1

     

    Player Outlook

    James McCann may never hit at an All-Star level, but he's an awfully good defensive catcher with plus power, and that's a recipe for a long MLB career.

    After hitting .264/.297/.387 with 30 extra-base hits as a rookie in 2015, his triple-slash numbers dropped across the board this past season, and he also missed time with an ankle injury.

    However, he continued to throw out runners at an impressive clip, and his pitch-framing improved considerably after he graded out as the league's worst at stealing strikes in 2015.

    He also homered 12 times in just 373 plate appearances and a 20-homer season is not out of the question if he stays healthy and the Tigers are willing to take it on the chin as far as his batting average and on-base percentage are concerned.

17. Austin Hedges, San Diego Padres

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    Andy Hayt/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2016 Offensive: .125 BA, .321 OPS, 3 H, 1 XBH (0 HR), 1 RBI, 2 R

    2016 Defensive: 50% CS (2/4), -1 DRS, 0.5 DEF, -0.8 Framing RAA

    WAR: -0.4

     

    Player Outlook

    There was a recurring theme in MLB.com's assessment of San Diego Padres catcher Austin Hedges while he rose the prospect ranks.

    2012: "His overall hitting potential remains to be seen. His bat is well behind his glove, but he should hit enough to be an everyday catcher in the big leagues down the road."

    2013: "As long as the bat continues to come along, even as a second fiddle, to the glove, Hedges has everything you'd want in an everyday big league catcher."

    2014: "He quickly has become the best defensive catcher in the Minor Leagues, though his bat isn't as advanced as his glove."

    The bat finally caught up to the glove last year when he hit .326/.353/.597 with 20 doubles, 21 home runs and 82 RBI in 82 games with Triple-A El Paso.

    Now he has a clear path to the everyday catcher job in San Diego.

16. Sandy Leon, Boston Red Sox

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    2016 Offensive: .310 BA, .845 OPS, 78 H, 26 XBH (7 HR), 35 RBI, 36 R

    2016 Defensive: 41% CS (14/34), 3 DRS, 8.1 DEF, -7.5 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.7

     

    Player Outlook

    How far is Sandy Leon going to regress?

    The 27-year-old hit .310/.369/.476 with 17 doubles and seven home runs in 283 plate appearances last season, but there are some clear red flags in his peripherals.

    Chief among them is a .392 BABIP which ranked second among players with at least 250 plate appearances and would be nowhere close to sustainable even if he had plus speedwhich he does not.

    With moderate regression, he's still capable of being a starting-caliber catcher thanks to his plus defensive skills.

    However, with significant regression, he runs the risk of losing playing time to both Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez.

    That's enough to drop him down lower on this list than some might expect to find him.

15. Jason Castro, Minnesota Twins

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2016 Offensive: .210 BA, .684 OPS, 69 H, 30 XBH (11 HR), 32 RBI, 41 R

    2016 Defensive: 24% CS (14/59), -2 DRS, 6.8 DEF, 12.8 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.9

     

    Player Outlook

    The Minnesota Twins gave Jason Castro a three-year, $24.5 million deal this offseason, and that hefty price is further evidence of the value teams are placing on pitch-framing prowess.

    "Pitch-framing has come a long way the last couple years and has gotten more attention," Castro told Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com "It's something over the last couple years I've tried to refine as much as possible. It's something you naturally do as a catcher and it's not necessarily taught, but when there was this enlightenment or focus on this new topic of pitch-framing, I tried to get a better understanding of what worked."

    The 29-year-old may never come close to replicating his offensive numbers from 2013, when he posted an .835 OPS with 35 doubles, 18 home runs and 56 RBI.

    Still, a catcher who does a tremendous job handling the staff and can sock double-digit home runs clearly has considerable value.

14. Stephen Vogt, Oakland Athletics

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Age: 32

    2016 Offensive: .251 BA, .711 OPS, 123 H, 46 XBH (14 HR), 56 RBI, 54 R

    2016 Defensive: 28% CS (20/71), -1 DRS, 5.9 DEF, -14.4 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.2

     

    Player Outlook

    Stephen Vogt came up short of matching his breakout 2015 numbers, but he still put together a nice season to earn a second consecutive trip to the All-Star Game.

    The 32-year-old hit .261/.341/.443 with 21 doubles, 18 home runs and 71 RBI for a 3.5 WAR in 2015, but he saw those numbers dip across the board last season.

    Perhaps the most notable decline came in his walk rate, which dropped from 11.0 to 6.6 percent, and his on-base percentage fell to .305 in the process.

    He may not be a standout in any one area, but Vogt does everything other than pitch-framing at a slightly above-average level.

13. Welington Castillo, Baltimore Orioles

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2016 Offensive: .264 BA, .745 OPS, 110 H, 38 XBH (14 HR), 68 RBI, 41 R

    2016 Defensive: 38% CS (24/64), 7 DRS, 9.9 DEF, -3.2 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.4

     

    Player Outlook

    One team's non-tender is another team's replacement for a four-time All-Star.

    When the Arizona Diamondbacks made the somewhat surprising decision to not offer Welington Castillo a contract, the Baltimore Orioles swooped in and signed him to a one-year, $6 million deal to replace departing veteran Matt Wieters.

    Mediocre pitch-framing ability and an NL-high 10 passed balls undoubtedly played a role in Arizona's decision, but there's still plenty of like about Castillo.

    His 46 home runs over the past three seasons rank seventh among all catchers and he controls the running game well with a 31 percent caught stealing rate for his career and a career-best 38 percent a year ago.

    He should be the perfect bridge to top prospect Chance Sisco.

12. Brian McCann, Houston Astros

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Age: 33

    2016 Offensive: .242 BA, .748 OPS, 104 H, 33 XBH (20 HR), 58 RBI, 56 R

    2016 Defensive: 23% CS (14/61), -7 DRS, 1.5 DEF, 5.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 0.9

     

    Player Outlook

    The Houston Astros will soon find out just how much Brian McCann has left in the tank.

    The 33-year-old has slugged at least 20 home runs in each of the past nine seasons, but the past three came while he was playing half his games at Yankee Stadium with its hitter-friendly short porch in right field.

    In fact, of his 69 home runs the past three years, only 23 have come on the road.

    Since he's no longer a threat to hit .300 like he was earlier in his career, the bulk of his offensive value stems from his power and run production ability.

    The Yankees are paying $11 million of the $34 million that was left on his contract over the next two years, and, at that price, he should still be able to provide some decent value for the Astros.

11. Francisco Cervelli, Pittsburgh Pirates

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    Justin Berl/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2016 Offensive: .264 BA, .699 OPS, 86 H, 16 XBH (1 HR), 33 RBI, 42 R

    2016 Defensive: 19% CS (16/83), 1 DRS, 4.9 DEF, 9.9 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.6

     

    Player Outlook

    The small-market Pittsburgh Pirates thought enough of Francisco Cervelli to give him a three-year, $31 million extension midway through the 2016 season.

    The season itself didn't go as hoped as a broken hamate bone cost him a month around midseason and sapped him of his power upon returning as he managed just 11 extra-base hits in his final 192 plate appearances.

    Power really isn't Cervelli's game, though.

    The 30-year-old generates his offensive value with his on-base ability; he has a .361 on-base percentage for his career and a 9.8 percent walk rate.

    He's also a terrific pitch-framer and blocker and will be counted on to lead a young Pittsburgh staff.

10. Matt Wieters, Washington Nationals

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2016 Offensive: .243 BA, .711 OPS, 103 H, 35 XBH (17 HR), 66 RBI, 48 R

    2016 Defensive: 35% CS (23/66), 3 DRS, 8.4 DEF, -7.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.7

     

    Player Outlook

    Matt Wieters finally found a home last week, agreeing to a two-year, $21 million with the Washington Nationals after an extended stay on the free-agent market.

    The No. 1 prospect in baseball prior to the 2009 season, per Baseball America, Wieters spent the first eight seasons of his career with the Baltimore Orioles where he was a four-time All-Star.

    Despite his accomplishments, the newfound value being placed on pitch-framing ability appears to have hurt Wieters earning power as he was among the league's worst in that category last year.

    Still, he controls the running game, knows how to handle a staff and provides a switch-hitting bat with 20-homer potential as he's reached that mark three times in his career.

    That's worth a spot inside the top 10.

9. J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins

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    Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

    Age: 25

    2016 Offensive: .303 BA, .771 OPS, 154 H, 42 XBH (11 HR), 48 RBI, 60 R

    2016 Defensive: 35% CS (28/79), -8 DRS, 10.5 DEF, -15.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.6

     

    Player Outlook

    J.T. Realmuto was the breakout catcher of 2016 after he seized the starting job from Jarrod Saltalamacchia as a rookie the previous season.

    The 25-year-old hit .303/.343/.428 with 31 doubles, 11 home runs, 48 RBI and 60 runs scored, while also improving his caught stealing rate from 27 to 35 percent.

    His overall receiving skills are still a work-in-progress as evidenced by his poor pitch-framing numbers, but he has rare athleticism for the position and should be able to make the necessary adjustments.

    As an added bonus, his 12 stolen bases last year led all catchers, and he actually batted leadoff 23 times with Dee Gordon out of the lineup.

    For the first time since the days of Charles Johnson, it looks like the Marlins have a long-term answer behind the plate.

8. Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    2016 Offensive: .231 BA, .733 OPS, 105 H, 36 XBH (20 HR), 74 RBI, 62 R

    2016 Defensive: 15% CS (11/72), -4 DRS, 3.2 DEF, 2.5 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.7

     

    Player Outlook

    Russell Martin could have a tough time playing up to his contract in the years to come.

    The 34-year-old signed a back-loaded five-year, $82 million deal when he joined the Toronto Blue Jays and it will pay him $20 million each of the next three seasons.

    We're not looking for the best value here, though, and Martin is still one of the game's best catchers when his salary is taken out of the equation.

    A rough start to last season dragged down his overall numbers as he hit .197/.259/.272 with five extra-base hits over the first two months, but he recovered nicely and reached 20 home runs and 70 RBI for the second year in a row.

    His 15 percent caught stealing rate last year jumps out, but it looks more like an anomaly than anything else as he led the AL with a 44 percent rate in 2015 and has thrown out 32 percent of runners for his career.

7. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2016 Offensive: .282 BA, .845 OPS, 71 H, 27 XBH (14 HR), 35 RBI, 33 R

    2016 Defensive: 37% CS (13/35), 1 DRS, 7.3 DEF, 3.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 1.8

     

    Player Outlook

    As if the Chicago Cubs needed another young star.

    Willson Contreras is all set to take over the bulk of the catching duties now that David Ross is retired and Miguel Montero is no longer viewed as a primary guy.

    The 24-year-old was originally drafted as a third baseman before making the move to catching in 2012, so he's still a bit raw behind the dish, but all the tools are there for him to be a standout defender.

    It's his bat that could make him a star, though.

    A .333 average at Double-A Tennessee in 2015 put him on the prospect map, and he just continued to hit after making his MLB debut on June 17.

    He could easily be a top-five guy before the 2017 season is over.

6. Yasmani Grandal, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    2016 Offensive: .228 BA, .816 OPS, 89 H, 42 XBH (27 HR), 72 RBI, 49 R

    2016 Defensive: 29% CS (24/83), -1 DRS, 7.2 DEF, 24.1 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.8

     

    Player Outlook

    Yasmani Grandal led all catchers with 27 home runs last season, and that was also tied for the Los Angeles Dodgers team lead with third baseman Justin Turner.

    His .228 batting average was propped up by a 14 percent rate and those 27 long balls to result in a rare .800 OPS season that features a sub-.230 batting average.

    Pitch-framing is undoubtedly his best tool on the defensive side; he ranked second in the league to Buster Posey this past season and third the year before.

    The 28-year-old still has plenty of prime seasons left in the tank, and it will be interesting to see if the Dodgers explore an extension with him as he's set to reach free agency following the 2018 season.

5. Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Age: 24

    2016 Offensive: .299 BA, 1.032 OPS, 60 H, 32 XBH (20 HR), 43 RBI, 34 R

    2016 Defensive: 41% CS (13/32), 4 DRS, 6.7 DEF, -0.7 Framing RAA

    WAR: 3.0

     

    Player Outlook

    Gary Sanchez probably isn't going to maintain the level of offensive production we saw in 53 games last year over a full season.

    His rookie stat line extrapolated over a full 162 games: .299 BA, 1.032 OPS, 37 2B, 61 HR, 128 RBI, 103 R.

    It's just not going to happen, Yankees fans.

    However, there's no reason he doesn't immediately belong among the league's elite backstops, and he should make a strong push for the No. 1 spot in the years to come.

    Aside from his obvious offensive skills, he has an absolute cannon for an arm, and his pitch-framing skills were as good as anyone could have hoped from a player his age.

    He's the real deal; he's just not quite as good as the juggernaut we saw for two months a year ago.

4. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    Brian Blanco/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    2016 Offensive: .247 BA, .725 OPS, 127 H, 52 XBH (22 HR), 64 RBI, 57 R

    2016 Defensive: 48% CS (37/77), 11 DRS, 15.5 DEF, -19.5 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.8

     

    Player Outlook

    Salvador Perez has some obvious holes in his game.

    He walked at a 4 percent clip for a .288 on-base percentage last season, and he also graded out as the worst pitch-framer in all of baseball.

    However, that didn't stop him from providing the most defensive value of any catcher as he continues to control the running game as well as anyone in the sport.

    He's also a perennial 20-homer threat and an absolute horse from a durability standpoint.

    Over the past four seasons, Perez has caught 247 more innings than any other catcher, and his 4,662 total innings during that span account for 80.5 percent of all innings behind the plate for the Kansas City Royals.

    The stability he brings is invaluable.

3. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Michael Thomas/Getty Images

    Age: 34

    2016 Offensive: .307 BA, .787 OPS, 164 H, 47 XBH (8 HR), 58 RBI, 56 R

    2016 Defensive: 21% CS (18/85), -1 DRS, 4.4 DEF, 9.3 Framing RAA

    WAR: 2.9

     

    Player Outlook

    Yadier Molina is the best defensive catcher of his generation and one of the best of all time for that matter.

    It looked like his days as an impact hitter may be a thing of the past when he hit .276/.321/.367 combined in 2014 and 2015.

    However, he rebounded with a .307/.360/.427 line in 2016 that included 38 doubles to rank ninth in the NL.

    Last year, his caught-stealing rate dropped below 40 percent for the first time since 2011, but there are still few, if any, catchers who make a more significant impact on defense.

    Molina is essentially a second manager on the field for the Cardinals, and his ability to call a game and lead the pitching staff are unparalleled.

    To put it simply: He's the most indispensable player for a team that has been a perennial contender throughout his time in the organization.

2. Jonathan Lucroy, Texas Rangers

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    2016 Offensive: .292 BA, .855 OPS, 143 H, 51 XBH (24 HR), 81 RBI, 67 R

    2016 Defensive: 39% CS (44/113), 0 DRS, 14.1 DEF, 5.5 Framing RAA

    WAR: 3.8

     

    Player Outlook

    It cost the Texas Rangers a pair of top-100 prospects—outfielder Lewis Brinson and right-hander Luis Ortiz—to pry Jonathan Lucroy away from the Milwaukee Brewers last summer, and it proved to be a good move.

    The 30-year-old didn't miss a beat at the plate on his way to a career-high 24 home runs, and he was more than just a rental pickup as he carries a reasonable $5.25 million salary for the upcoming season.

    After a breakout season in 2013, Lucroy joined the ranks of the elite the following year when he hit .301 with an .837 OPS and 53 doubles to finish fourth in NL MVP voting.

    While he's not often mentioned among the league's elite defenders, he threw out a career-best 39 percent of base stealers last year, was a well-above-average pitch-framer and checked in third overall in defensive value.

    There's a big contract coming his way next offseason.

1. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    2016 Offensive: .288 BA, .796 OPS, 155 H, 49 XBH (14 HR), 80 RBI, 82 R

    2016 Defensive: 37% CS (28/75), 12 DRS, 11.2 DEF, 26.8 Framing RAA

    WAR: 4.6

     

    Player Outlook

    The fact that Buster Posey was MLB's best pitch-framer in 2016 speaks to how well-rounded his game is at this point in his career.

    Everyone knows about the offense.

    Posey is a .307/.373/.476 career hitter with a batting title to his credit and an .848 career OPS that ranks sixth all-time among catchers with at least 3,000 plate appearances.

    In a down year by his standards, he still hit .288/.362/.434 with 33 doubles, 14 home runs and 80 RBI.

    Even if he were a liability defensively he'd be a top-five catcher in the league.

    Instead, he's an easy choice for the top spot as a Gold Glove-caliber receiver and one of the elite offensive players in the game today.

     

    Standard stats and WAR totals courtesy of Baseball-Reference. Other advanced stats (DRS, DEF, BABIP, etc.) courtesy of FanGraphs. All pitch-framing stats come via StatCorner.